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The African Women’s Decade – 2010 – 2020


I did not know that the African Union had made 2010 – 2020 the African Women’s decade – but they did!  Was there any media hype about it? Did I miss it, in the noise and media overload of this century?  Or was I just too tied up in taking care of my little 6 month old, who was just coming out of his premature stage and becoming stronger?  I don’t know, and I don’t think that really matters – not really… it’s just that the concept of the  ‘African Women’s Decade’ gives me a sense of excitement and possibility, and a sense of deja-vu.  It takes me back to Nairobi in July 1985 when Kenya hosted the U.N.’s 3rd World Conference on Women to ‘review and appraise the achievement of the UN Decade for Women’ (1975 – 85).   I was 21 years old and through some luck my friend Irene was able to get us to work as volunteers at the NGO Forum – see my badge!!! 😉 (P.A. Barlow)  It felt like such a privilege.

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To be honest I do not remember much about that time – except that it was very exciting, and the Forum was based around the National Theatre.  There were so many women in Nairobi – and the men, who had been excited about the prospect of being surrounded by many women ended up frustrated because all the women were interested in was Women’s issues!!!   Another thing  I remember that a group of us, young black women went to the Hilton Hotel (unaccompanied by any man) and they did not treat us like we were hookers, AND we had quick service!!! And all the street children disappeared from the streets of Nairobi for a time.

A lot was achieved, I am sure, – and a lot of decisions and strategies developed in the UN, Development agencies, Governments etc – but I want to know what impact it had on the ordinary woman.  Conferences often frustrate me because you spend most of you time listening to people talking AT you, and the most interesting encounters, for me, are the conversations you have over tea, or lunch, or when you are looking at the displays, and accidentally bump into someone.  I wish there were more spaces for people to engage – not just to ask questions of the speakers, but to sit and really engage, dream, plan, listen to each others stories, understand the different contexts….

You see I am more interested in the impact on people, rather than policy, and so on.  Policy creates an enabling environment, but if no one acts then its just words on paper.  I fight for women, but sometimes hard-nosed feminists turn me off.  I get frustrated when they paint all men with one brush (evil, pulling women down) and I reflect and realise that my mother would not have gone to University in the 1950s if it had not been for the foresight of her father.  Or when I can identify a number of women who pulled me back, and men who encouraged me.  I get frustrated when they speak of the patriarchical society, and then go on to behave in exactly the same way that they say men do – and thus silence all the women they are claiming to empower! Women, like men, are just human beings with strengths and weaknesses.

So while the idea of a women’s decade excites me, I want to approach it differently from the way it seems to come up in the mainstream.  I would like to be more awake than I was at 21, and, in some small way make this decade count in more than just words – or policies or projects  looking for funders (all of which are absolutely important – I know that).  The question I am asking myself, and you, is ‘What are you going to do to make  this decade of the African Women more than just words on paper – or people shouting in the political arena about what is not happening?  What mark will we leave – beyond the rhetoric and the hype – even if it touches just one person?

  • How will we define (or re-define) power, and powerful women?   Will it be all about money and business, or being senior in government?  Or will we recognise all the ways in which women support the continent?
  • What, in your deepest heart of hearts, do you want to be the legacy of this decade?  How can you contribute, in a new and innovative way – beyond the tried and tested ‘recipes’ that often do not touch the ordinary woman?
  • Who are we going to celebrate?  Whose stories will we share?  Will we celebrate that woman who makes sure (on her meagre earnings) her children have a safe place to sleep, a roof over their heads, and get an education as well as that woman who goes out and fights for policies and infrastructure, or who makes an impact in the field of Education, or in the Economy?  Or we going to focus on the ‘celebrities’?
  • Will we be able to go beyond the traditions that trap women, and recognise, also the ways in which women make those traditions work for them (check out this video – http://www.ted.com/talks/kavita_ramdas_radical_women_embracing_tradition.html)

How about starting by recognising your 10 most inspiring /powerful/amazing African women?  Lets talk about them! Send me a short email, and a photo, if you have one, and I will add them all to my blog.

As a starting point (and before I put my 10 most inspiring African women down) let me share this with you :

http://www.forbes.com/sites/mfonobongnsehe/2012/12/06/the-20-youngest-power-women-in-africa-2012/

Would you buy someone else’s dream – with your last pennies?


In January 2012, while on a storytelling course, I was given a story to c0-narrate with a colleague.  It was about a man who bought a dream – and, like some stories do, it left Johnson and I wondering about what the message of the story really was.  Everytime we thought we had grasped it, is seemed to slip away, or raise a different question.  A skeleton version of the story goes like this:

A poor man was sitting with his friend who was fast asleep.  As the friend woke up, a bee flew out of his nose.  He shared his dream which was about finding a pot of gold under a nandin bush in the garden of the richest man in Osaka.  The poor man was so impressed by the dream he took all his savings and bought the dream.  His wife was angry – what use was someone else’s dream?  The man left home, armed with hope, and walked 400 kms to Osaka, and found the rich man’s house.  He asked to spend the night there, and told the rich man the story, asking for help to find the gold.  As he slept the rich man got his servant to dig in the garden and they found a pot.  when they opened it a bee flew out – and there was nothing else inside! He re-buried the pot, and the next day, the poor man dug it up – to find nothing.  He was devastated, and almost did not return home for he was ashamed of what he had done.  But his love for his wife was so strong he returned home.  When he got there she ran up to him and told him that on the day he left, she heard bees in the attic – and when she opened to door a bee flew out, and then lots and lots of gold coins fell out of the  attic.  They were so happy, and were never poor again.  (for a written version of the story go to – http://www.timmyabell.com/mandream.htm or google it)

