Image by: The Vancouver Women’s Library
Fellow speakers, volunteers of the Vancouver Women’s Library, ladies and gentlemen, everyone — goodafternoon. It is an honour to be speaking here, today. The Vancouver Women’s Library has been around for a year now and in this timeframe has become a vibrant hub for women and our art — like open mics, West African Dance classes, Spanish classes etc. It is also a space for all who choose to explore books in a comfortable and friendly space. It is an honour to be here celebrating with the library and everyone of you.
I have been asked to speak on the theme — Women of Courage. So much can be said on this but I will try to keep my speech concise and very importantly, I will try to keep you all awake.
Since I moved to Canada from Nigeria at age 14, I have never been to an event that gives as much diversity in representation as we are all witnessing in the speaker line-up for today. This is not a Diversity and Inclusion panel or a panel on the Future of Multiculturalism in Canada etc. No. It is just an event celebrating all women and look at the diversity of this panel. Today, the Vancouver Women’s Library has set a great example, for which we must all strive to embrace in our own works as activists, employers, organizers, CEOs, human resources managers etc.
A woman of courage believes fiercely in the power of her dreams. I was born and raised in Nigeria and moved to Canada for my post-secondary education in 2011. The more I reached into my late-teens, I had a passion to do my own part to make my nation better. For a beautiful nation where good governance is often pushed down with an iron fist, it is usually so hard to have any faith. Anyway, in the summer of 2016, a new graduate at the time, I had the vision for the Initiative for Inclusive Dialogue in Nigeria (IIDN). I wanted to create an organization that gave marginalized people in Nigeria, a voice in the governance operations of their communities. I had no clear vision of what the end would look like. I just wanted to start. So every day that summer, in-between online job hunting, I was drafting the contents for the would-be website of this organization. I eventually got a job working with the Canadian Red Cross on its largest domestic disaster response at the time – the 2016 wildfires of Fort McMurray. Even then, I was working on the IIDN project with a tech expert. I just knew I shouldn’t stop chasing the dream. On July 18, 2017, the Initiative for Inclusive Dialogue in Nigeria (IIDN) was launched. Our official mission is that: “through our assistance in areas of good governance education, engagement with different community groups/social classes and awareness raising, more Nigerians will feel interested, confident and qualified to engage in the discourse and actions centred around how Nigeria is governed”.
I was blessed to be able to live this mission in our very first workshop with youths of the Makoko, water-side and slum community in the megacity of Lagos. Makoko is a slum and neglected in terms of governance. The youths at this workshop were very smart and driven. What struck me during my presentation to them was when I asked: Who wants to be a politician? I got facial reactions and sighs of disdain. I asked if it was because of how their communities have been treated. They gave nods of affirmation. This broke my heart. I will never forget that day. But it affirmed our mission. Those youth too will be the future leaders of tomorrow, so it is critical that they learn that better is possible. This is what IIDN did that day. This is what the organization will continue to do. Shout out to the whole IIDN team which I am so grateful to have working alongside me, in this journey.
Women of courage realize that if the table doesn’t fit everyone, we can buy new tables and expand the room space. Women of courage see each other as potential collaborators and not as threats or unequals. In the late 1980s, an African-American woman, Kimberlé Crenshaw introduced to the world, the notion of intersectional feminism. Intersectionality displays good neighbourliness. It is often said that Indigenous women in Canada are thrice at risk of violence than any other group in Canada. Yet, in many critical dialogues, Indigenous women are left out of the table. Where is the intersectionality in this? Well, Fay Blaney does not fail to bring those voices to the table. Madam, it is an honour to be here with you today.
Women of courage are women who have survived civil and inner wars and have dared to pick up the pieces of themselves that survived, and then, achieve great heights. I honour those that have survived inner wars like a woman from Nise in Anambra State, Nigeria who too untimely, became widowed and the bread-winner of six children (not including the eldest who was already established and helping his mother train the younger ones). One of her sons lost a leg during Nigeria’s civil war. One of her daughters today is a PhD holder who has worked tirelessly to advance environmental sustainability in Nigeria. That matriarch is my late maternal grandmother. The beloved child injured by a weapon of war is my late uncle. The PhD holder is my real-life super-heroine, my mother. I give thanks for my grandmother.
There are so many women who have survived wars. I have heard of a book by an author who is “Reclaiming” her life. I want to recognize that Evelyn Amony has shown enormous, enormous courage as she shares her story and advocative spirit with Ugandas and the world.
It is true also that some women of courage do not survive their wars – whatever the wars look like. Marielle Franco was a vibrant, Brazilian advocate for the Black community, women, the poor and many at the margins in Brazil. She grew up in one of Brazil’s most impoverished areas. Franco rose to the rank of politician and did not forget the causes for which she entered politics. About two weeks ago, the voice of Marielle Franco was silenced, by assassin(s)’s bullets. Women of courage are women in Northern Nigeria who embrace education despite social and economic restraints to their pursuit of education, only to be kidnapped by a terrorist group at their schools. In 2014, over 200 Chibok girls were kidnapped from their school by Boko Haram. It is our duties to honour such women that did not or may not survive their wars, by doing our part to make the world a fairer, safer, more equal place.
Finally, women of courage celebrate. They celebrate the little joys, the big blessings and the tragedies overcome. They celebrate the future unknown. And as my mother advised me very recently, I say to you too: “Be very bold”.
Chiamaka Mọgọ speaking at the ‘Women of courage’ talk organized by the Vancouver Women’s Library (March 25th, 2018)
I thank the Vancouver Women’s Library for honouring me and the work that we do, at the Initiative for Inclusive Dialogue in Nigeria. I will also like to share that the organization is looking to welcome new volunteers. You can learn more from the IIDN website — www.iidnigeria.org.
It has been an honour to speak at this occasion. As we say in my native language of Igbo — Daalụ unu. Ya gaziekwara unu.
Thank you and all the best.
~ Chiamaka Mọgọ
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