This past Saturday, AFRICaide celebrated an under-recognized holiday: International Women’s Day. The event commemorates the accomplishments of women, which often go unnoticed, founder and organizer of the event Emilie Songolo said.
“What women do goes unnoticed or unacknowledged. It is not appreciated yet,” Songolo said. “It is actually providing the foundation for strength; for life; for growth. And I start just from my neighborhood and I see what women are doing. I tell myself I’m not the only one noticing this — I’m not the only one seeing this life-changing work women are doing. I’m not talking about somebody being a Hollywood celebrity or somebody making a ton of money, or a politician — I am talking about somebody who has the courage and who really sacrifices their time for other people and for women.”
The seventh annual AFRICaide International Women’s day event took place on Saturday, March 7. More than 200 participants registered for the event. Eleven local businesses and organizations lined Gordon Commons on the UW campus displaying hand-crafted goods from local and global residents. Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway, the second woman elected to that position, was the keynote speaker.
Songolo, who is from the Congo, said in her country when women are upset about something, they do something about it.
“Women came to the UN to demand the freedom of their sons, husbands, cousins or whoever. (They came to the UN) to fight for independence of the country. They did it through song. They called out the violation of their rights,” Songolo said.
During the event, participants learned that International Women’s Day was sparked after a demand for equitable pay and conditions for women in the textile industry at the turn of the century.
All participants of AFRICaide’s International Women’s Day event were encouraged to wear the color purple, a symbol of women, and a symbol of justice and passion.
A highlight of the event was the Trailblazer Awards. In the history of the event, 35 women have been given this honor and each year most of the trailblazers return to honor the next cohort. This year the honors were Rhodes-Conway, Janice Rice, Ana Marie Dawson, Tara Wilhelmi and Sung Lee.
Dawson was called the “women empowerment encyclopedia,” Lee was the first Hmong 4K teacher at Madison Metropolitan School District and Wilhelmi is known for organizing the Pop Up Co-op at Badger Rock Neighborhood Center and supporting entrepreneurs of color.
Each year the honorees wear a stole, made in Ghana, to represent their award and accomplishments.
“(This award is for) someone who makes sure that a kid who is going to school can break barriers, break linguistic barriers, gender identity barriers, gender barriers, sexual identity barriers, religious barriers, poverty and economics. That to me means a lot because we want everyone to be able to be a part of this world,” Songolo said.
Other sponsors include the 4W Women and Wellbeing Initiative, UW-Madison African Studies Department, the United Nations Association of Dane County and the Madison Alumnae Chapter of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority.
The 4W Women Collective Translation Project asked participants to translate a poem about the strength of women. One by one, women came to the podium and read the poem in different languages, including Arabic, Spanish, Swahili and Hmong.
At the end of the event, the audience was asked to stand and give a one-word description of the day: Power. Friendship. Inspiration.
Songolo said the one word she could have added was “richness.” She said she grew up in a family that lost everything, but they were not allowed to say they were poor.
“My parents said we are rich. We are rich. Africans are rich. You hear the narrative that Africans are poor. But we have each other. To me the richness — if you have people you don’t lack a thing,” Songolo said.