This month’s Sea Breeze is a Women’s special issue with interviews, short stories, essays and poems from Liberian women. This really is an inspiring collection of work edited by Liberian feminist and poet, Korto Williams –
Bati o bati!
We are the Ones! Creative Agency and Activism for Women’s Rights in Liberia!
I lost the fire in my belly; the flame that gave me fire to light the torch to fight for women’s rights and gender equality. It is missing somewhere between what Stephanie Horton refers to as the “psychology of the ovary phenomenon” and the international accolades Liberia receives for electing the first female president in Africa. However, immersed in the fiery colors and sounds of the writers and artists in this issue over the past months, I re-experience the epiphany that loyalty is held only to truth. Feminism and creative presentation of intellectual thought have taught me that I must never lose sight of that heaviness in my spirit, an experience that usually follows the overwhelming entry of patriarchal tools in presumably safe and potential political spaces for gender equality.
The honour and humility that I feel working as guest editor for this women’s issue of Sea Breeze Journal is accompanied by a search for answers that allays the vacuum of who we are and how we make concrete our journey of reaching our full potential in a society that struggles against us. This struggle is clearly couched in a story I heard three years ago and will share with you:
Bati o bati! is a popular rallying call of politicians and those that want to be political, and is said to have originated from Southeastern Liberia. Contrary to popular belief, this call did not originate from a politician’s space, but was originally spoken within the context of gender division of labor. The picture is of a weary woman returning from the farm with the baby and all the other loads; her husband, walking behind her swinging a cutlass, is commonplace in most of our childhood memories. She gets near the town and she calls out for support, bati o bati! She has something heavy to put down–to lighten her spirit, to free her body.
It was one of the most intriguing pieces of information I have ever digested, and is symbolic of the power dynamics around authorship, ownership and storytelling. It is also connected to the mental and emotional “labor” we had to overcome to complete this issue. This labor required strength. Our spirit of collectivism has given us the right to call out bati o bati! We have something heavy to put down! Simply stated, we are few; we are striving to tell the “truth” of our state, sadness and sole purpose of breaking the chains of patriarchy that hold us and our women and girls down — underground and in silence. In this issue, we bring our combined voices to the fore, pulling out our pain and aspirations into black, white and color, and sound.
This situation feeds into the emerging conversation in Liberia, the first African country to have an elected female president. Women leaders have multiple demands from patriarchal presumptions and societal expectations to bring a certain brand of leadership to the table. The perceived privilege of leadership is like the proverbial albatross around their necks. It is assumed by progressive women that once a woman has broken the glass ceiling and reached what is, in most cases, a man’s position, she will have a bias towards women’s issues and frame her problem-solving and decision-making in their interests. This is not always true; and without doing an in-depth interrogation of women in leadership and associated issues, I will state the obvious: that the fact that an individual is female does not guarantee a feminist, woman-centered perspective in their leadership style. Continue Reading Sea Breeze…