Karibu’s annual general meeting (agm) was as busy and productive as any gathering of African women could be.
The organisation was set up almost ten years ago to bring together women in Scotland who came from Africa so that their combined energy and talents would help them integrate and make them stronger and self-sufficient.
The agm was held in the Pearce Institute in Govan.
Among the many items on the programme were the launch of a Karibu tartan; a fashion show of clothes made by the Karibu Sewing Project; notice of an upcoming launch for Karibu Scotland’s African Tartan and Textiles book as well as Scottish Government Equalities Section speaker Mukami McCrum. This being Black History Month, there were celebrations to mark it. And, of course, there was sumptious food, glorious food as only Women of Africa can prepare.
The charity is planning to re-open the cafe in the Pearce Institute in collaboration with Tea in the Pot, a local women’s support group which has been at the Pearce for several years.
Laurentine Zibi, Chair of Karibu (Welcome in Swahali) said afterwards she was ‘proud and pleased’ that the charity had overcome various challenges this past year.
‘To see between 100 and 150 people here today is emotional for me.’ The group has moved offices from Albion Street to Gorbals’ Adelphi Centre and now to the Pearce Institute in Govan.
‘We didn’t have enough funding to carry on in the Gorbals,’ said Laurentine. A full time worker post was reduced to part-time and then was lost in April when funding finished.
But with the support of Oxfam, the volunteer work of the Karibu Sewing Project gathered in strength. ‘We hope to move this into a social enterprise soon,’ added Laurentine. Their exclusive Karibu African tartan – devised with the expertise of tartan expert David McGill – can be purchased in Byres Road Oxfam shop.
Karibu founder, Henriette Koubakouenda, declared at the end of the day she felt ‘comforted’ that the organisation was making progress. ‘To see people taking over is good. Even if I die, Karibu will continue. The fact that the next generation shares the same vision as we who founded Karibu – is worth more than a million pounds to me. This annual general meeting has been a real joy for me.’
Henriette arrived in Glasgow with her two young sons as refugees from the Congo. Along with other women she soon discovered their needs and wishes didn’t fit in with the system. ‘About 15 or 20 women gathered in my flat in Sighthill on 31 August 2003 to work out how we could organise ourselves. We needed to keep our self-respect and were willing to work hard but our voices were not being heard by the service providers. It was difficult for us because each woman was isolated and very few had fluent English. I knew that, individually, we would not be heard but together we could be strong and be the voice for our problems.’ Among the issues they had personal experience of that didn’t fit the official categories were human trafficking and genital mutilation.
A mum of three from Cardonald has returned from Europe’s political centre, Brussels, after fighting to secure a fairer deal for women across the continent.
Thirty-four-year-old Therese Kazadi came from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to Scotland and found out – just like in her country of birth – women here are more likely to experience poverty than men.
Therese represents a Glasgow-based group for refugees and asylum seekers called Karibu. She was in Brussels earlier this month to take part in the GenderWorks conference.
GenderWorks was a two-year project, led by Oxfam, which investigated women’s experiences of poverty and social exclusion in Europe.
The conference brought together more than 30 women from across Europe to deliver a strong message to European policy makers.
Therese said: ‘The majority of people living in poverty around the world are women and that is no different in Europe.
‘I’ve experienced poverty in the DRC, when I came to Europe I expected that poverty would not be such a big issue. But in Glasgow women are also more likely to end up in poor conditions than men.
‘Women take on added responsibility in times of hardship. They may already work a regular job but also have to look after children and their partner.
‘The cost of childcare wipes out any money they make. Then there is the huge issue of domestic violence, which often leads to women being excluded from society or being made homeless when the relationship ends.’
Therese believes that access to information is the key to helping women out of poverty, but she also argues that public attitudes to gender issues have to change.
She said: ‘To help women out of poverty in Europe they need to be know their rights – and how to access those rights.
‘However, society must also accept and understand that women are equal to men. For example, equal pay is still not a reality in many industries.
‘When it comes to migrant women in Europe, the way they are integrated into life here almost sets them up for a life of poverty before they even start.
‘The European policy makers have to take action now and put the policy recommendations of GenderWorks into place.’