ActivismJohannesburgSex & Gender

confronting misogyny and xenophobia in the african diaspora

September 18, 2019
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In the last few weeks, violence has rocked South Africa.

Violence against women and girls have angered the South African community who has demanded something be done in the wake of the rape and murder of 19-year-old Uyinene Mrwetyana. Her death prompted demonstrators to take to the streets under the rallying cry “Am I Next”?

South Africa isn’t alone in dealing with violence against women and girls, but comparatively, the country sees more instances of femicide than other countries.

According to the World Health Organisation, 12.1 in every 100,000 women are victims of femicide in South Africa each year, which is five times worse than the global average of 2.6.

But the violence in South Africa hasn’t only been directed at women.

Xenophobic attacks have ignited long simmering tensions between South Africans and immigrants from other African countries, namely from Nigeria. This week, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa issued an apology to the Nigerian government after violence erupted in Johannesburg and Pretoria.

Violence against women and xenophobia are uncomfortable topics to be sure. Nobody likes confronting the ways that they play out in our cultures, particularly when our culture is already often maligned and misrepresented. But not talking about these issues won’t make them go away and it won’t help get at real solutions.

That’s why we need spaces like Imbizo, which held space for a community conversation about femicide and xenophobia across the African diaspora the Africa Center in Harlem.

“Imbizo” is a Zulu word for a traditional forum to address pressing issues that affect our community.

Yolanda Sangweni, founder of #AfricanWomenCreate, and JoJo Abot, a Ghanaian artist held space for the challenging and sometimes messy business of talking about our issues as they pertain to the treatment of women and girls and our relationship with folks of African descent from across the diaspora.

Folks from different generations came together to honestly and openly discuss things like the conversations men have about women when we aren’t around, the way we treat our daughters versus the way we treat our sons, and how we can start to confront misogyny by confronting it at home within our own families. We also got real about the different wrinkles of xenophobia and how it plays out in South Africa, with some talking honestly about the tensions between Nigerians and South Africans.

Sangweni said she hoped the gathering would prompt us to be solutions-oriented when unpacking our issues as a people. “I want people to leave with a collective-solutions mindset that we’re all responsible for global Black unity in our own small ways, whether it’s the talk in Harlem or a talk with your girlfriends, unity begins at home.”