The Mother’s Bench

Nigerian-Girls-low_6416Over three weeks ago, Boko Haram terrorists raided a girls’ boarding school in Nigeria, kidnapping over 300 girls in an attempt to destroy their dream of finishing school and becoming doctors, teachers, lawyers, and when they were ready, mothers. Boko Haram means, “Western education is a sin”, and their actions are reprehensible, but the Nigerian government initially failed to act, apparently ignoring a warning that came to a nearby military base before the attack occurred. In fact, the rest of the world did much the same, with the media more focused on other issues. Even those of us in the human rights world were caught unawares.

Meanwhile, some girls managed to escape on their own and fathers carrying only bows and arrows chased the attackers into the forest, hoping to bring their daughters home.  Mothers cried out, and women’s’ rights advocates in Nigeria hear them and demanded help. The media and Western and African government leaders remained quiet, but a Nigerian lawyer put out one of the first calls for support on Twitter at #BringBackOurGirls,.  Over a million others did the same. A petition  started by a Nigerian on Change.org, urging help to find the girls, has over 450,000 signatures. 

Nigerian-girls-low-res_6414The girls in Manenberg who are part of Rock Girl (www.rockgirlsa.org), and who have friends who have been kidnapped and raped by gang members, picked up on these initiatives and joined in the demand for help. Even though thousands of miles away, with no resources, and sometimes dodging bullets on their own walk to school, these South African girls wanted to do something.

Women and girls are leading this call for help, with Nigerian women even announcing they would strip naked and walk into the forest to find the girls themselves. All agreed that if those in power, men and women around the globe, failed to act that they would step in.

The voices of girls and women are finally being heard. Michelle Obama posted a photo of herself on the #BringBackOurGirls Twitter hashtag, and President Obama offered the help of United States security experts.  Nigeria has offered a R3,000,000 reward for information about the girls.  Other countries and the United Nations are offering their support.  Sadly, African leaders, including newly elected President Jacob Zuma, remained ominously silent for many days, sending the message to our women and girls that like those girls in Nigeria, they don’t matter. While African and world leaders look the other way, women and girls across Africa are rising up and condemning these actions. Most of these women are mothers themselves, and as Phumzile Ngcuka-Mlambo, head of UN Women, has said, they cannot imagine the pain that the Nigerian mothers are going through, but they will not ignore it.

This month, as we celebrate Mother’s Day, we can all heed the cries of these mothers.  Boko Haram is directly opposed to the education of girls, which is critical to the success of any country, including South Africa. We can help the doors of learning for girls remain open, as a girl with an education can do more than any one soldier. This attack is not just against the Nigerian girls; it is against all women and girls, all mothers.

Projects-resilient-low_5801Rock Girl invites you to help us create a Safe Spaces bench to honour all mothers, including the mothers of the missing girls and your own moms. You can go to www.rockgirlsa.org and make a donation of any amount by EFT, indicating it is for the Mothers Bench, and include the name of any mother you would like to be mentioned on the plaque that will go next to the bench. A portion of funds donated will also go towards the Rock Girl Resilient Girls programme for teenage girls, supporting their efforts to remain in school despite the very real threats of gangsterism and sexual violence. Or you can make a donation to many other incredible organisations who support girls’ education and ensure better lives for women and girls  - I know you do so much already to support this cause.  The Rock Girl Safe Spaces benches are symbolic, but the message is clear:  creating safe spaces for girls and women, and everyone, ensures a better country for all.

We can all ensure that the voices of these girls and their families are amplified, becoming so loud that they reach deep into the forest as well as up to our Presidents’ offices, demanding that girls and women, mothers now or mothers to be, are given the respect they deserve.

As Virginia Woolf once wrote, “Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.”

India Baird

Human rights lawyer and founder of Rock Girl, a grassroots campaign that provides safe spaces for girls and women, and everyone, in South Africa

www.rockgirlsa.org

Rock Girl and Football for GirlsSA are 2014 beneficiaries of the 5 for Change Charity Ball taking place on 31 May 2014, where you can support other women-led initiatives.  Go to www.quicket.co.za/events/1773-5-for-change/.

