Meet our newest Board Member, Korto Williams, Country Director of Action Aid in Liberia
We are delighted to introduce to you the newest edition to UAF-Africa’s family, Korto Williams, Country Director of Action Aid in Liberia. Korto brings 12+ years of development experience working on post-conflict reconstruction and development issues.
Learn more about Korto, her philosophy in life, and what drives her passion for women’s human rights:
In what ways have you seen women’s rights work on the African continent change / take shape / progress over the years?
Women’s rights work on the African continent has definitely evolved from a focus on tokenistic inclusion and advanced to a more analytical and political approach. Concerns in the beginning I believe addressed immediate needs and covered some political demands including suffrage. However, in most cases, suffrage was instrumental in reinforcing gender stereotypes around women playing a supportive role to male led governance systems, especially in West Africa.
Currently, there is a more progressive and strategic demand related to human rights and engagement of broad frameworks that will eventually respond to micro level issues. For example, multi-sectoral policy level work achieve a linkage to other issues on women human rights, (for example, extractives and militarization) also address micro-level issues on sexual and other forms of gender-based violence in public and private spaces.
Spaces that enhance the political nature of women’s rights on the continent are growing, but not without the associated backlash and broader threats of militarism, religious fundamentalism land grabbing and women lack of control over their bodies and sexuality. Global issues on women’s rights are becoming consistent across countries; however, women on the continent are well-positioned and interested in contextualizing these issues from an African perspective, which is on point. The feminist movement, post 2015 influencing by women’s rights CSOs and the fact that Africa has had its first elected female President in the last decades are reasons for celebration and reflection on gains, symbolic value and current direction of the women’s right movement on the continent.
What is it about UAF-Africa that got you excited about joining the board?
Barry and Djordjevic book-What’s the Point of the Revolution If We Cannot Dance?-was a timely addition to my professional space at a period where I was making significant choices on my contribution of women’s rights work in Liberia. I received the copies from UAF at the African Feminist Forum. The book left an impression and supported me in intellectualizing and finding practical solutions to the women’s rights work I did in Liberia at the time. Second, given my internal crisis as a women’s rights activist living in a country with a female President, I was able to use the content and shared experience in the book to navigate the muddy waters of Liberia’s transition from war-torn, conflict country to a space where women’s energy, although not recognized nationally, was instrumental at community and other levels in shaping the current context. The book allowed me to take a political approach to my work and speak out in effective ways that supported my work as a feminist leader in Liberia. I linked that body of work and the impact on my work to Urgent Action Fund. Last, I also learned about UAF funding of non-traditional political programmes like the one on female genital mutilation and recognized the feminist dimension of dismantling the status quo. All of these points encouraged me to follow the organization and its work. I still have a copy of the book.
What has been the greatest struggle for you as a women’s rights activist and why?
My greatest struggle for me as a women’s rights activist has been the need to have significant reconciliation of the linkages between women’s rights, sexuality and the value of political inclusion for all marginalized people. These groups include women, LGBT persons, sex workers and even in some cases, women considered to be elite and the disregard for the intersectionality between gender and human rights violation. It is challenging when women’s rights organizations and activist work from a homophobic stance and use the excuse that LGBT rights are ‘unAfrican’. Additionally, the sometimes double standards related to respect of culture and marginalization of women is difficult for me on a personal level, living in a deeply patriarchal society, where women are relegated to reproductive roles and abused based on a historical engagement of women as sexual objects. To learn more information about my stance and background- definitely some of the things that shaped my worldview as a women’s rights activist, click here.