Background To Tuesday Morning’s The Workplace Womanist Chat And Evening Zoom Screening & Discussion

History consultant Kwaku talks to NND on her The Workplace Resonance FM show on Tuesday about Womanism, and past and current female British African activists, ahead of the evening's 'UK British African Women Self-Organising' mash up video screening and discussion.


Background To Tuesday Morning’s The Workplace Womanist Chat And Evening Zoom Screening & Discussion

Ahead of tomorrow’s #SupportOurWomen ‘UK African Women Self-Organising’ Zoom online screening and discussion, I present some of the points I’ll be making this Tuesday morning from 11am on The Workplace, the weekly talks programme produced and presented by NND on Tuesdays 11am GMT (repeated Mondays 2.30pm GMT) on

Tuesday morning’s discussion will be repeated on Monday March 28 from 2.30pm. You can also catch all the programmes for listen-again at

Many of the women in the African women movements from the 1970s onwards felt alienated by the feminist movement, which focused on European women issues, and which weren’t always concordant with what African women were facing. Feminism, to quote some pundits, was “led predominantly by middle-class white women from Western Europe and North America”.

Considering many African women activists do not describe themselves as feminists – and considering even Linda Bellos, who became the first African to join the collective that put out the foremost feminist publication, Spare Rib, later had issues with feminism, I wonder why Womanism hadn’t gained currency within UK African women activism narratives?

If the terminology is new to you, Womanism is basically an African-focused form of a female socio-political movement that speaks to addressing African-specific issues. Such as, how African parents get their young children to successfully manoeuvre through a Eurocentric and racist education system that generally has low expectations of them, or how they engage with a police service that disproportionately targets African youth.

Womanism turns out to have a history going back to the 1970s. The term is said to have been inspired by Alice Walker, who coined the term “womanist” in a short story in 1979 entitled ‘Coming Apart’.

I also wonder about who is to blame for our lack of knowledge of British African women activists, besides, say, Amy Ashwood Garvey or Claudia Jones? I’d say the answer lies with people who recognise the need for African history, but do not take agency for their learning by attending the various learning forums delivered by community organisations, including my organisation BTWSC/African History Revisited, which take place in and out of African History Month.

Going back to Garvey and Jones, most people will have come across their activism work in the aftermath of the 1958 Notting Hill race riots and the 1959 Afriphobic murder of Kelso Cochrane. But why don’t we know about other women activists from the same area and period? Women like Pansy Jeffrey or Frances Ezzrecco? The latter, for example, co-formed the Coloured People’s Progressive Association, which helped raise funds for Cochrane’s burial, and whose members are those seen in the iconic photos of demonstrators silently protesting Cochrane’s murder by walking up and down on Whitehall.

Of course there are many more women activists in the regions, who’ve been erased from the usually London-centric histories. In tomorrow’s screening of the ‘UK African Women Self-Organising’ mash up video, which is incidentally available for commissioned screenings through BTWSC, we do our bit, by pointing to some of the out of London activists, such as Machester’s Elouise Edwards and Kath Locke, or the Liverpool Black Sisters.

African women self-organising obviously has a long history, but from my context we’re looking essentially at the movement that started from the 1970s onwards, following from the formation of OWAAD (originally Organisation of Women of Africa and African Descent, later changed to Organisation of Women of Asian and African Descent).

We also touch on activists, such as Dr Irene Ighodaro and Kathleen Wrsama, who respectively founded organisations in the 1940s and 1950s, which predate the 1970s-80s heyday of the UK African women’s movement.

So who are some of today’s African women activists we ought to be aware of? The problem I find with talking about the now is that that the subjects are alive, and there’s always a possibility that one may upset them by not publicly recognising them or their work. So, first of all, I hail all the African women doing “good works”, whilst I highlight a few here.

Lavinya Stennett is the young woman who founded in 2019 The Black Curriculum, a social enterprise that addresses the lack of British African history within the British curriculum. They’ve not only been preaching about the lack of African history within education, but have also been producing resources and teaching teachers to empower them to teach African history in their class rooms.

Ife Thompson is another young woman who is doing similar work with BLAM (Black, Learning, Achievement, Mental Health) UK, which “aims to promote a positive dialogue of social identity and culture through history”. It use African history in advocacy work, to improve self-esteem of young Africans, and to engage teacher development.

Connie Bell, with Dr. Etienne Joseph, run Decolonise The Archives, through which they engage in highlighting pan-African or global African issues using different forums. From their podcasts, which highlight the various community works and the people doing the works, to the recently established University of Repair (UoR), which they describe as “a mobile, open-ended series of interventions reimagining learning spaces and offering communal knowledge sharing using the ‘groundings’ principles laid down by Dr Walter Rodney.”

The university is led by the likes of Esther Stanford Xosei (not sure why the Ekua moniker has been dropped), who is a premier scholar-activist on the subject of pan-Africanism and reparations.

I’d like to point out two differing physical legacies left by the British womanist movement.

OWAAD was founded in 1978, and held its first national conference in March 1979 in Brixton. Among the many attendees who went on to form women organisations was Ama Gueye, who co-founded in May 1979 ELBWO (East London Black Women’s Organisation). It’s a voluntary organisation based in Forest Gate in Newham, which continues to offer a range of services to the local community.

Its management was forward-thinking, in that at a time when most community organisations were renting premises, which often meant they disappeared once their funding ceased, by 1988 ELBWO managed to actually own its premises – a church hall on 2b Clinton Road in Forest Gate.

But sadly, that building no longer exists. After it was beautifully refurbished in the 2000s, it was burnt to the ground. Today, ELBWO operates from the nearby Methodist church hall.

Having moved premises a few times since its formation in 1979, one of the Liverpool Black Sisters’ plans was to have premises of their own. That became a reality with the opening in 2004 of the Kuumba Imani Millennium Centre, an impressive multi-functional, multi-purpose community centre located on 4 Princes Road in Toxteth, the heart of Liverpool’s African community. It’s a great legacy from the organisation, which has been operating as a charity since 1989, and managed by former Liverpool Black Sisters member Michelle Charters.

I end with an aside of sorts, by pointing to two women who wielded political power within statutory bodies in the mid-1980s. Bellos (nee Adebowale), who was elected to Lambeth Council in London in 1985, became the leader of the council from 1986 to 1988. She was however the second African woman to achieve such position, which came a few weeks after St Kitts-born Merle Amory became the leader of Brent Council.

wearing his history consultant hat

Listen to The Workplace live here and the archive here, and book the ‘UK African Women Self-Organising’ Zoom online screening and discussion here.