Originally published by On Our Radar.
On Our Radar reporter Wanja Maina asks female writers from around Africa the obstacles they face when putting pen to paper.
"A story that deserves to be told does not forgive silence"
I am writing from the African Women’s Writers’ workshop in Uganda, the first ever regional non-fiction workshop for African women writers which aims to strengthen the skills of African women to tell compelling social change stories.
The news that I had been selected for the African Women’s Writers’ workshop stunned me. I could not believe that I got through the competitive application process. For me, writing is more that putting pen to paper. It is more than sitting behind my old Acer laptop punching keys, expressing what I feel about issues and writing things that I would never feel safe to say verbally. Yet despite my love for writing, I have so few published works.
As I arrived at the workshop in Uganda, I sat by myself and observed other young women who had made it to the workshop as they chit-chatted or sat busily behind their computers. I couldn’t help but notice that the general dress code was clothes made of African fabric. The hair style? Dreadlocks dominated. I was amazed by this coincidence, making me reflect on what this fashion statement actually means. When I asked around, most explained it as a sign of African-ness and a feeling that they are confident in their skin and their origins. So perhaps no coincidence?
As the session began, we discussed an assortment of areas, from feminism, to the craft of writing, to foras and spaces where young women writers can publish their works. I asked four of my fellow participants about what is preventing African women from telling their stories.
Jen Thorpe, South Africa
Jen explained that though African women have many stories, they are rarely told. Among the reasons for this, she said, is that there is no space for mother tongue and stories that are told in other languages other than English, French and the other main languages. She also acknowledged the fact that African women and girls are socialised to be submissive and their lack of opinion on societal matters is equally reflected in the writing world.
Nana Darkoa, Ghana
Nana runs a blog that deals with issues of women and sexuality in Africa. She began by saying that in most African households women are meant to take care of the family and children and rarely do they have time to be creative and write. She added that a lack of a strong support network of women leads to women being scared of writing due to fear of criticism.
Sionne Nelly, Ghana
Sionne argues that women in the continent have a limited space in terms of access to information and resources. She also added that they have limited access to publishing spaces and that these spaces are male-dominated. She cited cases of sexual harassment by male editors and sources.
Hilda Twongyeirwe, Uganda
”A story that deserves to be told does not forgive silence.” Opening with this powerful quote, Hilda went on to argue that women can set their agenda by writing their issues, emphasising women’s importance in storytelling. She cited illiteracy and lack of confidence as the major reasons as to why African women do not write their stories.
From my perspective in Kenya, I see lack of capacity and education and lack of access to spaces for publication (whether online or print) as the main problem.
The importance of African women telling their own story cannot be over emphasised if we are to achieve more balanced storytelling. African women both deserve and need to be right at the core of writing and publication so that we can tell stories through our own lens.
Wanja Maina is a 23 year old East African of Kenyan origin. She holds a Bsc in Management from USIU-African Kenya. She writes stories on women, youths and persons with disabilities. She trained as a citizen reporter with On Our Radar.
On Our Radar trains and supports reporters from some of the most isolated and excluded communities in the world to share news and influence policy