2018: The Year of the Womxn?

#Metoo, #YoTambien and #BalanceTonPorc are among the many movements last year which called attention to sexual harassment and the treatment of women in society. Drawing from this momentum, 2018 was championed as The Year of the Woman. It’s the year where women and their issues would be at the forefront.

We’re about halfway through 2018 and in many instances its lived up to its mantra. This year marks Saudi Arabia’s lifting of the driving ban for women and women staffers in the African Union fighting against sexism and demanding greater representation.

In the UK, 2018 also marks the centennial anniversary of some women gaining the right to vote. Events around the country have been dedicated to exploring 100 years of womxn’s activism. Rich Mix London is hosting We are the Granddaughters of Witches You Could not Burn. The event is in collaboration with the Parliament Hill School, one of our partners for the Young Voices educational programme at Africa Writes 2018. The exhibition co-curated by young women, highlights women both locally and globally fighting for equal rights.

Coinciding with this celebration is the Year of Publishing Women, a challenge by author and winner of the 2018 Women’s Prize for Fiction Kamila Shamsie. Shamsie pushed for book publishers to solely work with women writers.

But the keyword here is some. Only certain women were given the right to vote and just one publisher took on Shamsie’s challenge. The #Metoo stories highlighted in the media generally focused on cis women, despite years of grassroots calls for recognising trans women and their experience with sexual harassment and violence.

Even referring to 2018 as the Year of the Woman is up for debate.  The ending of the word woman, which is the word “man”, seems to suggest that a woman’s identity is tied to a man’s. By changing it to womxn, the “x” recognises genderqueer or non-binary individuals, opening a discussion on the diversity of womxnhood.

With all these nuances and contradictions, what is The Year of the Woman? What does it mean for the womxn who struggle to get published, or for the others whose voices are often silenced in these larger mainstream movements?

We talked to Octavia Poetry Collective about their thoughts on the Year of the Womxn, what interests them about it and how it feeds into their practice as poets:

Sarah Lasoye

 “To me it’s a demarcation – one that states clearly that there is no feminist movement without liberation for all. The justice work undergone by black and brown, disabled, queer, trans womxn and gender nonconforming people across our communities – the incremental changes they’ve made over years of struggle – are what we have to thank for the movement we see now. This year, and every year, we have to honour and uplift them, on and off the page.”

Hibaq Osman

“I believe Year of the Womxn presents a hopeful outlook on the conversations and movements we will see from now on. However, it is also a way for activism to be branded and watered down. There can be no progress in spaces that use biological essentialism for gatekeeping and offer only white, heterosexual examples of success both in the arts and beyond. We have a long way to go and a lot of work to do yet.”

The Year of the Womxn?

2018 is just one of many years where womxn activism will ultimately become the catalyst for social change. This year draws on the work that activists around the world have done and will continue to build off of after the year has ended. So is 2018 the Year of the Womxn? Right now it’s hard to tell, you’ll have to check back in with us in December.

What does The Year of the Womxn mean to you? Is 2018 the year for womxn and womxn’s activism?  Share your thoughts with us on Twitter @AfricaWritesUK. Also check out Octavia at the Africa Writes festival part on 30 June at Rich Mix, London. They are hosting a Wakanda themed party celebrating womxn of African and the diaspora with art, music, and poetry by Theresa Lola, Momtaza Mehri, Sarah Lasoye, Victoria Adukwei Bulley, Hibaq Osman, Rachel Long, Belinda Zhawi, and Amina Jama.  Plus, there will be a speech on ‘Warrior Womxn Writers’ given by special guest and award-winning author Bernardine Evaristo.

Come celebrate with us!

Octavia Poetry Collective Presents:Africa Writes 2018 Party
The Year of the Womxn
Saturday 30 June, 20:00 – 00:30, Rich Mix
£10 / £8




by Baindu Kallon, Marketing Intern for Africa Writes 2018

Image from illustration by Olivia Twist.