Mar 23, 2011

YOWLEE Update: Moiyattu Banya (YOWLI 08) on Helping Organize the 2011 YOWLI Monologues

Moiyattu Banya during her monologue performance
Photo Credit: Chiedu Odogwu
Feminist theater is something I have always been involved with and admired. Since my first experience in 2005 during my college years wherein I was a part of Eve Ensler’s, Vagina Monologues, I realized that this was a space that women can tell their stories in a very dynamic and unconventional way to provide for a platform of information sharing, and a network of healing and sisterhood. My experience during the Vagina monologues was an unforgettable one. The experience was my introduction to feminist theater as I learned a lot about putting a script together from start to finish.  However I always felt that the voice of women of color, let alone African women, was limited in the script. A moment of clarity I had was  when I was asked to stage manage “ Yoni Ki Baat”  a show very similar to the Vagina Monologues, but specifically for South Asian Women written by a South Asian woman.  I realized that there needed to be such a script for African women; I yearned for there to be such a space for women like me, for African women. How it would look and who would be in it, I had no idea about, so I made a wish that one day I would be a part of a movement where African women performed a monologues script that represented our voices.

My YOWLI Experience
My wish came to be, when I attended the Young Women's Knowledge and Leadership Institute (YOWLI) conference in 2008. At the end of the conference, myself and a couple of the participants thought it was a great idea to put on the “V monologues” - the Nigerian version of the Vagina Monologues, written and produced by KIND; an organization in Nigeria. The experience was one that we as participants would never forget, and I played an instrumental part in co-producing the show along with my colleagues. I knew more could be done with this concept. After our performance during the cultural night event, the cast talked about how this could be replicated in different spheres, and how could we make monologues even more specific to our experiences. Thus the YOWLI monologues was born.

An Opportunity to Give Back
In March 2011, I received an email inviting me to be a participant and organizer for AWOMI’s event at the United Nations during the Commission on the Status of Women, wherein I was charged to help organize the monologues which we later called the YOWLI monologues. I was very excited to be a part of this process because monologues are something I am extremely passionate about.  I began the process by asking all participants to submit monologues specific to the topic areas of the day, these included climate change, sexual health and reproductive rights, and youth leadership.  A week before the event I worked very closely with AWOMI program coordinator Jemila Abdulai and Nwannekka Nnoli, a colleague of mine from YOWLI 2008, to arrange the monologues together into a script, by editing, and organizing them. The entire process of putting the monologues together initially was very digital and of course with this came challenges, with various time zones and every ones commitment levels it was difficult to get all of the monologues in time. Despite these challenges, the team of participants worked diligently together to send in monologues that were specific to their lives.

Coming Together
The most exciting and powerful moment of the monologues production was when the entire cast came  together in the United States and rehearsals began. I was excited to meet everyone on the cast who were from the recent YOWLI 2010, and my alumnae colleagues from YOWLI 2006 and 2008.  From practicing the monologues repeatedly, to continuously re-editing the script to make it more accustomed to the topics for the panel discussion the participants were a part of, a lot of time and energy went into bringing the script alive. The cast was so engaged not only in our own monologues but specifically in those of our fellow cast members. This I believe played a major role in the energy that people brought to their pieces. After days of practicing the monologues, and in addition to other obligations, everything was ready for debut at the United Nations. The first piece was performed by Esther Sheehama from Namibia titled “Life and Me” which focused on a woman living with HIV and the impact that the climate change has on her health, and overall well being, and its impact on her family. More monologues followed that dealt with very intense topics such as female genital circumcision (FGM), drought, sex trafficking, brain drain and its impact on the global economic crisis. At moments the room was silent, as the crowd listened intensely, at moments the room was filled with laughter, at moments with anger, a combination of valid responses from the crowd. The monologue I recited was written by Nwannekka Nnoli who was not able to attend the conference. I was able to edit versions of the monologue to make it more true to my experience. I performed a monologue titled “Why not pass the baton?” This monologue was the story of a young woman who had returned from the United States after receiving an ivy league degree and was still frustrated because she was not able to get a job, due to corrupt leaders who shuffle positions across the government and other sectors, in her country of origin. The monologues were diverse, engaging, and powerful. They represented the voices of African women, and provided a platform for attendees to ask questions and engage in conversations afterwards.

The Essence of It All
What I took away from this experience was that monologues can help validate anyone’s story, the structure can be replicated into other communities. Monologues can also serve as a means to share information about the challenges and triumphs that a group of people, in this case YOWLI participants, are facing in our communities. We plan on posting the videos of the monologues on You Tube for them to serve as a means for other African women to utilize and make their own to then post on the web or perform in their own communities.  The monologues are something I will continue to be a part of organizing and participating in either through YOWLI or other avenues in Africa. Feminist theater has proven to be a great platform for women and should continue being utilized as another means of having our voices heard in very intentional and focused ways specific to our experiences and voices. 

