I wish I was in Bukavu today, where I’ve met so many strong, amazing women fighting against not only the horrors (rape) we often hear about but against gender-based discrimination and violence, and fighting for a new way of imagining women in the world — with their own voices, strongly and clearly sharing their own ideas, not only about their own lives, but about the future of their country. You wouldn’t think it to read the news, but Bukavu can be an inspiring place.
I wish I was in Kigali today, where more women make laws in Parliament than men. It was the first country in the world to achieve this distinction, and it’s something deeply meaningful to other women I’ve met there. They may not be traditionally powerful, but they feel empowered, and you can see and hear and feel it when you talk to them.
I wish I was in Liberia today, as I was last year on International Women’s Day, when the incredibly brave Mae Azango took on a country’s deeply-held cultural ritual — and won. Azango and I were supposed to report together on the comparatively tame topic of maternal health and midwifery. We ended up spending most of our time on a story about female genital mutilation, which she exposed in a story for her paper. It was a story no reporter wants to have told: The one where the reporter becomes the story because she’s in danger. Azango was hiding for weeks because of threats she received for her FGM expose. Anger raged for months. But eventually, the Liberian government came forward and said, for the first time, that it wanted to ban the practice. That’s a start, anyway. It was an honor and a privilege, and a deeply felt responsibility too, to report alongside Mae the very day her story broke. And it’s had it’s happy moments: Azango spoke powerfully when she won CPJ’s International Press Freedom Award in November.
I wish I was in South Africa today, in Port Elizabeth, with the dogged Estelle Ellis and her boss, Heather Robertson. I had the privilege to report with Ellis last year on a project about illegal abortion, for The Herald and The Nation, that exposed the government’s weak commitment to women’s health in general. Robertson spearheads The Herald, a no-nonsense regional paper and has, her entire career, given the government what for when they deserve it. As it gets increasingly hard to report real news, especially about the government, in South Africa, their dedication is inspiring.
Where I am is New York, where the trees are heavy with wet snow that’s been falling since last night. But that’s not stopping these women, who have gathered in front of the UN to demand women’s rights. Thanks to my friend Stina, who works at the UN, for sharing her photo as she headed to work this AM.
Courage, as the French say, to everyone fighting the good fight. And thank you.