A celebration of African grandmothers' fight for women's rights
Star reporter's photo of grandmothers demonstrating for gender equality in Swaziland to be on display at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.
African grandmothers demonstrate in Manzini, Swaziland for women's rights and gender equality. Star reporter and photographer Debra Black's photo of this historic moment will be on display at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg.
By: Debra Black Immigration Reporter, Published on Sat Sep 20 2014
WINNIPEG - It was a clarion call to action - a powerful and evocative moment when for the first time South African and Swazi grandmothers came together and demonstrated in Manzini, Swaziland for women's rights and gender equality.
It was International Women's Day, 2008. And I was lucky enough to capture that historical moment in a photograph. Now, six years later, that photo will be on display at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg which, after a ceremonial opening this weekend, opens to the public on Sept. 27.
The photo is part of an exhibit in the Inspiring Change Gallery at the museum that looks at the growing "boots on the ground" campaign of African grandmothers who are fighting against domestic violence and elder abuse, lobbying for pensions and social security and pushing for laws that will guarantee the safety and rights of grandmothers and their grandchildren.
Other exhibits in that gallery include: the dress Maréshia Rucker wore to the first integrated prom that she and fellow students at Wilcox County High School in Rochelle, Ga., organized in April 2013 and masks by former child soldiers.
The demonstration in Manzini was the beginning of the boots on the ground campaign - a moment in time when the grandmothers finally collectively spoke out, raising awareness about their plight and demanding action and support for themselves and their grandchildren, most of whom have been orphaned by AIDS.
Since then, the grandmothers' movement has grown and spread across Africa and Canada. Thousands of Canadian grandmothers through the Stephen Lewis Foundation tirelessly fundraise and work in solidarity with their African peers.
As a reporter and a photographer I'm very proud to say that I was there to witness and capture the beginnings of that movement.
My photo is one of four that will hang like leaves on a yarn-bombed tree that is covered in colourful crocheted squares. The tree is a replica of one created in Durban, South Africa by the Hillcrest AIDS Centre Trust for World AIDS Day 2012. The squares that cover the tree at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights were crocheted by grandmothers in South Africa and some Canadian grandmothers, and then stitched together by a grandmothers group in Winnipeg.
Museum organizers hope the display will inspire others to act and campaign for human rights. "One of the reasons the grandmothers story was chosen was because it is a story of solidarity, a story of partnership; a story of people making change in their own lives and other people helping them stand up and do that," said Matthew McRae, the curator/researcher for the Inspiring Change Gallery.
"Grandmothers in Africa are a tremendous force for change," he said. "They're very powerful women and they are raising a generation over there. Millions of people are orphans due to AIDS. And the majority of children that are orphans are being raised by their grandmothers."
Back to the photo. I had been sent to South Africa and Swaziland for the Star. The story: to cover the journey of 12 Canadian grandmothers who were visiting projects and grandmothers groups in Uganda, South Africa and Swaziland funded by the Stephen Lewis Foundation in an educational and solidarity-building effort.
The trip would end with a two-day congress of grandmothers - both African and Canadian - who would meet, share ideas about fighting for women's rights and gender equality for rural grandmothers and attend workshops on caring for AIDS orphans, incorporating grandmothers' issues into a national HIV/AIDS program; HIV prevention for grandmothers; gender based violence and social assistance.
But first they would march. So about 1,500 grandmothers, clad in colourful sarongs, shirts and headscarves, inched along the streets of Manzini, carrying signs that proclaimed: "Grandmothers, the Heart of the Nation," "Grandmothers and their Unpaid Work" and "HIV/AIDS and Grandmothers".
Leading the protest was Siphiwe Hlophe, the founder of Swaziland for Positive Living, a grassroots organization of more than 1,000 HIV positive women, which operates with the help of a grant from the Stephen Lewis Foundation.
Hlophe, who is HIV positive herself, is front and centre in the photo, marching with determination as the grandmothers make their way out of Jubilee Park following a marching band.
Some of the grandmothers use walking sticks, others carry babies on their back. All of them are united in their determination as they sing in Swazi: "We are tired of men beating women in Swaziland." They fist-pump the air, shouting: "Phezukomkhono" - "We are moving forward."
A group of men gathered on the sidewalk yell at the women. "Return to the kitchen and cooking," says one. Another shouts: "Go home, old women."
I took the photograph as the women were moving out of Jubilee Park - proud, undeterred and courageous. You can see their strength in their eyes.
According to the museum's McRae they chose my photograph because it shows "a very powerful moment in history and also shows people having their own agency, people taking their rights into their own hands. You can feel the energy in the photograph. I really thinks this shows the grandmothers in action" - part of a boots on the ground movement to make things better.
Source: Toronto Star
"Reproduced with permission - Torstar Syndication Services"
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