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SAPSN event reignites feminist passion for environmental justice

CAPE TOWN – The Southern African People Solidarity Network (SAPSN) recently held a vibrant gathering on February 6 in Cape Town South Africa, which drew attendees from various countries including South Africa, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania, Zambia, and Namibia.

This session, held on the side-lines of the Alternative Mining Indaba, focused on the theme “Environmental Justice: Reigniting the Feminist in You” and was skilfully led by Charity Rumbidzai Hodzi, a pan-African feminist and gender activist from Zimbabwe.

What distinguished this gathering was its innovative approach to engagement: a sip and paint session, increasingly popular among activists. Participants took time to paint, while creatively illustrating themes discussed during conversations.

These themes included the challenges faced by activists, such as trauma, burnout, and fatigue, in their communities.

The second theme was the complex interplay of debt, environmental, tax, and economic injustice, and how they affect people’s lives. The third theme was the call to action – a vision for a better future and the steps to achieve it.
The event aimed to revive the feminist spirit within attendees, rekindling their passion for activism particularly concerning environmental and debt justice issues.

The event commenced with a toast to reigniting pan-African feminism and advocating for environmental justice, accompanied by a poignant poem titled “Have You Considered Considering” by African poet Rubzie. The poem resonated deeply with participants, prompting group painting sessions that captured the emotions evoked.

Hodzi emphasized the importance of such sessions in rejuvenating activists who often face fatigue from prolonged struggles for socio and economic justice.

“Many times activists in environmental justice, debt justice, tax and economic justice get tired because they keep pushing and at times results seldom come or come after so many years of toil. Hence this session was imperative to bring them back to the first love in the work that they do with us, wanting us to leave the trauma they carry from victims of injustice in that room where we were holding that session,” Hodzi said.

Participants shared their exhaustion from constantly addressing issues such as mining-induced environmental damage and polluted water resources, highlighting the significance of spaces like these for emotional release.

The event also featured two keynote speakers, who are influential members of the SAPSN network. Margaret Mutsamvi, the founder and director of Economic Justice for Women Project (EJWP), an organisation that addresses the structural political and socio-economic injustices that make the economic field unequal between men and women.

And Bertha Phiri, the executive director of Malawi Economic Justice Network, who has over 10 years of experience in social accountability practices and ideals.

They simplified daunting concepts, revealing, for instance, that national budgets would need to be sacrificed multiple times to settle outstanding debts, predominantly fuelled by the payment of interest and government’s over reliance on mineral resources.

One participant appreciated how the terms were simplified to connect with everyday life.

For example, if a household has a single decision-maker who incurs debt, and ignores the opinions of others in the household, the debt will have negative consequences for the rest of the household. This analogy illustrates how many Southern African countries are struggling with debt and neglecting their social obligations in areas such as education, health, water, and sanitation, which at the end of the line disproportionately affect women.

Phiri, who is an economist and public policy analyst, looked at the interconnectedness of debt justice, environmental justice and the lived realities of women in Malawi and Zimbabwe.

She explained how debt and environmental issues are often presented in complex and technical terms that alienate people from understanding them. She simplified the situation by saying that Malawi would need to forgo its national budget six times, and Zimbabwe four times, to pay everything that they owe. She also said that almost a third of these amounts are now interest and penalties owed.

The event concluded with a symbolic flower-painting session, envisioning desired changes. Images depicted justice blossoming and emphasized the need for solidarity and collaboration within the region to address environmental and debt justice concerns.

Participants called for solidarity among South African organizations, the creation of safe spaces for women to voice challenges and propose solutions, and continued engagement with governmental and international bodies to address these pressing issues.

In her closing remarks, Janet Zhou, SAPSN Secretary General , emphasized the need for a redefinition of activism and feminism. She challenged outdated stereotypes of women as victims, advocating for a society that empowers and supports women to thrive.

“We are now redefining activism and feminism, redefining the definition of what womanhood is which is not supposed to be synonymous with someone who is suffering or a picture of a women who is carrying a heavy load — a child on her back. It is not a label for those who endure hardship or bear heavy burdens, but a recognition of those who pursue their aspirations with ease, because we as a society have chosen to empower them,” Zhou said.

Ultimately, the event aimed to reconnect with the roots of activism, striving for a society where women are not burdened by injustice but uplifted by supportive structures, embodying the true essence of feminism and pan-African solidarity.

SAPSN event reignites feminist passion for environmental justice