Written by Moiyattu Banya. Moiyattu is a YOWLI 2008 graduate from Sierra Leone. She recently helped organize the first ever YOWLI Monologues during the 55th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in New York.

Mar 14, 2011

Spotlight: AWOMI at the UN's 55th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW)

The 2011 YOWLI Monologues Crew
The 2011 YOWLI Monologues
After a whirlwind two weeks in New York for the CSW, the AWOMI delegation is back on the continent. Our premiere edition of the YOWLI Monologues was launched on March 1st in New York with the theme: Young African Women Speak Out on Climate Change, SRHR and Youth Leadership, and from the reviews we've gotten, it was a successful event which employed a creative approach at highlighting the linkages between climate change and sexual reproductive health and rights (SRHR) issues. The YOWLI Monologues crew consisted of Tantely Ravelomanana (YOWLI '06 - Madagascar), Omar Dibba (YOWLI '08 - Gambia), Esther Sheehama (YOWLI '08 - Namibia), Moiyattu Banya ( YOWLI '08 - Sierra Leone), Nwanneka Nnoli (YOWLI '10 - Nigeria), Sahiya Umuhoza (YOWLI '10 - Rwanda), Musa Soko (YOWLI '10 - Sierra Leone),  AWOMI Web Manager Kudzanai Chizarura (Zimbabwe), and AWOMI Program Coordinator Jemila Abdulai (Ghana). We would like to extend an arm of gratitude to each member of the YOWLI Monologues crew and also to our panel chair, UN-Women Africa Section Chief Letty Chiwara, AWOMI Mentor Yassine Fall, AWOMI Board Member Arame Tall and YOWLI Facilitator Hameda Deedat for their unfailing support and guidance.

For those of you who were unable to join us in New York, we invite you to relive the YOWLI Monologues experience by checking out our photos on the AWOMI Facebook Page. Over the next couple of weeks we will be putting up videos of the monologues as performed by the YOWLI graduates, as well as The 2011 YOWLI Monologues Script. We hope these insights will stimulate awareness, discussions and action on the attendant challenges of climate change, particularly as it concerns women and youth across Africa.

AWOMI Delegation with some UN-Women Africa Division Staff
AWOMI Participation in UN-Women Youth Event
As part of the CSW, AWOMI partnered up with the UN-Women Africa section to hold a youth side event on March 2, 2011 called Youth Perspective on Development: Gender Equality and New Technologies. YOWLI 2010 graduate Musa Soko participated in the panel event while AWOMI Coordinator Jemila Abdulai moderated the town hall discussion. A warm thanks to Letty Chiwara and the UN-Women Africa team for all their consideration and assistance. Kindly find a video of the entire event.

Feb 28, 2011

Press Release: YOWLI Monologues Agenda for March 1, 2011

The YOWLI Monologues - Official Agenda

(Jemila Abdulai, AWOMI Program Coordinator)

Panel Introduction 
(Letty Chiwara, UN-Women Africa Division Chief and Panel Chair)
2:05pm - 2:10pm

Panel Discussion: Assessing the Impacts of Climate Change on Women and SRHR in Africa
(Wrap Up by AWOMI Board Member & Climate Change Specialist Arame Tall)
2:10pm - 2:40pm

2:40 - 2:50pm

Screening: YOWLI 2010 Film
(Introduction by YOWLI Facilitator Hameda Deedat)

The YOWLI Monologues 
(YOWLI Graduates)
3:05pm - 3:25pm

Closing Remarks 
(Yassine Fall, UN-Women Senior Economic Adviser)
3:25pm - 3:30pm

Feb 27, 2011

AWOMI Participation in UN Women CSW event

AWOMI will be participating in UN Women's event on Wednesday 2 March 2011, 10a.m.-12:30p.m. 
Please see below for details.

Side event to the 55th Commission on the Status of Women hosted by UN-Women

Youth Perspective on Development:
Gender Equality and New Technologies

Date:                  Wednesday 2 March 2011, 10a.m.-12:30p.m.
Venue:              UN Headquarters, Temporary North Lawn Building, Conference Room A
3 United Nations Plaza (at 44th Street and 1st Avenue)

Please join us for a dynamic opportunity to engage global youth leaders
focused on promoting gender equality and the empowerment of young
women and girls through innovation and new technologies, in a diverse 
panel discussion and interactive town hall forum.

Opening Remarks: Joanne Sandler, Deputy Director. UN Women.

