Memory Kachambwa: I’m at the specialisation age, taking stock of life

Memory Kachambwa

Memory Kachambwa is the executive director of the African Women’s Development and Communication Network. 

Photo credit: Pool

Growing up in a household that championed gender equality, the dissonance between her family's values and the broader societal reality prompted her to start questioning the disparities she witnessed. She is a women’s rights and gender equality advocate.

Your journey seems to be straightforward from childhood, I’m curious, were there any detours?

I did a Bachelor of Science in geography, environmental science, and geology, a field that was male-dominated. I remember that during our geology field trips, there were no provisions for women during their menses. In my second year, my dad passed on and during my final year exams, I discovered that I was pregnant, it was a difficult and uncertain time for me, but I persevered. I later left my son for five months after getting a scholarship to pursue a master’s degree in integrated water resource management in South Africa. Years later, I connected with my passion for advocating for women’s rights and gender justice.

Some people argue that feminism is no longer needed…

Until there is equity, justice, and liberation for all, feminism will always be needed. And I think that we need it now more than ever especially because of the way it has been misunderstood. Most of the inequalities and injustices we see today are embedded in the privilege of one gender, power struggles, and oppressive systems and structures, therefore, we must not see the irrelevance of feminism. We have seen how feminist analysis and tools have made big contributions to different societal issues and built movements that have shifted government policies and made a transformative impact.

You advocate for policy changes and system shifts. How do you navigate the moments when progress seems low?

We are motivated by the progress that we have made and the fact that we have been able to document our journey. Not just as an organisation but as an entire feminist movement—from affirmative action, reproductive health rights justice, climate justice, and land rights to setting policies that have influenced constitutions and made sure that women and girls in all their diversity have not been left out.

 Two important climate conferences are happening in the coming months. What is your call to action?

Our organisation is part of the non-state actors, and we are engaging in the Africa People's Climate Assembly, mostly to ensure that the issues we consider as important are taken into consideration. Further, to boldly resist and protest the carbon markets and false solutions being advanced, which are detrimental. Basically, we want to ensure that issues that affect women who are on the frontline of the climate crisis are prioritised.

 Ahead of the African Climate Week in September, a collective of women’s networks and activists will be launching the African Regional Women and Gender Constituency, a strategic platform for connecting African women in all their diversities, to collectively advance the African climate justice positions.

What steps can be taken to ensure that funding mechanisms on climate financing prioritise and empower women-led initiatives that contribute to climate resilience?

I think the first thing we need is to unpack climate finance because many times when we talk of climate finance, it is structured in a way that it is top-down. We need climate finance in the form of grants, not loans. Funds that are flexible, substantive, long-term, and responsive to addressing loss and damage and building resilience to adaptation. You know, in a way that it first reaches those who are most affected and are on the front line of the climate crisis.

 Is there a hobby or activity you enjoy that might surprise people who know you primarily through your professional work?

I'm such a big rugby fan. I also enjoy designing. I am not fashionable myself, but I derive joy from doing sketches, and sewing. Occasionally, I go hiking.

 If you were not in this space advocating for gender equality and justice, what would you be doing?

 I have always wanted to be in a space where I am learning and directly interacting with people, so I would either be a researcher or a leadership coach.

If you had dinner with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be and what would you ask them?

That would be Professor Wangari Maathai. I’d love to have a real conversation with her to understand her deep convictions and how she was able to politicise the struggle and fight for environmental justice relentlessly from the community to national, regional, and global platforms.

What keeps you awake at night?

 I think a lot about people working for Femnet. Like, how do we ensure that they are able to thrive and do their work? Are there enough resources to help them fulfill their destinies? They spend a lot of time contributing to the success of the organisation and the movement at large.

Tell me about 46…

 Ah, I call it the specialisation kind of age. Here, you can see 50, so, there are these thoughts of what you have done and thinking of what you should be doing because there’s a clarity that comes with getting to this age. Sometimes, it’s affirming, other times, unsettling.

Was there any question that you are hoping that I wouldn’t ask?

Not at all. I thought you'd ask more difficult questions.