International Women's Day

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Constance Pruitt, Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Political Science

This year, Howard University hosted its second annual celebration of International Women’s Day. International Women’s Day celebrates and recognizes the achievements of women around the world annually on March 8th. The theme this year’s event was Black Feminisms: Women Pushing for Progress, chaired by Dr. Josephine Dawuni, Assistant Professor in the Political Science department at Howard University and Co-Convenor of the Women and Gender Studies Collective. The keynote speaker was renown Nigerian scholar and activist Dr. Amina Mama.  The event took place on March 8, 2018, from 3:00 pm to 5:00 pm at the Interdisciplinary Research Building (IRB).

 

As the event’s commencement drew near, the seats started to fill with scholars, students, men and women interested in the inclusion and equality of woman on the global stage. The multicultural audience looked in excitement as the event opened with a clip of Oprah Winfrey’s inspiring speech from this year’s Golden Globes followed by a video montage showcasing pictures of successful Black women as the 2015 song “Strong Girl” music video played. As the empowering song played, photos showcasing successful Black women were displayed.

Dr. Dawuni opened the event with the welcome remarks, giving thanks to the other organizing committee members. The committee members included Dr. Anita Plummer (Department of African Studies), Dr. Jeronimo Augusto (International Programs, Office of the Provost), Dr. Msia Kibona Clark (Department of African Studies), Dr. Krista Johnson (Department of African Studies), Ms. Tonija Navas (Ralph Bunche International Affairs Center), and Dr. Jeanne Maddox Toungara (Department of History). 

Dr. Gary Harris, the Director of Graduate Studies, gave opening remarks. Harris discussed Howard’s rich history and “how women have played such a pivotal role in the university since day one.” He concluded his remarks with displaying a video of the first 150 years of the university in 150 minutes. 

 

Dr. Jeanne Maddox Toungara delivered the statement of the occasion. Dr. Toungara discussed the history of International Women’s Day from its origin, in 1911, to today. She emphasized the theme to “press for progress” and encouraged the audience to participate by making the push forward motion while collectively chanting the mantra of solidarity. She encouraged the attendees to utilize the tweets #pressforprogress and #iwd2018, saying that “whoever you belong to, women’s day is for you.”

Dr. Tashni-Ann Dubroy, Chief Operating Officer, gave the greetings from the administration. Dr. Dubroy discussed a personal example of a time she was marginalized and didn’t have a voice at the table as a woman in a patriarchal field of Chemistry. Nonetheless, she illustrated how she stayed true to herself and overcame. “I knew to be authentic; I had to be my true self…don't apologize for what we bring to the table because we bring a valued feminine element.”

Undergraduate student and Frederick Douglass scholar recipient, Carmen Crusoe, gave an impassioned delivery of her poem, “It Was the Women” as an Interlude. The poem moved the audience as it spoke of her empowerment of embracing her womanhood, “ I have the power of creation, life forms in my womb and the new universe is born through me…I know that I am a black woman, I am a black woman, I am a black woman, and I know what that means.”

Ms. Tonija Navas, Director of the Ralph Bunche International Affairs Center, introduced Dr. Mama, providing details of her biography, discussing her works and activism. Mama is a published feminist academic whose career spans African, European and U.S. academic and policy-making institutions. She has a Ph.D in Organizational Psychology. Her academic career focuses on strengthening transdisciplinary feminist studies.  Mama currently holds a faculty position at the University of California-Davis, where “she provided collaborative leadership for the revitalization of the teaching of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies, directed a Mellon Social Justice Initiative, and founding of the Feminist Research Institute” said Ms. Navas.

 

Dr. Amina Mama graciously expressed her delight in being part of the occasion as it was her first time at Howard University. Her speech focused on the evolution of African feminist consciousness and the growth of feminism in a postcolonial Africa.  She explained the paradoxical effect of colonialism on African women. “African feminism was forged in the crucible of colonial patriarchy.” She explained that “colonialism was more so focused on men…so women are the reservoir because we were left out and marginalized, that is why [they] have a creative force and energy to bring a resurrection to what the African continent needs… one of the key reasons why feminism has its own dynamic.”   Dr. Mama focused her discussion on women’s movements in three countries: Zimbabwe, Ghana, and Uganda.

In Zimbabwe, Mama highlighted feminist activists that led protests against the mass roundup of women in 1983 that was a result of backlash from amendments to the Zimbabwean constitution that made women adults. As post-independence violence in Zimbabwe ensued, women continued to advocate for their place in society, referencing the creation of Women’s Action Group (WAG). There were also feminist movements around the AIDS epidemic, which was widely received as a gay man’s epidemic when it actuality affected young Zimbabwean women the most. As women’s activism increased over the years, the polarization of movements occurred between leading political parties, ZANU and PF,  and civil society. However, a coalition was eventually formed between the two sects, exemplifying feminism in the country.

