Taking Action

Pan African Women's Day: Celebrating Contributions & Aspirations

Jul 27, 2021
Taking Action

Dear Diary,

I have been struggling with an eating disorder for the past few years. I am afraid to eat and afraid I will gain weight. The fear is unjustified as I was never overweight. I have weighed the same since I was 12 years old, and I am currently nearing my 25th birthday. Yet, when I see my reflection, I see somebody who is much larger than reality.

I told my therapist that I thought I was fat. She said it was 'body dysmorphia'.
She explained this as a mental health condition where a person is apprehensive about their appearance and suggested I visit a nutritionist. She also told me that this condition was associated with other anxiety disorders and eating disorders. I did not understand what she was saying as I was in denial; I had a problem, to begin with. I wanted a solution without having to address my issues.

Upon visiting my nutritionist, he conducted an in-body scan and told me my body weight was dangerously low.

I disagreed with him.

I felt he was speaking about a different person than the person I saw in the mirror. I felt like the elephant in the room- both literally and figuratively. He then made the simple but revolutionary suggestion to keep a food diary to track what I was eating.

This was a clever way for my nutritionist and me to be on the same page. By recording all my meals, drinks, and snacks, I was able to see what I was eating versus what I was supposed to be eating. Keeping a meal diary was a powerful and non-invasive way for my nutritionist to walk in my shoes for a specific time and understand my eating (and thinking) habits.

No other methodology would have allowed my nutritionist to capture so much contextual and behavioural information on my eating patterns other than a daily detailed food diary.
However, by using a paper and pen, I often forgot (or intentionally did not enter my food entries) as I felt guilty reading what I had eaten or that I had eaten at all.

I also did not have the visual flexibility to express myself through using photos, videos, voice recordings, and screen recordings. The usage of multiple media sources would have allowed my nutritionist to observe my behaviour in real-time and gain a holistic view of my physical and emotional needs.

I confessed to my therapist my deliberate dishonesty in completing the physical food diary and why I had been reluctant to participate in the exercise. My therapist then suggested to my nutritionist and me to transition to a mobile diary study.

Whilst I used a physical diary (paper and pen), a mobile diary study app would have helped my nutritionist and me reach a common ground (and to be on the same page) sooner rather than later.

As a millennial, I wanted to feel like journaling was as easy as Tweeting or posting a picture on Instagram. But at the same time, I wanted to know that the information I  provided in a digital diary would be as safe and private as it would have been as my handwritten diary locked in my bedroom cabinet.

Further, a digital food diary study platform with push notifications would have served as a constant reminder to log in my food entries as I constantly check my phone. It would have also made the task of writing a food diary less momentous by transforming my journaling into micro-journaling by allowing me to enter one bite at a time rather than the whole day's worth of meals at once.

Mainly, the digital food diary could help collect the evidence that I was not the elephant in the room, but rather that the elephant in the room was my denied eating disorder.

The elephant in the room

July 31st is a day to celebrate African Women, our immense achievements and contributions and recognise the importance of building our solidarity across every corner of our continent.

I was invited a few days ago to speak on a podcast episode on a discussion centred on the upcoming Pan African Women's Day.

The Podcast entitled The African Dialogue runs discussions on all things Africa, sharing ideas, issues and real life stories to inspire.

This session of the episode featured young outstanding African women from across the continent. Egypt's Rawan Taha. Tanzania's Camilla Malakasuka. Ethiopia's Chaltu Kalbessa. Uganda's Gloria Kembabazi. Zambia's Pezu Mukwakwa and myself Kenya's Julie Ojiambo. A truly pan-African panel- and we dare say an all-female African panel!

What is Pan African Women's Day?

Also known as the "Day of the African Woman", Pan African Women's Day is celebrated each year on the 31st of July. It is a day set aside to celebrate and honour the achievements of Africa's women and advocate for gender equality in Africa.

The first Pan African Women's Day was commemorated on the 31st of July 1962 in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania.

