What do you do when you are invited to a women’s empowerment event that is taking place on the same day you find out your birth country has just shut down a bill that advocates equality for women? You do everything within your power to make it to that event. Even if it means ignoring a terrible stomach ache that threatened to push you into declining the invitation. This was my case this past Wednesday, March 15th, 2016. Mon Utopie Ideale | The PR Company invited me to the African Women’s Development Fund USA gala event taking place at the United Nations Plaza in Manhattan, New York. I received the invite four days prior and have been looking forward to it especially knowing the caliber of women that will be in attendance. So, when an unexpected stomach ache reared its ugly head, I held my stomach tight and walked straight to the train station immediately after work. When I got out of the subway, I noticed it was raining (another unexpected event) and I didn’t have any umbrella or time to wait for the rain to stop. I held my head low and walked to the venue which was less than 10mins away. Upon arriving at the venue, I was embraced by the confidence and grace of the women both young and old. I knew immediately I was exactly at the right place I needed to be.
The African Women’s Development Fund USA (AWDF USA) is the USA branch of the internationally acclaimed African Women’s Development Fund – “a grant-making foundation that supports local, national and regional women’s organizations working towards the empowerment of African women and the promotion and realization of their rights.”
AWDF USA was “created with a coalition of American women leaders to create awareness about the tremendous impact of African women-led organizations in communities across the continent.” For the past 15 years AWDF has been working extremely hard to empower African women and promote their rights, and has “given more than $26 million dollars to 1,235 women-led organizations in 42 African countries.”
The gala event on Wednesday was organized to celebrate 15 years of AWDF accomplishments and to inspire donors, supporters and well-wishers to give and help AWDF to continue empowering women for the next 15 years and beyond. The event started off with a red carpet with photographers taking pictures of the women leaders and guests of the invite-only event. Then people made their ways to the assortments of foods tastefully displayed in buffet style. There was an open bar with a very nice bartender serving guests any type of drinks they want.
The ceremony kicked off with Dr. Abena Busia, Chair of AWDF USA giving a warm welcome to all guests. The emcee of the night, the beautiful Moiyattu Banya, AWDF USA Advisory Board volunteer introduced us to the first keynote speaker, the founder and first CEO of AWDF, Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi, who shared with us the history of AWDF and how it was the first Africa-wide grant-making foundation that inspired the creation of other African philanthropic organizations. She also went further to encourage guests to support and donate to the AWDF by leaving us with the statement: “If you love women, if you love Africa, if you love both, put your money where your heart is.”
The next speaker was Theo Sowa, current CEO of AWDF who charged guests to join the movement and fight for empowerment
“until the last African woman has the same rights as everyone else in the continent. Until the last African woman feels safe in her home. Until the last African woman can stand up and celebrate everything we have achieved. And can talk about the fact that our mothers, grandmothers and great grandmothers have never been victims but have been survivals and achievers.”
Mrs. Sowa also introduced us to the newest campaign of AWDF called Sheroes which celebrates AWDF at 15. It is a double CD and DVD that compiles performances and songs from African women artists across the continent such as Yvonne Chaka Chaka, Nneka, Angelique Kidjoe and many more. Another speaker was Nobel Peace Laureate, Leymah Gbowee who shared with us inspiring stories and fund memories she had with AWDF since its creation in 2001. Musimbi Kanyoro, the CEO and President of Global Fund for Women also addressed the audience, followed by the last speaker of the night, Dr. Abena Busia, who gave a warm welcome to guests earlier.
Dr. Busia took the time to tell us the importance of donation to the foundation and encouraged everyone to give as their heart led them. She shared with us different ways to give and items donors could get in return, which included a signed copy of AWDF’s book, Women Leading in Africa, a collection of conversations with inspirational African women and a copy of Voice, Power and Soul I & II, a coffee table book that detailed the responses of African women feminists when asked three simple questions about why they do the work that they do.
There were two incredible live performances by musical legend, Maame Afon who brought the roof down with her powerful voice. Growing up in Ghana, Maame Afon has always been passionate and interested in social justice, which led her to work with organizations such as Global Fund for Women, African Women’s Development Fund, and Global Women’s Leadership Network, and inspired her to use her music as a catalyst for peace, unity and social justice.