“When I open the event every year I always tell the women, ‘Before you leave here, make sure that you make one or two connections.’ Life is about connections. When you have connections, you’re not alone. And we will do that on March 6,” says Emilie Songolo, organizer of AFRICaide’s International Women’s Day. “We will remind women that friendships of all kinds have been formed at this event. We’ve seen people over the years get new jobs, discover support groups and find new resources in the community here thanks to this event.”
For eight years, Songolo’s AFRICaide organization has been bringing together women and girls from all backgrounds to celebrate International Women’s Day here in Madison. Since 2017, they’ve been partnering with 4W (Women & Wellbeing in Wisconsin & the World) Initiative to host the event. International Women’s Day officially takes place on Monday, March 8, but when that falls on a weekday, the organizations celebrate on the preceding Saturday with a public event – a festival for women.
“The work we do for this event is very important, especially for our community here. And there are so many important ideas and connections that are made at the event,” Songolo tells Madison365.
“What I like about the day is that we stop everything else and we focus on women throughout our history and the injustice towards women and how much it needs to be repaired,” Songolo adds. “The work that women do is often not recognized and we have to celebrate them.”
AFRICaide is a grassroots non-profit organization founded by Songolo that strives to reduce abject poverty in Africa through rural development projects, and to empower and assist women and girls victims of rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo in rebuilding their lives.
The 8th AFRICaide International Women’s Day 2021 will take place virtually this year on Saturday, March 6. The theme for this year is “Women in Leadership: Achieving an Equal Future in a COVID-19 World.” The purpose of this event is to celebrate the tremendous efforts of women and girls around the world in shaping a more equal future and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This is something that people see as a need and if there’s a time where we have needed to feel a part of a community, the time is now … during this pandemic,” Songolo says. “This year it’s going to be more meaningful to me than ever.”
This year’s event will be virtual and hosted on Zoom. Registrants will receive the Zoom meeting link via email in the days leading up to our event. Songolo is sad that she is disappointed that she won’t be able to see all of the women and girls in person this year, but is happy that International Women’s Day will truly be a global event.
“This year, we are seeing women registered for the event from overseas. We’ve never had anybody come to this event from abroad,” she says. “So we are truly a global event. We are truly international this year.
“It’s more of a challenge to make it interactive as a virtual event,” she continues. “We do a survey every year and one of the things at the event that people enjoy a lot is the Global Marketplace, where we invite local women who have small businesses or community organizations who have things to exhibit or sell … this is our way to support them.
“We spent a lot of time to figure out how to do it this year. And we are going to do it this year and it’s going to be fun,” Songolo adds. “We will be using technology and people are sending in videos for the event and women will still be able to shop. The Global Marketplace will still be happening.”
AFRICaide’s International Women’s Day is also a chance to present the annual trailblazer awards. The honorees will not be divulged until the event.
“We decided to focus these awards this year on COVID response to go along with the theme of the conference,” Songolo says. “We are honoring women who have demonstrated leadership in the community who have cared for others to organize help for others.”
The keynote speaker for this year’s International Women’s Day event will be Dr. Patty Loew, director of the Center for Native American and Indigenous Research at Northwestern University. She will speak on “Ogimaakwe (Women Leaders) and Native American Social Justice Movements.”
“She is going to talk about leadership with Native American women throughout history. And we will have a Q and A after to give people a chance to ask questions,” Songolo says.
Songolo is the co-chair of the event along with Lori DiPrete Brown, director of the 4W Initiative, the co-sponsor of the event since 2017 along with AFRICaide.
“I’m so grateful for our co-sponsors 4W. They have really helped us make this event as great as it is,” Songolo says. “4W has been a blessing.”
Other co-sponsors include the Madison Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta, African Studies Program of UW-Madison, The Madison Metropolitan Links, Inc., and the United Nations Association of Dane County.
“We have so many volunteers and an amazing planning group. They just make me feel like I can do anything … everything is doable,” Songolo says. “We have younger women who have helped with this event since it first started. We have women in their 80s. We have plenty of women in between – all ages.”
The event will have prizes that will be given away throughout, music, dancing, and will end with a Zoom Dane Hall.
“We always have music and dancing at this event. Music will be running throughout the event. We have a playlist to die for,” Songolo says.
“And we will have prizes that have been donated by vendors. We will figure out ways of selecting people for these prizes. We might even have a prize for the very first person that signs in to the event,” she adds, laughing.
Songolo says that it’s a day to reflect on how to bolster women’s rights and decision-making power, to achieve equal pay and equal sharing of unpaid care and domestic work, and to end all forms of violence against women and girls.
“This is a day of advocacy and we know that the work that we do impacts policy,” she says. “We should do more work to impact policy to make lawmakers aware and accountable for letting us down and to do it better.
“It’s been going on for centuries, so it’s not going to be fixed on March 6 or March 8. It’s work that has to be sustained, ongoing with a deep commitment,” Songolo adds. “International Women’s Day is a day when we take time to acknowledge the achievements that women have made here in Madison, in the state, in the country and the world.”
For more information about AFRICaide’s International Women’s Day, contact Emilie Songolo, AFRICaide, firstname.lastname@example.org or Lori Diprete Brown, 4W, email@example.com. To register, click here.