 

Rock Girl Benefit Concert

The Rock Girl Benefit Concert will be held at the Reddam House Atlantic Seaboard School Hall on Saturday 9 February at 7:30pm for 8:00pm.

Starring Jenn Langhus, Jenn is an American entertainer currently living in Cape Town with her Husband John and two sons. Jenn will be accompanied by Caren van Heerden.

Tickets are R200 and includes the show, wine and canapés. Tables of 8 are R1500.
To reserve a ticket or a table , please call 072 508 5275.

Rock Girl has been given a lovely donation of two paintings by local artist Paul Du Toit that we will auction off directly following the interval and right before the second half of the show.

Rashieda is one of the first girls from Mannenberg to feature in “Girls of the World”

Friends,

Earlier this year, the comedian Amy Poehler contacted Rock Girl about having one of the girls from Manenberg create a video diary for the new show, “Girls of the World”.
Today, Episode One, South Africa, was launched!
Please check out this video of Rashieda, one of the extraordinary young women who is changing her world by being herself, and let us know what you think…

Red River Kids at the Kidsdecor Spring Market Day

On Saturday, 8 September, Rock Girl and the learners from Red River created some fabulous baked goods and pottery to sell at Spring Market Day sponsored by Kids Decor. The proceeds collected from their sales will go towards their school fees and the girls leadership camp scheduled for October. Best sellers were the gorgeous protea bowls that the learners made in partnership with the Light from Africa Foundation and Art in the Forest. Watch Espresso this week to see them tell more about their entrepreneurial skills!

Learners from Red River and Reddam House read to the grade R classes

On Friday, 17 August, the grade 7 learners from Red River and Reddam House/Atlantic Seaboard met in Manenberg to read to the grade R classes and share ideas. It was a wonderful morning and we hope to repeat it soon. Friendships were formed and much laughter was shared by all. A big thanks to Reddam for the donation of so many wonderful books to the new library at Red River and for their support.

Mayor Patricia de Lille unveiles three more Safe Space benches

A year ago, Rock Girl unveiled six public benches that were inspired by the young girls from Red River Primary School in Manenberg.  These girls, who live on the front lines in the struggle to create a safer city for women and girls, decided to take it upon themselves to make their own school and lives safer bye creating a safe space bench at their school, and motivating for other benches like it around the city in Gugulethu, the Waterfront, on Signal Hill, and in Khayelitsha.

Since last August, these girls have not only improved their school and their own community, but have had a profound impact on the city and on South Africa.  In partnership with their teachers, parents, community members, artists, other students, and many more, they have painted their entire school, created a new after-school art and study room and library, and planted over 100 trees.  With the help of Rock Girl, the girls’ efforts have led to the installation of over 30 Rock Girl “Safe Space” benches around Cape Town, with the first Rock Girl bench to be installed in Johannesburg later this month.  These young women are leaders, change-makers, and champions for all women and girls, and everyone.

The girls (and boys) of Red River are walking in the footsteps of one of their lesser known but exceptionally courageous ancestors, Krotoa.  At the same age, Krotoa began working as a translator on behalf of Jan van Riebeek and the Cape Colony.  Despite her young age, she helped shape the future of the young nation, negotiating peace, building relationships, and uniting disparate communities to create a place that was safe for her and her children.  She died before her efforts were fully realized.  Today, Women’s Day, we have made many advances and are much closer to Krotoa’s dream of a society that is safe for everyone, but we still have much work to do.  It is initiatives like Rock Girl and the young people of Manenberg that ultimately lead us to this reality.  Today, Mayor Patricia de Lille unveiled three more Safe Space benches, including a bench designed by mosaic artist Lovell Friedman to remember Krotoa, a bench by Laurie van Heerden, and a bench by Aram Lello.  These benches are functional, beautiful, inspirational, and educational – offering a respite along one of our busiest thoroughfares.

The creation of Krotoa Place on St. Georges Mall honors the legacy of Krotoa and so many unnamed, courageous women like her.  But it also urges us – you, me, the girls from Manenberg, everyone – to ensure that our mothers, sisters, daughters, friends are safe and have the opportunity to grow into the leaders that we need.  Together, we can create the South Africa we all deserve.