Nancy Onyango (NO): Can you tell us a bit about who you are?
Amina Doherty (AD): I am a Nigerian feminist who lives in and has grown up in the Caribbean, so I call myself an African-Caribbean feminist. I came into my feminism as a young woman, as an African woman, as an African woman living in the Caribbean and, coupled with that, encountering my own Blackness in a way that I had never experienced before when I first went to university in Canada.
So, all of these intersections of my identity really formed my understanding of feminism and what it means to be a feminist in a very difficult world, particularly for women. I would say that my feminism has in many ways been inspired by the women in my family, and when I say ‘family’ I do mean my biological family but also my chosen family; my political family. So there are women like my mother and my grandmothers, who have inspired me in so many ways, as did all the other women in my family, but also the folks who are in my political family. There are so many amazing African and Caribbean feminists who have pushed me to really challenge my articulation of feminism. I think that is one of the most important things about building feminist communities: creating spaces where you can share knowledge. It really does help further your own understanding.
My feminism has also been inspired very much by Caribbean feminists, women like Peggy Antrobus – who, in my mind, is one of the grandmothers of the Caribbean feminist movement – and younger women, like Tonya Haynes, who commit to teaching younger women about feminism in both academic and community-led spaces. There are so many people who have inspired my understanding of feminism as a political project that seeks to liberate all people.
As I have grown in my understanding of feminism, I have begun to expand what feminism means and looks like to me and to really centre the pluralities. So I can’t talk about feminism and only talk about women. My feminism is inclusive of all people.
So that’s a bit about who I am, it’s a bit about who inspires me and how I articulate the politics that define what I believe in and what I fight for.
NO: Earlier this morning, I was listening to Angela Davis’s keynote speech during the 17th Steve Bantu Biko memorial lecture that was delivered at the University of South Africa. She talked about legacies and unfinished struggles, and it is interesting that you recently launched the Black Feminisms Forum, which in some respect aims to address exactly that. Would you mind weighing in on that?
AD: I will talk a little bit about the history of the Black Feminisms Forum before I tackle what it means going forward. The Black Feminisms Forum, though hosted by AWID, has been organised and convened by a collective of people called the Black Feminisms Forum Working Group. What I have loved the most about this working group is that it is a transnational, intergenerational group, so we had members of the working group who are as young as 15 and as old as 69 or 70, who are coming from places like the United States, Colombia, from across the continent (Africa) and the Caribbean.
What it has allowed us to do is to articulate Black feminisms with all of the multiplicities; to engage around what it means to be Black and living in Colombia, working on land rights; to be a young feminist going to high school and living in West Africa; or to be an older feminist who has been part of the civil rights movement in the United States, or to be based in the United States and working on amplifying the demands of the Black Lives Matter movement.
What it has allowed us to do over the past year is to have conversations about what it would mean to convene a space for 200-plus Black feminists coming from multiple places, and what it would mean to create a space for us to talk to each other; for us to learn from each other; for us not to be limited by the borders and boundaries that have kept us apart. I often say if we were successful only in convening that group, then I would still be happy because we have learnt so much about struggles in many different places and to really articulate what solidarity means and what it could look like if we begin to work on a much broader level.
I think what the Black Feminisms Forum as a convening space has allowed is the building of relationships. It has allowed us to build new relationships and friendships to really deepen our understandings of our struggles as black people globally and to begin to articulate what collective visions might look like. What is it that we can do together? How can we move forward together?
It has allowed us to hear each other’s demands. Whether it is Fees Must Fall, or Black Lives Matter or calls for land sovereignty, we are hearing each other and we are asking each other what is it that you need from me to feel supported, to feel that solidarity.
NO: On feeling supported, how do you approach selfcare as an activist?
AD: I definitely experienced burn out at a very early age. I was involved in a lot of organising work and definitely got physically and emotionally exhausted. I tend not to use self-care as a term. I try not to because I have learnt over the years that it is really much more than just about my ‘self.’ It is really about building communities of care, that’s what I call it, because for me I have been loved and supported by so many people. People who will say, “Do you need to take a break? Let me hold this work for you now, while you do that.” That’s been hugely important. Having communities of care. People who will support you no matter what, even if it is very basic things, like I know you need to go for a walk, or whatever, go do that.
There are also things that I do on an everyday basis that help to keep me grounded. I love to cook, for instance. For many folks even the idea of preparing healthy meals for yourself is a privilege – so I will do things like cook enough so that my community is fed and nourished in the same way I am. As part of our wellness praxis it is important that we pay attention to our bodies – that we are eating well, drinking water and making time for exercise. I have support from communities and friends, who ask if you have gone for a walk today or exercised today, or eaten today.
For me, the concept of care asks: What are you doing to stay well? What are you doing to live and be strongest in your body? And it looks like different things to different people. For some people that’s yoga or meditation, or taking time to sit and write or paint, or be around your ‘people’. For me it is making sure that at least once every day I have eaten some vegetables, I have drunk eight glasses of water, I have moved my body – things that people might see as not important are so important to me.
It is very important to uplift and support others. There are so many African feminists who are doing such important work in the space around conceptualising care and wellness, whether it is Hope Chigudu, who is doing work around how we support each other in communities, or Mildred Apenyo, who started the first women’s gym in Uganda because she believes that women should be strong in their bodies.
There are so many ways in which African feminists are articulating care that is really inspiring me. It is forcing me to kind of re-look the way that I am looking after my body, and in a way that is sustainable. Similarly, this applies to the way in which we look after and care for the environment and the space that we live in. We talk a lot about climate change and how we keep the world that we live in sustainable but it is also important to keep our activism sustainable by keeping our bodies and minds healthy as well.
NO: I want to go back to where we started. When did your journey as a feminist start? How did it all happen?
AD: There wasn’t a particular ‘aha’ moment, I think the thing with feminism is that it is a journey. There are always moments that kind of spark your identity as a feminist but you are in a constant state of learning, you are on a journey – feminism is a constant becoming. I remember listening to my maternal grandmother talk about her experiences in Nigeria during the Biafran War and hearing young girls who I worked with in communities in London, Jamaica and Antigua share their experiences of struggling to come into themselves and into their bodies. Those moments and stories of power and strength really inspire me as I continue to define my feminism.
Thank you Amina!