Following this, the Pan African Women's Organisation (PAWO), Africa's first and oldest collective women's organisation was formed. PAWO, at its inception, was formed to contribute to the continent's liberation from colonialism, rally to bring an end to apartheid and advocate for the abolishment of all discriminatory practices against Africa's women.  

African women in science play a key role in transforming the continent.
(Image Credit: Mitchell Maher/International Food Policy Research Institute - CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Why is Pan African Women's Day Relevant?

To begin the podcast discussion, the question was asked, "What does Pan-African Women's Day mean to you"?

The responses to this question varied: A day to celebrate African Women. A day to remind African women of their unity. A day to reflect on Africa's pioneers but also "ordinary" African women and delight in their achievements.

All on the panel confidently spoke of the importance of honouring these legacies and contributions.

As we further delved into the conversation, other remarkable points were made.

While we have heard about Pan-African women's day, why is it that many of us do not know by heart when this day is commemorated?

Unlike International Women's Day celebrated yearly in March, which we all seem to be conversant with, why is Pan-African Women's day not as glorified by all and seems to be celebrated marginally by African women?

While the title of the day might suggest that only African women should celebrate this day, are we aware of the fact that it is a day to celebrate African women but also those of African descent? Do we acknowledge that it is a day to be celebrated within Africa's continental boundaries and beyond?

African women farmers feed families, communities and nations.
(Image credit: Dominic Chavez/World Bank - CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Then, the question was asked, "What challenges do you face as Pan-African women". The responses varied. They were thought-provoking, insightful, but also "sigh"-ful, to say the least.

The ladies on set elaborated on instances where oblivious to them, they would be forced to understand the reality of intersectionality, the overlapping nature of their social identities and how this can be used to acknowledge and ground the differences amongst women as relevant to their realities.  

While many of us outrightly choose to celebrate our womanness and Africanness every day- a non-celebratory reception of this, to our dismay, has been the encounter of many African women in various instances.

To put flesh to this experience, one of the panellist's spoke of how her brilliance and intelligence would sometimes warrant responses such as, "you must not have acquired your smartness and brilliance in Africa".

Another of the panellists spoke of the divide that exists. Though African in every sense, the reality of geopolitics has often placed her in situations where others are deemed "more African" than she is. While it is unbelievable that in such an educated, savvy, connected, and diverse world, this is still the train of thought embraced by certain strands. The podcast conversation brought out the realities projected from time to time to many African women.

These points hit home. It is precisely for this reason that today and every day, as African women, we must celebrate our being, our contributions and our aspirations.  Big and small.

Africa's Women "Pull the Ship"

On this Pan-African women's day, let us celebrate all African women.

To our pioneer African women such as the Ma' Ellen's, that dared dream to run for the highest office, we celebrate you!

To our heroines- the Mekatilili Wa Menza's who have led struggles and led their peoples' to independence, we celebrate you!

To the Miriam Makeba's that have taught us the richness of our African arts and culture while careful to defend the rights of our people, we celebrate you!

To the women who tirelessly work hard on our farms, ensuring our homes and communities are fed, we celebrate you!

To our nurses and midwives, our vessels through which life is borne, we celebrate you!

To the women that are on the frontline providing care and support in hospitals;  healthcare workers that, time after time, have left their children behind to fight bravely in the front line of epidemics - because of you, our nations can recover better. You are a huge inspiration to the next generation of African female scientists, researchers and practitioners; today, we celebrate you!

To Africa's young women, the leaders of today and tomorrow. Women that are breaking glass ceilings and shooting for the stars; women in STEM, women in business, women in politics, we celebrate you!

Female entrepreneurship in Africa is a driver for economic growth.
(Image credit: Russell Watkins/Department for International Development - CC BY 2.0)

Ambitious, resourceful and futuristic women you are, making your contributions to the development of our continent, we celebrate you!

To Africa's women peacekeepers and mediators, working tirelessly to sustain peace, we celebrate you!

To our women law enforcement officers devoted to keeping us from harm's way, we celebrate you!

