The city of Istanbul, Turkey is no stranger to the word ‘’transformation’’ having served as a capital for many empires throughout history from the Roman to the Byzantine, to the Latin and then finally the Ottoman Empire. So perhaps it was with this city’s historic ability to recreate, led to the organisers of the Association of Women in Development (AWID) choosing it as a venue to welcome over 2,200 women’s rights activists from around the world.
Together with their carefully packed suitcases containing testimonies of their multiple identities: newspaper cuttings, photographs of their: children, partners, their trees and livestock – each providing a reminder of their daily lives. Each of these women’s rights activists will take their claimed place to discuss ‘Transforming Economic Power to Advance Women’s Rights and Justice.’’
Among these many voices are three of our very own women’s rights activists and creators of change, which GROW has been working in solidarity with. Over the next few days we will learn firsthand from Ester Jerome Mtegule, Anna Oloshuro and Mwandie Makame Kali winners of the female food hero project in Tanzania what ideas, visions, solutions and conversations they wish to share and be part of, what expectations they have from this meeting and what it feels to travel thousands of miles from their village homes, to be immersed with the global women’s rights movement.
It is the day before the start of the conference, and the Halic Congress Centre patiently awaits the arrival of its guests. Feet used to long walks accompanied by African beaded flip flops are some of the first to make their way towards the registration desk, in a bid to avoid the long queues tomorrow’s official first day will bring. "I’m really looking forward to meeting lots of women and having good conversations, I want to know more about their experiences, not just in the context of the conference setting, but also learn more about what these women do on a day-to-day basis, learn about their different cultures, their different roles, and from the lives of as many women as possible from around the world." Anna’s expectations are clear, as she adjusts her Masai beaded necklace, proudly brought out for the occasion.
Registration complete. Armed with bags and programme schedules the exploration begins to find the room that Ester will share her experience with fellow women delegates with. As we walk past organisations setting up their exhibition stands, Ester speaks with excitement at the opportunities that the meeting will bring. As winner of the Female Food Hero project, she will speak at one of the discussions organised by Oxfam, she explains, "As Mama Shujaa Wa Chakula (Female Food Hero) I have a responsibility to speak for the women of Tanzania and raise awareness on the lack of resources and finances that they face.’ She adds ‘I believe this meeting will provide solutions, that if we women are organised in a group than it easier for us to access and fight for our rights."
Mwandie who has travelled from the island of Zanzibar which rests within the Republic of Tanzania explains that for her it is not about reinventing the wheel, but "replicating what is working. I want to see, hear and bring back all the lessons to my own community, to show what is being done by women around the world. How it works, and how we women can still make progress while keeping our traditional values."
Before leaving the Halic Centre, as Halic bay looks on, Anna, Ester and Mwandie pose for a photograph which will add one more proof in their quest and hunger for change.
Follow the Oxfam staff and our partners tweeting from AWID.
Blog about the Female Food Heroes project: IWD 2012: Solidarity with women farmers
Join Oxfam's campaign to fix the food system and and GROW justice.