Iveth Mafundza (Mozambique), Association of Women in Judicial Careers
Celia Rocha (Uruguay)- National Youth Institute, Ministry Of Social Development
Olga Tzec (Belize)-Maya Institute of Belize
Musa Soko (Sierra Leone)-African Women Millennium Initiative
Wazhma Frogh, Afghan Women’s Network
Daintowon D. Pay-bayee (Liberia). MOREMI

Video presentations

Town Hall Discussion.
 Closing Remarks: Letty Chiwara, Chief of UN Women-Africa.

Join us through a live online webcast of the program at and post your responses via Twitter using @UNWOMEN.

Feb 23, 2011

Meet the CSW YOWLI Monologue Team

Omar Dibba -YOWLI 2008-Gambia

Omar Dibba is the Coordinator of Youth Projects with the Gambia Committee on Traditional Practices (GAMCOTRAP) a Women’s Rights organisation in the Gambia where he worked since 2004. He is an advocate on Adolescent/girls and women’s Sexual and Reproductive Health and rights. His work involves networking of young people, project development and sensitization of communities particularly young people in and out of schools.

As a youth activist, he is a founder member of the National Youth Parliament of The Gambia, he is also a member of the National Youth Council of the Gambia where he served in different capacities coordinating the activities of young people at Regional level.

Through GAMCOTRAP and the Inter Africa Committee (IAC) he provides programme support to National and Community based youth organisations in integrating activities geared towards the elimination of harmful traditional practices i.e. FGM, and the Promotion of adolescents and girls sexual and reproductive concerns.

Omar is also trained by the African Women Millennium Initiative (AWOMI) during the 2008 Yowli edition in Dakar. A training that has elevated him substantively and thus helped in improving his work in the Gambia.

Musa Soko - YOWLI 2010-Sierra Leone
As founding member of the national youth-led organization; Youth Partnership for Peace and Development, Musa is a diligent, thorough and organized change-maker who has the desire and passion to make the changes needed within the community he lives and those around him. His demonstrated commitment to the importance of research on peace building and development issues in his country, and has provided invaluable insight into Sierra Leonean governance systems. He worked patiently and enthusiastically, and is continuously eager to learn new knowledge and skills.

He has an unflagging commitment to peace promotion and human rights with specific interest to the rights of women, children, youth and disabled persons. His devotion to the rights of marginalized people is evidenced in his earlier voluntary work and at 20, he introduced the Blind and Visually Impaired in Sierra Leone to basic computer literacy via an on-screen reader known as JAWS. He is also focused on the interlocking dynamic of peace building and reconstruction for development, human security, justice and democracy.

Musa has vast knowledge in peace negotiation, facilitation and training. Today Musa is an outstanding young leader who continues to work in support of his fellow young people and the communities they live. His commitment to development and women’s work is evident in his service as Commissioner to the Women and Youth Commission of the International Development and Cooperation of NGOs (USTKIP).

Musa is actively involved in public advocacy and youth work and with an academic background in Peace, Musa is actively involved in peace-related advocacies and he is a member of the African Union Peace and Security Cluster and also a Member of the Steering Committee of the DisArm for Peace Project. With keen interest in Urbanization, he was elected as a member of Youth Advisory Board of the UN-HABITAT representing Africa. Whilst serving as Board Member, Musa worked with a number of NGOs and government institutions to promote youth issues that has to do with the daily challenges women and youth are faced with, in search of solutions.

However Mr. Soko has a sophisticated understanding of the need for women’s empowerment and their roles in attaining the MDG as a central component of energizing his country and region. He has enormous confidence in the powers of youth and civil society to make the necessary changes needed in the world and Sierra Leone in general. As such, Musa put special efforts into youth-led development and activism. He currently occupies key leadership positions within Sierra Leone, Africa and around the world among which to name a few; Global Call to Action Against Poverty as African Children/Youth Taskforce Member and also a Sierra Leonean Youth Representative to the African Union ECOSOCC. Musa Ansumana Soko was a member of the Expert Group Meeting in the design and Implementation of the African Union Youth Volunteer Corps.

The fact that Musa as been an active portion of all these demonstrates the confidence and faith entrusted in him, Musa is interested in development cooperation to which extent he has attended meeting of the African Union-European Union Strategic Partnership Meetings. Musa was also invited by the Real Aid Network to participate at the 3rd High Leven Forum on Aid Effectiveness which also took into account review of progress on the Paris Declaration in 2005. At a point during the UN International Conference on Trade and Development XII, Musa as accredited to participate as one of the youngest youth delegates in 2008

Musa has travelled to a number of countries to participate in international meetings, conferences, training sessions and more to deliver talks and help in design of policy documents. and at the age of 20, he introduced the Blind and Visually Impaired in Sierra Leone to basic computer literacy via an on-screen reader known as JAWS. This has allowed him to have me various and renowned personalities in the UN systems and other key INGOs/NOGs, Leaders and inspiring young people across the globe.
Musa is energetic, capable with sustained concentration, and is enthusiastic about participating in discussions , trainings and debates that helps foster meaningful changes for those he serves and works with.

