As part of Why Are We Still Here?, a series of 12 blogs written by women around the world to mark International Women’s Day, academic and civil society activist Esi Sutherland-Addy writes about how the creative voices of women across generations strengthen her resolve not to stop.
I have always been intrigued by the world of stories and the role of stories in the world – the way the imagined can become real and change things. I have gratefully embraced a career that permits me to project the creative voices of women loudly. It is their stories and voices that inspire me to continue doing what I do. Take the story of Abigail Mortey.
Abigail was the winner of the Forum for African Women Educationalists’ 2014 STEM (Science, technology, engineering, mathematics) competition, and was selected from secondary school girls in 14 African countries. Her winning experiment used the natural properties of a plant that her grandmother had long found kept mosquitoes at bay. Using this knowledge, Abigail found a way to pulverise the fresh leaves of the plant, whilst still retaining its potency. She then blended them with shea butter to make a natural mosquito repellent.
With the support of her science teacher, and Ghana’s premier medical research institute, Abigail carefully documented the process; but it was Abigail’s originality of thought and determination that got things right. Most thrillingly, she was able to stand on the shoulders of her grandmother to reach a new solution. This transmission and validation of indigenous women’s knowledge through generations is an affirmation of great, life-transforming herstories continually in the making.
It is stories like this, and the support of my counterparts in the Africa region, which constantly reinforces my 30-year passion for girl’s education. It is wonderful to laugh and cry with amazing women who share the same goals, and challenges – especially as we all know young women who have come through our mentorship, whilst listening to the discouraging litany of crippling obstacles to the education of girls that must be tackled. Our shared stories meld into one another and strengthen our resolve.
But the unending need for advocacy to get things back on track, to counter the reversals in social gains for girls and women, masks the real truth: if I were to stop, really stop to think why I do what I do, I probably wouldn’t do it.
Then stories like Abigail’s make the imagined real and it is all worthwhile.
Esi Sutherland-Addy is a Professor of African Studies at the University of Ghana and civil societyactivist in the areas of girls education, culture and human rights