Writing for our: women claiming the power of the pen.
Subject: Assertiveness (Psychology) (Management)
Author: Khaxas, Elizabeth
Pub Date: 09/01/2011
Publication: Name: Sister Namibia Publisher: Sister Namibia Audience: Academic; General Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Social sciences; Women's issues/gender studies Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2011 Sister Namibia ISSN: 1026-9126
Issue: Date: Sept-Dec, 2011 Source Volume: 23 Source Issue: 3
Topic: Event Code: 200 Management dynamics Computer Subject: Company business management
Product: Product Code: 8656100 Women's Liberation NAICS Code: 81394 Political Organizations SIC Code: 8651 Political organizations
Geographic: Geographic Scope: Namibia Geographic Code: 6NAMI Namibia
Accession Number: 278172142
Full Text: In this article I will draw on my experiences as a former volunteer and leader of Sister Namibia, my own personal growth as a writer, as well as on the Women's Voices Project that lies at the core of the Women's Leadership Centre, the organisation I founded in 2004. I dedicate this piece to the many courageous writers we have lost over the years, including Desiree Isak, Seriane Eichas, Roswitha Mushova-Ndumba, Floria !Kharas, Agnes Chawila and Neshani Andreas.

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Finding our voices

The group of women who formed Sister Namibia Collective way back in 1989 felt the need for an autonomous forum in which we could explore our identities and issues, find our personal and collective voice, and make our feminist ideas and perspectives known as participants in the reconstruction of our country after independence.

Over many years we met every Wednesday evening to share and discuss our writings, and held winter reading nights by the fireside with our favourite books and authors. Sister Namibia magazine became the vehicle for our budding voices, as we became writers of articles, opinion pieces and poetry, inviting our readers to do the same. A writing workshop with South African author Miriam Tlali opened up the imaginative space for some of us to venture into crafting our first short stories, and photography workshops exposed us to another medium of creative expression.

We celebrated the fifth anniversary of Sister Namibia in 1994 with an exhibition showcasing the work of women photographers, and an anthology of poetry and short stories from the magazine. Most of the contributors were young professional women beginning to experience a new taste of personal freedom.

Transforming silence into language and action

A year later that taste of freedom suddenly went sour for me when the political hate speech started against lesbian and gay people in Namibia. We were labeled as diseased, as worse than animals, and as 'un-African'. The age-old tactic of divide and rule was used by those in power to proclaim who was fit to be a Namibian, who could be an African. As a Damara woman I was expected to be a preserver of patriarchal 'African' tradition, but as a lesbian I had to be excluded and silenced.

In the face of these attacks I had only two options: To come out and speak out, risking my job as a school principal - or to go underground, living in fear of disclosure, and being silenced. Thanks to the great African-American writer Audre Lorde, whose words have been very empowering to me, I chose the first option.

In a speech given by Lorde soon after she had been diagnosed with cancer, she said: I was going to die, if not sooner then later. My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you. But for every real word spoken, for every attempt I had ever made to speak those truths for which I am still seeking, I had made contact with other women while we examined the words to fit a world in which we believed, bridging our differences. *

So I started writing poetry and short stories with my lover about what it is for us to be lesbian women, and we published these writings in Sister Namibia magazine. In those early years I only knew one other black lesbian woman. By coming out I have given myself the opportunity of getting to know many more, both in Namibia and across the globe. Some of them have said to me: "Your courage and your writings have saved my life."

My writing saved my life, too! In the words of Audre Lorde: We have been socialized to respect fear more than our own needs of language and definitions, and while we wait in silence for that final luxury of fearlessness, the weight of that silence will choke us. *(Audre Lorde (1984) Sister Outsider, The Crossing Press Feminist Series)

Reaching out to the writer in other women

Based on these experiences of writing as an act of self-affirmation, self-determination and healing, I decided to make writing the core activity of the Women's Leadership Centre in our Women's Voices Project. Through Women's Rights and Writing Workshops with participants from the most marginalised and excluded sectors of society, hundreds of women in rural and urban communities across Namibia have taken on the identity of 'writer', temporarily casting aside their ascribed roles as 'wives', 'housewives', 'grandmothers', 'aunts' and 'mothers' to fore-taste the freedom of other identities and futures, if not for themselves then for their daughters and granddaughters.

Writing gives us the courage to try out in our minds what freedom would feel like, what it would taste like to live lives for ourselves.

In these writing workshops we came together as equals across all our diversities, supporting each other in our search for the words, the language that will name and hold our experiences of oppression, our wisdom, and our agency to take charge of our lives. In photography workshops we began to explore new ways of seeing ourselves and our sisters.

Three anthologies of writings by Namibian women - including a photo book - have been published to date by the Women's Leadership Centre. They contain powerful testimony to the resistance and resilience of women from all walks of life in the face of violence, oppression in the name of culture, poverty, HIV and Aids. We have also produced a Reading Guide to promote the discussion of these texts in women's groups and educational institutions.

How have the contributors to these anthologies experienced themselves as writers?

Writing is about being comfortable with who you are, sharing yourself, being truthful to yourself acknowledging yourself taking responsibility for yourself.

Through writing we can envision changes in ourselves and in our society. To do this we must bring out the secrets in our lives.

Writing goes to places where spoken words cannot go.

RELATED ARTICLE: Write, sisters, write!

The Women's Leadership Centre will publish its fourth anthology early next year, and there is still space for your stories! Read the information below, pick up your pen or switch on your laptop and start writing!

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Are you a woman/girl of courage?

Have you ever stood up for what you believed in? Talked back? Spoken out? Laughed in the face of fear? Surprised even yourself? Fought for your rights? Taken a risk? Been spontaneous? Followed your heart? Challenged the statusquo? Been true to yourself, no matter what anyone else thought?

The Women's Leadership Centre (WLC) wants to hear your story!

Our new anthology: Moments of Courage will be published in early 2012. It aims to showcase acts of courage in the lives of Namibian women in the context of women's oppression in a male-dominated society. Sharing our stories of courage can inspire others to be courageous. What stories do you have to share about the moments of courage in your life?

How to participate?

You can write a short story, a poem, a song, a letter, a diary entry, or express yourself through a photograph or an artwork that can be printed in a book.

Post, email or fax your writing (in English) or photos of your artwork to the WLC at the address below. Include your name and contact details: telephone number(s), fax number, e-mail and postal address. If these details are not available, please provide the contact details of a relative, a friend or a neighbour through whom you can be contacted.

Submissions must be between 500 and 2500 words and should focus on one specific moment of courageous action or imagined! They must reach WLC by 15 January 2012. Published authors will receive a copy of the book.

Submit your writing/artwork to: Women's Leadership Centre, PO Box 90675, Windhoek Tel: 221106 * Fax: 221896 * Email: Elizabeth@wlc-namibi.org Office: Flat 10, Stern Building, Tal Street, Windhoek
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