INTERSECTIONAL AND ANTI RACIST ACTIVISM

During the third Feminist and Queer Solidarities Beyond Borders workshop, Faith Mkwesha from Sahwira Africa International gave a keynote lecture, "Mobilizing transnational solidarity using online petitions: #ProtectBlackGirlsToo campaign" on 20th April 2021. Faith discussed the importance of transnational solidarity in advocating for the decolonization of humanitarian appeals that are grounded in white saviorism ideology, racism, classism, and sexism

Faith Mkwesha
Mobilizing transnational solidarity using online petitions: #ProtectBlackGirlsToo campaign

Plan International Finland’s Campaign
Faith’s talk focused on an advertising campaign that was held in Finland by Plan International Finland, a non-governmental organization which promotes children’s rights. In 2017 they ran a campaign featuring Fridah, a 12-year-old pregnant Zambian girl with the caption ‘maternity wear for a 12-year-old’. This advertising campaign was featured on bus stops, in the business districts of Helsinki and online in video format. The campaign won many awards, and helped increase donations to Plan International Finland by 40%.

When this campaign was brought to her attention, Faith discussed how she felt it was shameful to see such imagery. Faith opposed this advertising campaign as it showed black African girl-child in the streets of Finland and therefore exoticised a traumatised pregnant child. Faith also went to the Plan International office in person to ask them why they were using this image, however they refused to let Faith into their office and asked her to send an email. She never received a response.

The Black Digital Feminist
Digital media is the most accessible way for black women to organise and gain international solidarity. The #BlackFeminist hashtag helps to advocate via digital activism campaigns and build digital communities. Faith told the story of how, in 2014, Jada, a 16-year-old black teenage girl, was gang raped by teenage boys at a party in the United States. Humiliating photos of her, unconscious and naked were posted online with the hashtag #JadaPose. When Jada saw these photos, she reported this to the police, choosing not to stay silent. She also actively chose to reveal who the person behind the viral photos was and took a photo of herself and shared it with the hashtag #IAmJada. This moment of digital activism helped her reclaim her name and body which was objectified by her rapists. This hashtag was used by other social media users, posting photos of themselves as a symbol of solidarity with Jada. Other movements have received international attention, such as #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo, with the former spreading from the U.S. in 2013, to a global mobilisation of black people against racism particularly after the death of George Floyd in 2020. The #MeToo movement was started in 2006 by Tarana Burke, a black sexual violence survivor and activist.

Response to Plan International Finland’s Campaign
Faith and Sahwira Africa International used digital activism to reach a larger audience, and created the #ProtectBlackGirlsToo hashtag. The campaign’s aim was to identify why Fridah lost the right to protection as a child, particularly in Finland where laws around photographic children and using them in advertising them is very strict. The campaign was created to raise awareness of racism, highlight its exploitative nature (Fridah was not paid), to call out the white saviour complex and to discourage the practice of white women building careers from the bodies of traumatised black girls. The campaign had three simple demands: that the advertising agencies return the prizes they won, that they apologised to Fridah, and that they paid her for using her image.

Sahwira Africa International created the hashtag #ProtectBlackGirlsToo on Twitter, created posters and used Facebook groups to help organise in person demonstrations. The campaign enabled transnational solidarity, with organisations around the world calling out for the white saviour mentality to end. The campaign was also picked up by media houses in Finland. A Zambian actress and radio presenter, Lungowe Sims, tweeted about the campaign, which resulted in the Zambian government becoming aware of the Plan Finland campaign from newspapers in Zambia. Finally, Plan International formally apologised for their advertising campaign.

Faith ended her talk by mentioning the power of online activism. Online activism can mobilise a larger group of people, due to the nature of social media. One person’s actions on social media can inspire many around the globe.

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By Alice Lander