A tag cannot possibly be put on each and every one of you. Africa's women, far and wide, wherever you may be, today, we celebrate you!  

How to Celebrate on Pan African Women's Day and Beyond

Celebrating Pan African Women's Day starts with taking time to reflect on the importance of this day.

Thereafter, actively indulge in embracing, narrating and advancing the importance of Africa's women in the development of the continent. Here's how:

Create Awareness of the Day

If you did not know about this day, first read, listen and learn about it. You might find that you need to educate yourself before you can educate others. Learn about the history of Pan African Women's Day. Learn about the current realities of the celebration of this important day. Then, find ways of celebrating Africa's women not only today but in the days to come.

Celebrate those that have gone before you. Celebrate those that are yet to come. Celebrate by making a tangible mark on the lives of other African women.

Reflect and Live out the philosophy of Pan-Africanism

As the Podcast recording came to an end, we were asked to chant the word unity in our languages. Umoja (Swahili), Tokkummaa (Afaan Oromo), Obumwe (Runyankole), Kushakama hamu (Lunda), Wehda (Arabic).

Our diversity which we celebrate, makes us exceptional as African women. So does our togetherness. Let us embrace each other. Let us uplift each other. We can practically work towards realising objectives such as "Partnerships for the Goals" as adopted in SDG 17 in simple ways. It does not take policies or organisational interventions alone. It starts with us. Embracing our oneness works together for the greater good.

Focus and continue taking Action

Pan African Women's day is a day to celebrate. However, we must not lose sight.

We have made strides but are still far from realising gender equality in Africa.

While we celebrate women in politics, let us continue to press for quotas to allow more women into the game. While we celebrate the nurses, let us push for favourable working conditions for them. While we celebrate African women in the frontline, fighting to bring the COVID pandemic to an end, let us speak of those who have faced domestic abuse in private given extended periods of lockdown.

Take action in your own way. Today on Pan African Women's day and every day.


Pan African Women's Day is indeed a day to celebrate. From Algiers in the North, Freetown in the West, Kigali in the East, to Gaborone in the South- across every corner of our continent, let us celebrate the achievements of Africa's women!

Our diversity makes us exceptional.
(Image credit: Ryan Brown/UN Women - CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

African women, July 31st is our day! A day to celebrate our lives. A day to celebrate our contributions. A day to celebrate our aspirations.

Let us look far into the future, we are standing on the shoulders of giants, and each one of us, in turn, is a giant.


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West African Lead, ALMA Youth Advisory Council/Zero Malaria Champion

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Dear Digital Diary,

I realized that there is an unquestionable comfort in being misunderstood. For to be understood, one must peel off all the emotional layers and be exposed.

This requires both vulnerability and strength. I guess by using a physical diary (a paper and a pen), I never felt like what I was saying was analyzed or judged. But I also never thought I was understood.

Paper does not talk back.Using a daily digital diary has required emotional strength. It has required the need to trust and the need to provide information to be helped and understood.

Using a daily diary has needed less time and effort than a physical diary as I am prompted to interact through mobile notifications. I also no longer relay information from memory, but rather the medical or personal insights I enter are real-time behaviours and experiences.

The interaction is more organic. I also must confess this technology has allowed me to see patterns in my behaviour that I would have otherwise never noticed. I trust that the data I enter is safe as it is password protected. I also trust that I am safe because my doctor and nutritionist can view my records in real-time.

Also, with the data entered being more objective and diverse through pictures and voice recordings, my treatment plan has been better suited to my needs.

No more elephants in this room

Julie Ojiambo

Julie Ojiambo

Julie Ojiambo is a certified Project Manager and Development Professional with a forte in Governance. She recently served as a Governance and Strategic Engagement Analyst with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Liberia providing support across topics such as Decentralisation, Civil Society Engagement and Socio-Economic Impact Assessment. She was part of the inaugural cohort of a 16-month fellowship titled the African Young Women Leaders of UNDP. She is eager to continue contributing to governance and policies issues for Africa, with a particular interest on the issues that concern girls and women.

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