“I’m hearing gunshots outside my house,” Nicole Musimbi told the online gathering of young women in the 2021 Sister-to-Sister Mentorship Program. She might have to abruptly sign off.
This is how program organizer Nancy Ingram illustrates the determination of the women who participated.
“COVID was nothing,” Nancy says. Despite the pandemic and the dangers of living in conflict zones, “people showed up.”
The dangerous backdrops to sisters in the session included attacks by armed rebels in Nicole’s city of Beni in the Democratic Republic of Congo, as well as a major volcano in the nearby city of Goma.
In Myanmar, the military junta waged relentless violence against civilian resistors. Palestinians faced massive destruction during 11 days of Israeli bombardment in May. There were deadly terrorist acts in Nigeria.
Sister-to-Sister has been hosted annually in Canada by the Nobel Women’s Initiative and the Coady International Institute since 2012. In 2021, there were 15 young women from 11 countries in the program that provides leadership, communications, and advocacy training, among other skills.
COVID19 restrictions forced the program online. That turned out to be a good thing. Modifying the usual in-person residency program in Canada to an online, interactive program allowed a tripling of participants. Twice weekly half-day meetings were extended to 12 from seven weeks.
The program is designed to strengthen the abilities of young women who have taken on the challenging work of defending women’s human rights, addressing gender-based violence and peacebuilding. Sisters co-created the agenda to ensure peer learning, especially on real-time issues participants faced.
The women also tackled broad questions about feminist philosophy and principles with the guidance of such mentors as Sudanese feminist Fahima Hashim.
Fahima counsels that feminism must not be defined too narrowly or exclude groups, even temporarily. Feminism encompasses all human rights. “If there’s an ‘if’ or a ‘but’ then this is not feminism,” she says. “If one falls, we fall together. Rights are rights.”
Sisters in the program who faced danger felt the immediate support and care of their peers in other parts of the world. Those too shy to admit exhaustion to their workmates learned from their mentors that it’s okay to take a break. They learned about the importance of self care and the power of love at home, in community and in the wider world.
Nancy and Fahima each spoke of the profound effect the young women had on them. “We learned as much as was learned,” Nancy says. In some ways, the sisters “didn’t need to be trained, they needed to share.”
Fahima singled out those involved in ‘Artivism,’ ingeniously using music, songs, theatre, and other art to seek social justice or to help survivors of violence heal. She was delighted when some sisters used drawings effectively in presentations to donors.
“I am very hopeful,” says Fahima. “We learned a lot from these young feminists.”
Fahima and Nancy are featured guests in Episode 1 of When Feminists Rule the Word - Season Three: Let's Talk About Power.
“I do think it’s the last gasp of patriarchy,” Nancy Ingram declares on the opening episode. Could she be right? If so, what comes next? Host Martha Chavez sparks ideas from Nancy Ingram and Fahima Hashim about transforming hierarchal patriarchal power structures embedded in some of our lives since childhood. “My mother was the boss of me, my father was the boss of her, and society was the boss of him,” Martha confesses. Sound familiar?
The guests are experienced, accomplished feminist activists brimming with ideas on what needs to be done. Fahima emphasizes collective structures and decisions by consensus. It’s not really a question of hierarchical structure, Nancy counters. “It’s how we relate to each other and what are the rules of engagement.”
Listen to their wide-ranging, animated and uncut conversation, and decide what you think. Click here for Episode 1 of Season 3.
LEARN MORE ABOUT THE WORK OF FAHIMA HASHIM