“A lot of people don’t know, but I actually I started out as gender researcher. I had gotten into student politics in 1985 and joined the anti-apartheid movement in 1986. I abandoned a lot of courses because I was so busy saving the world. By 1991 I had moved to Namibia to work with women who were returning to independent Namibia from exile. My professor started pushing me to finish my studies and do my master’s thesis. I agreed because I thought a formal degree might be necessary to get more interesting jobs to save the world. And of course I was carried away by the stories of the returnee women. They were impressive.
Also, I was suddenly pregnant and thought that I might as well conquer this degree before giving birth in Finland. Pregnancy is the clearest deadline in the world! I was a scholarship holder at the Nordic Africa Institute with a big belly in the summer. In September I gave birth having presented the thesis a few weeks before. I had named the thesis “Radical Motherhood”, describing how the women, within their role as mothers and as value bearers were fighting the very community where they were living, refusing to obey white males and, hiding, feeding and supporting combatants.
My professor urged me to continue, said my research was groundbreaking post-conflict gender work. I said ‘no, I don’t want to be a researcher but okay I can do some work for the liberation of Namibia women ’. After the master’s thesis was approved and published by NAI, I was carried away and involved in the Nordic Africa Institute’s book series on Nordic support to National liberation struggles in Southern Africa. Little did I know that I’d be back at NAI twenty years later as Director, again working with gender and change at The Nordic Africa Days 2016.
After Namibia’s independence in 1990 there was a backlash in women’s empowerment. The women who had been fighting side by side with the men had to do second struggle to be recognized as equals under normal circumstances. But nowadays Namibia is very advanced. If you look at the ruling party SWAPO, it is the only party in Africa where gender equality is guaranteed on the party list. This is thanks to those women. The skills they acquired and the position they managed to negotiate during the struggle has helped them assert their position. You won’t fool with women in Namibia.”
Iina Soiri, Director at the Nordic Africa Institute