Sahiya Umuhoza  - YOWLI 2010  - Rwanda
Sahiya Karim Umuhoza was born on the 16th November 1985 in Rwanda. The first born out of five, she completed her primary education in 1999 at Kigali Parents’ School. She then went to FAWE Girls’ School where she obtained both her ‘O’ and ‘A’ level certificates. She’s currently a mechanical engineering student at the Kigali Institute of Science and Technology.

Sahiya has participated in a number of different activities, trainings and workshops to help improve the wellbeing of the society. She is committed, confident, responsible and works under minimum supervision. She is ready to meet challenges, enjoys exchanging constructive ideas and experiences with likeminded individuals, and is involved with the Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE) Rwanda.

Arame Tall - AWOMI Board Member - Senegal
Arame Tall is a proud native and current resident of Dakar, Senegal, in addition to being a doctorate student in African Studies at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C.

 Her dissertation topic, “Reducing vulnerability to climate-related disasters in Africa. A cross-country comparative analysis of disaster management policies across Africa: which way forward in the face of a changing climate?” highlights her passion for climate and environmental issues.  She is the recipient of a number of fellowships and awards including the Pulitzer Foundation scholarship for academic excellence, which she received while pursuing her graduate degree on climate change and society at Columbia University in New York, USA.

 Prior to that, Arame completed her undergraduate degree at Smith College in Massachusetts, USA. The women and youth empowerment enthusiast has worked with international organizations like the U.N. Institute for Training and Research in Geneva, Switzerland, the Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Center in the Hague, Netherlands, and Senegal’s Centre de Suivi Ecologique. She also has a number of publications around climate change issues and is the founder of Afro-Optimism, an Africa-promotion foundation based in Geneva, Switzerland. During her leisure hours Arame enjoys reading, cooking, traveling and horse-back riding.

Esther Sheehama - YOWLI 2008 - Namibia
Esther Sheehama is an HIV Trianer, YOWLI 2008 graduate and YOWLI Namibia focal person. For the last 10 years she has dedicated herself in the field of HIV and SRHR issues.Her role as the YOWLI Namibia involves work related to HIV/AIDS.  She supervises programmes and activities including the Post YOWLI project and ACT. She works closely with women living with HIV and is now involved with the HIV adolescents project in Namibia. Additionally, she is an international HIV/AIDS and Human Right activist. Her current HIV/AIDS activities include Policy support and operations, and research in areas on strengthening prevention strategies, and integration of HIV into reproductive health in Namibia.

Feb 22, 2011

The YOWLI Monologues (AWOMI CSW 55 Parallel Event)

The African Women's Millennium Initiative (AWOMI) would like to invite you to attend our CSW parallel event entitled: "The YOWLI Monologues: Young African Women Speak Out on SRHR, Climate Justice and Youth Leadership". The event will take place on Tuesday March 1 from 2:00pm to 3:30pm in the 10th Flr Room of Church Center.

It consists of a panel session: "Assessing the Impacts of Climate Change on Women and SRHR in Africa" which will be co-chaired by UN-Women Africa Division Chief Letty Chiwara and UNFPA Chief of Gender, Human Rights and Culture Aminata Toure (TBC) and include graduates from AWOMI's Young Women's Knowledge and Leadership Institute (YOWLI).

In addition, there will be an "Africa-Style" Monologues presentation featuring representatives from Sierra Leone, Namibia, Madagascar, Rwandaon the aforementioned issues. To RSVP for the event kindly email by Feb. 27 at 5pm ET.

Please find the concept note and official flyer (English and French) below. Feel free to share with interested persons and organizations. We look forward to meeting and interacting with you. Thanks!

Official Flyer (English) - Design by Sughey Abreu

Official Flyer (French) - Design by Sughey Abreu

Feb 3, 2011

Press Release: AWOMI Stand at the World Social Forum (WSF) 2011

Dakar Senegal,
February 3, 2011
As part of the World Social Forum (WSF) in Dakar, Senegal from February 6 to February 11, 2011, the African Women's Millennium Initiative on Poverty and Human Rights (AWOMI) will have a stand at the Cheikh Anta Diop University for information, networking, and interactions. Please feel free to stop by and learn about our Young Women's Knowledge and Leadership Institute (YOWLI), Women's Empowerment Fund (WEFU) and Accountability Tracking (ACT) programs, as well as to meet and interact with some of our YOWLI graduates. We look forward to fruitful discussions and collaborations on advancing development and social justice in Africa and globally. 

To find out more about the World Social Forum 2011, kindly visit the official website: