"We need to challenge negative perceptions of African Women"

Tuesday, 26 March 2013
Shana Mongwanga

"We need to challenge negative perceptions of African Women"

To mark International Women’s Month 2013, we invited contributions from a number of influential women from a variety of professional backgrounds, of both African and Non-African descent, and all engaged with the progress of women from the continent around the world. We asked them a series of questions including what more needs to be done to address the challenges facing African women in the 21st century, which women inspire them and what words or quotes motivate them.  Shana Mongwanga, a filmmaker and social activist is our seventh contributor.

"We need to challenge negative perceptions of African Women"

Shana Mongwanga, Film-Maker

We are constantly battling the negative perceptions the world has of us. A friend recently recounted what her mother told her from very early age: “As a black woman, you are at the bottom of the food chain. So you’ll have to fight harder to survive. All your life.” It is still true today. But we do fight and we do overcome, despite it all.

It's important to challenge the negative images and the perceptions circulated by the media particularly; whether in films, books, news and academic reports. It is vital to report, complain, blog about it. Challenge and object to it with whatever means you have. A pen or a keyboard are the most powerful tools. We are not just prostitutes or victims awaiting international aid or assistance for our children to be adopted by wealthy celebrity who will parade them. We are – just like every human being - complex characters journeying on this planet.

Somehow the strong matriarchal African societies are decimated by these perceptions. It purposely weakens our societies. It weakens the African men. It weakens us all. At a recent event I attended, the British Minister of State for International Development - Alan Duncan -highlighted once again the PR tag line “Congo: the worst place for a girl to be born.” The handful Congolese people vividly commented how “disrespectful” that comment actually is. We are proud to be African and Congolese they retorted. So am I.  Regardless of the negative connotation our land might have to some people. We were born of that land and would not have it any other away. A more accurate description by the Minister and all the well-meaning, but somehow inefficient NGOs should be  “Congo: a critically dangerous place for women to live in, due to the deafening silence and lack of political will by the Western governments and fraudulent Congolese governments

Journalists need to awake from the slumbering lazy reporting and report facts accurately, particularly on actions the African and Congolese women themselves are taking highlight the plight of the Crisis in the East.

Charitable organisations need to stop using the victimhood of Congolese women, of Africa and Africans in general for the advancement of their own purposes (to gain funding and increased social profile).

Congo sells. Organise a photo exhibition; write a book on Congo and see how well it sells. It has become a sort of badge of honour to have travelled to what is perceived as the “Heart of Darkness”. It’s as if you have come to hell and back. Regardless of how accurate the report may be.

15 years later we are still talking about raising awareness about the atrocities in Congo without mentioning and dealing with the root cause of the conflict (Rwanda and Uganda’s involvement). 

Meanwhile the worldwide media will inform and update the whole Planet on the morning sickness of a pregnant British woman outside a London Hospital; as Congolese women are wiped out to clear the land in East of Congo to allow Rwanda, Uganda and multinational companies to continue the exploitation of the land to provide materials for new technologies.

If Africans and Congolese women themselves do not rise to change that narrative we will still have charity balls at £1000 a plate, organised to raise awareness about Congolese women, whilst they are exterminated. 

I have a great admiration for Founder Marie-Louise Pambu and Marie-Claire Faray and All the Women who compose the network of Common Cause in the UK, Congo and all over the world: www.commoncauseuk.com They have awakened me to the start documenting, speaking, lobbying and advocating for Congolese women in particular. They have started weekly peaceful vigils in London, every Friday at Edith Cavell statue opposite the National Portrait Gallery. Their aim is to speak to British individuals directly. More details on the Vigils.

Shana Mongwanga is a film-maker and social activist.