Interview by Megan Foo, President of Women LEAD’s Hong Kong Chapter
Marie A. Abanga, is what many will call a dynamic and determined woman. She goes by the three Ds of Determination-Discipline-Dedication and yes in most of what she does, she strives to do it to her best thus she says. Marie read Law in the University and got called to the Cameroon Bar as a Lawyer. She practiced for three years and due to some personal and professional challenges, left her country to further her studies in Belgium. She is currently an LL.M Candidate in International Law with International Relations but she is especially a Feminist, a fervent blogger, an author, a mental health advocate, and also the Regional Manager Africa for the Women In Parliament Global Forum.
Women LEAD: What is your background?
Marie A. Abanga: I grew up in the city of Douala Cameroon and had dare I say a modest but emotionally charged childhood. I grew up seeing most women around me ‘abused’ regardless of perception that all was well in their households. Maybe that is what kept drawing me towards advocacy for women, the marginalized in general and defence of the most vulnerable during my brief practice in courtrooms. l still remember winning my first case in which l valiantly defended a ‘street kid’ charged with three grievous accusations.
Women LEAD: Why is feminism important to you?
Marie A. Abanga: Feminism is important to me first of all because if my mother hadn’t been ‘whisked’ off to school by her own ‘illiterate’ mother, l wouldn’t be what l am today. In her era and as it still applies in certain areas today, the education of the girl child is considered a ‘waste of resources’. My grandma fought hard and even left her marriage all together so that her daughters could have a better opportunity in life than she did. Today, I don’t have any daughters but l am advocating for equal rights among the sexes and more empowerment for women so that all women and girls should be free to make the choices which impact them most in life.
Women LEAD: You are the Regional Manager for Africa for the Women in Parliaments (WIP) Global Forum, which harnesses the collective strength and abilities of women in Parliaments across the world to address global challenges. Can you tell us more about this role with WIP?
Marie A. Abanga: WIP endeavours to find ways to address global challenges by using the collective strength and ability of women in Parliaments across the world. Women need three things to fulfill their potential: Communication, Connection, Community. At WIP, optimizing the power of communication and connection builds new communities of support for women in politics everywhere. I am in my capacity as regional manager for Africa, in charge or organizing, coordinating and implementing WIP’s policies for and in Africa.
So far, I have been instrumental in the organization of two major WIP events: the Iceland Study Trip and most especially, the Rwanda Summer Summit. The later was such a remarkable summit with the participation of over 200 delegates from over 45 countries. Africa as expected was ably represented and the women were unanimous in their support of our Forum and other key issues of grave interest to them. Remarkable among such issues was their call to governments to step up their efforts in supporting the search for the girls abducted by Boko Haram a few months ago. Powerful declarations are issued each time and it is my responsibility to liaise with these delegates to keep the network growing.
Women LEAD: Moreover, up till May, you were a Global Community Champion for the Knowledge Gateway of Women’s Economic Empowerment. Can you share some of your experiences?
Marie A. Abanga: The economic ‘stagnation’ of women has for all time hastened their dependence on men, consequently their, ‘abuse’. This impacts heavily on their own well being, and of course that of their children and hence the well being of the community as a whole. Yet, today, statistics have proven to all extent how much benefit a society reaps when its women are economically empowered. It is for these reasons, that l volunteered mindful of my schedule, to be one of the pioneer Community Champions for the Knowledge Gateway for Women’s Economic Empowerment.
I had to champion the Gateway’s cause and help rally as many women, organizations and stake holders to the platform, as I could. The Knowledge Gateway sure doesn’t provide magic wand solutions or grants for women’s ‘economic waterloo’, but it provides that platform where women can read about others’ views, share ideas, discover networks and learn about opportunities like those free e-courses offered ever so often. The platform even if just for encouraging women to sign up and get acquainted with basic ICT tools (l think particularly of my African Mothers in some of those remote or even difficult ‘terrains’), is one to be supported and championed all the more. To me, the Knowledge Gateway is a more practical platform to better communicate the mission and vision of UN Women as a whole, mutatis mutandis, that of the UN who definitely know that there can be no completion of the MDGs without the full and equal participation of Women.
Women LEAD: What does women’s empowerment mean to you?
Marie A. Abanga: Women’s Empowerment involves the ability to make social, economic and financial choices, which entails a process of change of all the components of societal structures that shape and reproduce power relations and the subsequent unequal distribution of society’s resources and opportunities . Empowered women can make those choices while non-empowered women cannot. I state it simply as that. For example, my grandma of whom l often quote, was the first woman in her own village to inherit landed property from her father. This was of course a feat and several legal battles were fought for this to happen.
l mean, we can look at the prejudice suffered by women from all angles and see how this impacts their general well being be it emotional or otherwise. They suffer great abuse because of the patriarchal societies we live in and this impacts even their will to continue the struggle for empowerment. I am thus fighting this battle both from a personal and professional front and I believe the future generation will be grateful the likes of us lived.
Women LEAD: Can you talk about one woman who has impacted you in your life?
Marie A. Abanga: As other inspirational women have said, talking about just one woman is very difficult. I will just mention three or so. My ‘illiterate’ but dynamic and loving Grandma of fond memory, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf first African Female President and my own mother. My Mother does capacity building for women entrepreneurs of S.M.Es and several other ‘projects’. She has been such a support, saving me even from my own self when I almost succumbed to a ‘nervous break down’.
Women LEAD: What advice would you give to those interested in women’s rights advocacy?
Marie A. Abanga: Do it from your heart and not just your head. Half of the world’s population is made up of women and the other half is here thanks to women. It is high time we realize we are damaging our own future if we continue to deny women equal rights.
Women LEAD: Are there websites or books that are inspiring you right now about gender equality and women’s empowerment?
Marie A. Abanga: I will cite a few:
- Knowledge Gateway for Women’s Economic Empowerment: http://www.empowerwomen.org/
- Girls Globe: http://girlsglobe.wordpress.com/
- Women In Parliament Global Forum: http://www.wip-gf.net/
With regards to books, there are several, and l am an avid reader too. I love most especially the true stories/memoirs of women who made it in their lives in whatever aspect, in spite of the numerous ‘challenges’. A book l am yet to read but is a must for me before this summer is over, is: This Child Will Be Great by H.E Ellen Sirleaf Johnson herself. My other favorite Authors include Maya Angelou, my humble self, Iyanla Vanzart and several others who share their most personal struggles as women and their ‘break through’ aka empowerment, so that other women like them, may not give up the fight.