Next, Dr. Mama explained feminist activity in Ghana, which differed from the Zimbabwean experience.  Ghana gained its independence nearly 30 years before Zimbabwe. Ghanaian president, Kwame Nkrumah, appointed more women than anywhere else. However, a military coup removed him, and Ghana went into an extended period of military rule which stunted the progression of women in politics. Despite coups and interruptions of the feminist movements in Ghana, women persevered, and a women’s manifesto was created, being hugely successful. Mama highlighted that this manifesto, like in other countries, is a national platform for women’s rights despite challenges.

In Uganda, Mama described the Bush War, and how the dictatorship under President Amin drew international funding and attention to the nation. In their postwar, Ugandans now have the largest department for gender and women’s studies. For the protection of their own forces, forced by circumstance and the context of war, they shaped women in education and embraced neoliberal economics. However, Dr. Mama explained that gender and sexual politics continue to be used as a tool for scapegoating by the Ugandan government.

She concluded that there is a surging pan-African feminist movement, citing the African Feminist Forum started in 2006, that are platforms for empowering women on a local, national and continental scale. “Until women in Africa are free and their talents and creative reserves are unlocked to preserve the continent, none of us will be free.”

Dr. Dawuni thanked Dr. Mama for her speech and took questions from the audience. Questions ranged from inquiring about Dr. Mama’s utilization of intersectionality in her research, how religion hinders gender equality, and if the state of violence was the only catalyst for feminist movements and activism. To which, Mama confirmed her use of intersectionality in her methodology and assured the audience member that violence is not the only catalyst for women’s political empowerment in Africa, citing Tanzania as an example of an African nation with a relatively peaceful history, with a large women’s movement.

After the Q & A session, Dr. Anita Plummer presented several awards to five recipients. Dr. Mama was this year’s International Women’s Day Vanguard Award. The award was created to recognize women who have contributed significantly to advancing women’s rights in the social, cultural, political and economic arenas. Dr. Mama’s plaque read, “In honor of International Women’s Day, Howard University recognizes Professor Amina Mama for her sustained leadership, compassion, perseverance, and courage in promoting women’s empowerment and rights and for her commitment to fostering human dignity and common humanity in the global community.”

Ms. Alma Kemp received the staff award,  an award for serving the Howard University community for 44 years. In her service, Ms. Kemp  “played key administrative roles for the Department of History, the office of the Dean of College of Arts and Sciences and presently as the Office Manager of the College. She currently serves as the corresponding secretary for the Howard University Staff organization. The scope of her work has truly been international as she as accompanied students and faculty to Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, Senegal, and Egypt” said Plummer. 

Dr. Plummer next presented an award to Dr. Kari Miller stating, “I’m a big fan of her work.” Dr. Miller has served as the Director of Honors and Scholar Development in the Office of Undergraduate Studies at Howard University since 2014. She has previously worked several years in global program management and international education at Dickinson College, George Washington University, and American University. Dr. Kari also worked at the Institute of International Education (IIE) as the program lead of the Sub-Saharan Africa unit of the Fulbright U.S. and Visiting Scholar Programs. Now at Howard, she serves as the honor student advisor for prestigious fellowships. She has received the HUSA's Advisor/Administrator of the Year for the Bison Ball Excellence Awards and is editing and co-authoring a first edition textbook on scholar development for Howard students titled Narrating Truth and Service: Scholar Development for National Merit Awards and Fellowships, that will be released to students this summer.

Lastly, Dr. Plummer honored students Oreymi Dan-Princewill and Lundyn Davis for winning the Audre Lorde International Women’s Day Essay and Creative Works competition for their works of fiction and nonfiction, respectively. Princewill’s creative fictional work is titled “Black Dolls Don’t Exist.” Davis’ non-fiction essay is titled “Press for Progress” Why HBCUs Should Cultivate A Space for Women in Leadership.”

Nazeerah Ali, a student representative from Dr. Dawuni’s  Gender, Law, and Politics course provided remarks on the importance of holding events like Howard’s International Women’s Day celebration to recognize the need for women’s studies, women’s history, and particularly highlighting black women. Following the remarks, additional students sprinkled throughout the audience stood while proclaiming statements of women empowerment, before collectively congregating to the front of the event shouting in solidarity “HU, You Know!” Dr. Krista Johnson, Associate Professor of African Studies, concluded the program by delivering the closing remarks and giving thanks to all the participants and attendants.

 

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