Sistah Circle Collective: Creating a just and safe space for women

Out of the need for a space that explores the complexities of black womanhood and their interaction with different systemic structures, Sistah Circle Collective was established. It is maintained by a group of six women that are set to change women’s narrative in society.

The circle aims to serve as a platform to examine structure, understand colonialism, racism, sexism, classism, ableism, homophobia, among other societal strata.

Amata Giramata, Belinda Uwase, Celeste Impundu, Eunice Twahirwa, Jessica Ingabire and Sarah Kenkuyu are the women behind this circle. Some of them are policymakers and counsellors while others are economists and lawyers invested in creating a world women would feel proud to live in.

Sistah Circle Collective is a black feminist and womanist organisation. 

They came up with this idea last year with a purpose of creating a more just and safe society for women, one with access to resources, free from societal expectations. 

They believe that it is very important not to just view women’s matters as a small niche of issues if real change is to be made.

Sistah Circle Collective is a black feminist and womanist organisation that believes in different approaches to justice and equity as it pertains to black women.

Members of the circle, however, believe that first and foremost, they must educate themselves, have spaces that are safe for self-expression, where they see themselves in their multiplicities.

International speaker, Upile Chisala addresses the audience. 

“Sistah Circle Collective is invested in creating these spaces for all women identifying people and in curating these safe spaces and conversations that would otherwise be difficult or taboo to talk about, yet commonly experienced by us black African women,” they say.

 In these spaces, they hope women find support but it is also an understanding of socio-political framework of gender issues. And because they do not want to stop at only discussions, they are really invested in the education side of feminist issues as well—education in terms of theories, practice and policies.

Impact made so far

 The women say that the growth of the team continues to show them that they are creating necessary spaces. This, they say, has been seen in the desire young women have expressed to have mentors from the collective, thus, an indicator of achieving their goals.

Such spaces provide an understanding of socio-political framework of gender issues. 

 “Furthermore, through the consistency of the events we make and the broad range of topics we cover, we have seen a growing number of women understanding feminism and the actual meaning of the fight for women empowerment,” they say.

 They recently were able to invite an international speaker, Upile Chisala, an African poet from Malawi (appeared in Forbes under 30 African creative), for a reading panel. The event had over 250 attendees.

 “Not only do we take pride in Rwandan women engaging with other black women across the continent and globe, we are also excited that we get to participate in the success of #VisitRwanda – our knowledge and scholars are also worth the visit.”

Sharon Umulisa, a college student, has been a part of the circle. She says it has tremendously impacted her life in more ways than she can explain.

The Circle aims to serve as a platform to change women’s narrative in society. Courtesy photos

 She says she has realised that female friendships are the best kind one can ever have, reasoning that women get to pour so much love into each other but also hold each other accountable.

This, she says, has also helped her to stop perpetuating stereotypes about women.

 “For a long time, I used to hear people say things like ‘women do not support each other’, ‘women are always jealous of one another and that is why you cannot trust them’. When you grow up hearing things like that, you start to believe them, but Sistah Circle taught me that we, as women, are our own biggest supporters and allies.”

 She believes that initiatives like these are very important for women because they need a safe space in a world that is not very kind to them. They need a place where they can be heard and understood, a place to heal, a place to make a difference in the world. All this is possible with Sista Circle Collective.

For Isabella Akaliza, another participant, it wasn’t until she joined the circle that she realised how much she had been silenced in order to fit into ‘white’ culture.

 “I found a space that allowed me to reclaim the parts of myself that I had to cut off to survive. For most Africans, unfamiliarity with the unwritten rules of engaging in white spaces means we simply don’t know how to show up. We’ve received feedback verbally and nonverbally that we just don’t fit in. We’re too loud, quiet, direct, verbose, passionate, and restrained. Sistah Circle Collective has allowed us to just be,” she says.

“These spaces aren’t acts of oppression or segregation, rather, responses to it. They are our opportunity to be with each other away from the abuses of racism and sexism and patterns of patriarchal dominance. Given that space to breathe, there’s a possibility of healing,” Akaliza adds.

Daniella Kayigamba, a communications officer quotes educational philanthropist Angela D. Coleman, saying that ‘to call another woman a sister, is to say I trust you, I have your back, your feelings are valid and I believe in you.’

It is on this basis that she commends the circle for impacting her in so many ways.

“I know that learning about feminism and sisterhood never ends and it is a journey that I am proud to take. It has also taught me that it is okay to unlearn in order to grow—physically and emotionally safe spaces are what women have been longing for and I am glad that Sistah Circle Collective is that and so much more for many women in Kigali. We get to enjoy the freedom to be ourselves and express ourselves. For us, who were lucky enough to get introduced to such a space, it is now our responsibility to make sure young women from rural areas also get this opportunity and I believe we need those spaces even more.”

 Future plans

These include consistency in being able to invite more black African women scholars to aid in the intellectual exchange they hope to foster in communities.

They are also setting up an ‘All Black Women’s Library’. This is basically a library with reading material from only black women; and it is done to recognise the contributions of black women across the globe in the fight for justice and representation in various fields.

This, we hope, also encourages the women in our communities to write. We hope to extend it to schools and reading groups as well. Aside from the library, we are working on bringing the collective to schools as well. We believe in a school programme that shows young girls the various possibilities the world has to offer, availing feminist spaces to talk about issues such as mental health, reproductive justice, education and so forth and teaches them about feminist approaches to all fields is necessary for us to truly make an impact in society and the economy, the women note.

We think this is the most important thing, seeing that internalised sexism is one of the biggest tools for the reproduction and maintenance of patriarchal norms. Just as we teach that we as Africans, we must free ourselves from mental slavery, it is just as important for us women to really understand the structures and how they affect us. Coming together and supporting each other creates spaces where we build unity, where freedom is not personal but communal, they add.

 Standing with someone else even if their circumstances do not mirror yours, and where you are aware when and if you are stepping on another woman’s neck to level yourself. This is the circle’s core value.