Ms. Aya Chebbi, a multi award-winning Pan-African feminist. She rose to prominence as a voice for democracy and shot to global fame as a political blogger during 2010/2011 Tunisia’s Revolution. She received the 2019 Gates Foundation Campaign Award and was named in Forbes’ Africa’s 50 Most Powerful Women and New African Magazine List of 100 Most Influential Africans.
1- You have an impressive record of activism, and you are one of the most prominent advocates for gender equality. For our readers who may not know you, could you present yourself and tell us more about what you do and why?
I am a pan African feminist which means that I live every day to mobilize for the integration of Africa, and continue to unite around our agenda. For me, it’s about female liberation and liberation from inequality and injustices. My work is all around Pan African mobilization and solidarity. I served in the African Union where I focused on how to mobilize young people as our demographic power that represents the continent. Now I founded Nala Feminist Collective to focus on young women particularly and how we can unite as a continent for women to be free.
2- You were part of the opening Ceremony of the Generation Equality Forum 2021 last year and gave an inspirational speech (click here to see it). What did this event mean for feminist organizations worldwide? What did it mean for you?
France hosts many conferences in the name of gender equality and as part of the President’s Agenda. But this one is about generational transition. We are reflecting on the 25 years since Beijing to implement the vision for the next few decades, including a commitment for the next five years.
It was so important that the young African women’s voices and agenda were included. Because of COVID19, the forum was held over two years instead of one: it gave us more time to do consultations; to mobilize on the ground; to have more participation; more critical voices; to get more time to raise consciousness around the issues of Beijing +25. The event itself can be regarded as the arrival, the destination. It was very important for us to be on the platform to push decision makers. It was important to challenge the narrative and to avoid the feminist agenda being a club of male politicians discussing feminism and foreign policy.
It meant to me that our message was clear. Not only me, but many young feminists who spoke that day. Our message was clear and loud, that: nothing for us without us; things are not business as usual; African young feminists are bold, and we know exactly what we want, and we will pursue it. We are watchdogging you; we are holding you accountable; we’re not letting anything go by without having justice and having accountability.
3- How did the GEF help you and your organization to collaborate deeper with other organizations?
I’ve been in diplomacy and intergovernmental spaces for a few years. It was important to see who the leading actors on this agenda are and what they are committing because it was a defining moment to the next five years.
4- According to you, a year after the launch of the GEF, what are its main achievements?
In August 2021, we organized 6 intergenerational dialogues for accountability to ask African governments who are in GEF Action Coalitions “You committed this million. What are you doing with that money? Where will it go?”.
At the intergovernmental, global and UN levels, I haven’t seen much. That is dangerous because we cannot allow for these big moments to go away. $40 billion U.S. dollars were committed but there are no structures, no clear accountability framework yet.
Of course, I cannot say nothing happened. On the UN’s side, Action Coalitions continued to work. The issue is that these bureaucratic institutions are not working with the pace of the challenge we’re facing. They are not working with the speed of the technology we have and the expectation of our generation.
Then you go on the national level and if the country has elections, everybody is focused on that. We are being told “the administration might change or now the leadership is busy…”. But gender is mainstream. You cannot pause it and do your election and then come back to it. That’s unacceptable. Many of these governments use the feminist agenda for their election, and then once they’re elected, what did they do?
5 – What are you expecting from the GEF for the 4 years to come, when the action coalitions will end?
I think we need to be more serious about the feminist agenda and not just use and misuse feminism. All male leaders now, which is most of the world rulers come out and say they’re feminists. But you look at their cabinet, at their programs, at their accountability on the national planning you don’t see anything feminist about what they do. We need to take that seriously. World leaders need to be accountable if they say they’re feminists, they must act as feminists. They must budget as feminists. They must fund feminists. They must pass feminist policies and if they don’t do that, they shouldn’t say they are feminists.
The second thing we must follow is the money. Where is the money going? There is no transparency around these $40 billion. When they were committed, they didn’t say where each chunk of money was going. We must be able to index it and track it.
6- You are the founder of the pan-African feminist collective Nalafem. Could you explain to us what is it about? How is this related to GEF?
We launched the initiative in Paris Forum, on the 1st of July and we just came back from Abuja celebrating one year. We also organized our first summit to hold the government accountable. We take it every year to a different African country and try to mobilize in support of young feminists doing the work on the ground in their communities. Nala Feminist Collective came out of Africa young woman Beijing+25 manifesto, which is a manifesto developed by 1500 young people in Africa and the diaspora. It has 10 bold demands, and the idea was to mobilize and advocate for those demands. We mobilized 10,000 signatures and we took them to UN agencies and African Union and different stakeholders. We succeeded to include eight out of the 10 demands into the action coalitions, except mental health and education. Naturally we launched officially in Paris, and we announced our Nala Council, which has 17 African women leaders under 40. We are the youngest parliamentarians, policymakers, ministers, diplomats on the continent and many of our Council are very radical, bold feminist voices and activists. The idea is to bring all of us together to push the agenda because together we do have a lot of influence, whether in government, in the community or on social media. Secondly, it’s easier to track what is happening nationally and to influence policy change when we have a Council member who is part of the global conversation there.
7- You organised the Inaugural Nalafem Summit on the 1st of July to celebrate Nala’s 1st anniversary and launched a collective book “I am Nala”. Could you tell us more about this?
It’s our first book in celebration of one year. The book has 7 chapters about the leadership journey of members of Nala Council. They tell the stories of their personal learnings, the challenges they face and what each of them is advocating for. The seven chapters advocate for seven demands of our manifesto, the sustainable development goals and Agenda 2063.
You’ll find in the book for example, the story of the Chief of Staff of the Chief Justice of Kenya, Rose, talking about access to justice from a feminist stance, and what she’s faced in her life. She’s been part of the 2010 constitutional change. She also helped set-up Kenya’s First Specialised Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Court.
When we launched the book, we also hosted some dialogues with UN agencies where we discussed the book. We want to bring all this policy level work back to our lived experiences and the story of why we do what we do, why we fight for our rights as young women. It’s because you cannot, not be a feminist when every day reminds you of your own gender and you face hardships from the moment you are born, in your family, in school, in the workplace, everywhere.
We’re also using the book to fundraise for the collective because Nalafem is not an NGO, it’s a platform. We’re not registered. We are a coalition of young feminists trying to shift things, shake things up and challenge the status quo.
When we grew up, we didn’t find many stories of African women. They were erased from history. African women fought with men in revolutions, in the liberation movements. But then history just made them invisible, and we don’t want that for us and our mothers and grandmothers. We want to make sure that our generation documents their own struggle so we can inspire girls and future generations to make this world a better place, an equal just and peaceful place.