This story left me feeling like I had not really ‘got it’.  And then I forgot about it… until November when I went to a show by Hugh Masekela and Sibongile Khumalo called ‘Songs of Migration”.  It was a beautiful show exploring, in song, narration and movement, people leaving home in search of … work, riches, refuge – based mainly in South Africa during apartheid, but also touching on immigrants from other parts of the world, and migration in post apartheid South Africa.  At some point Hugh said something like, “Those who stayed at home long for those who have gone.  And those who have gone long to return, but cannot because they have not found what they set out to find.  They are too ashamed to go back.”  And in that moment I thought of that man who had bought a dream – and almost did not return because how could he?  He had used up everything they owned on a ‘foolish’ dream.  How could he face his wife?  And yet his love for her took him back, ready to face the consequences of his foolishness – and he found riches, and love and joy.

There is so much richness in this story – still more to be mined, but as I think of this year – my prayer is that we all have the courage to follow our dreams, and to have the courage, when it fails (or seems to have failed) to go back home to the place of love and acceptance, to have the courage to face the consequences of our failure – and to be open to surprise!!!!!

Hollow tree trunks


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In January I went on a one day retreat to gather myself, and my thoughts for 2012.  It was an impromptu invitation by a good friend and fellow storyteller, Gilly, to join her and a group of her friends – and just what I needed.  The venue was an old farm shed turned workshop /retreat space – with a lovely spacious garden to sit in.  As the day unfolded, we went outside, alone, to reflect – and I found a beautiful old, hollow tree to sit in and contemplate.  It was a warm womb-like space, with light filtering through in interesting places – and though I hate creepy crawlies, I did not even think about them.  I just enjoyed the feeling of being held in a space – barefoot, and on ‘holy ground’, listening.  And in that space some of what I was to do this year began to emerge.  Mostly I had a sense that this year was about being present, and listening and responding.  And it was also about a creative journey – that would not unfold quickly, all at once, but slowly, requiring patience, wisdom, trust and resilience.  As I drove home I was also clear about what I would not take on, and what I would embrace in January – and the biggest thing was committing to a 5 week storytelling course – daily from 9 am to 4 pm!!!

At the end of January I started the storytelling course called the Storyteller in the community and what an amazing journey!!  It was what I needed on so many levels, and gave me the resilience I needed to go through this year – challenges that I could not even begin to imagine.  And every week we were given a story to work on. One week I was given the story of the Trumpeter Hornbill, and as I read the story my heart beat faster because I knew this was a story I needed to work with.  I preface this with the statement that I love stories because the powerful stories have many layers of meaning, speaking to each listener in a different way and so often what a story seems to be about is not the only thing it is about.   This is particularly true of the story of the Trumpeter Hornbill – and before I speak about what the story reminded me of – here is a link to the story:

http://www.wisafrica.com/tag/trumpeter-hornbills-faithless-wife/

For me the story was about the things I really wanted to do/ felt called to do and the things that distracted me from “sitting on the eggs, and waiting for them to hatch”.  It was particularly powerful after having started the year drawn to a hollow tree.

So as this year draws to an end I reflect on what I have done, and what I have paid attention to – and though it has been a really sad year – with the passing on my mother – I  believe that for the most part I have paid attention to the things that matter, and not been distracted by those attractive things, that I can do, or am good at, that lead astray.  A lot of the work that has come to me has required me to use my storytelling skills – and what started out as voluntary work has led to at least one paid piece of work! I have paid attention to my family in South Africa and in Uganda.  My trips to Uganda, although they have been about sorting things out, have enabled me to grieve Maama in a place where people know her – and to see her reflected back to me by the people I have met.  (I could not have done this in Cape Town – not in the same healing way).  And somehow I have felt my roots grow deeper – centering me more.  I have attended gatherings that were meaningful, attended artistic performances that have fed my soul and had a sense of being on the right path – even though I cannot see the end of the path.  I know I have not yet arrived, but I know that this time I have stayed in my hollow tree trunk, and trusted that in time the eggs will hatch.

And so, it was appropriate, as the year drew to an end, that I found another hollow tree trunk – and a very old one at that.  And although I did not sit in it – I touched base with it, and all the meaning it held at the beginning of the year.  And as I reflect on the year that past, I realise that I was immersed in storywork – the love of which I shared with my mother – and I have carried a sense of being with her in all her fullness even I was carving my journey.

May you, in 2013, stay true to the things that are important, and if needs be, may you be sealed in a hollow tree trunk until the eggs you are caring for hatch!!!!

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Group Coaching in 2013


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Every once in a while we arrive at a place in our lives that invites us to be as bold and audacious – to take one more step towards our dreams, to let go of what is holding us back, to do what we believe is right or just to take a moment to slow down, reframe our lives – and get our bearings again.  This is not always an easy step, and it helps to have some support.

From time immemorial women have supported each other as they walked to the river, or cooked together, as they sewed or did their hair together – in community – but in modern times those kind of support systems are not so easy to come by – especially not in the cities.

This is an invitation for you to intentionally co-create a support system for yourself and a few other women – all Bodaciously, walking towards their own, specific goal, supported by an experienced coach and each other.

Starting date:  Saturday 19 January 2013

Time Investment – Morning introductory workshop on 19 January 2013 and then 2 contact hours a month for 6 months

For more information please contact Philippa:

Email:  namutebi@mweb.co.za

Mobile: 082-894-1718

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