Delegates who attended the International Conference on Population and Development at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre in Nairobi last week got to see stories of strong women, told on fabric.
Their experiences were graphically illustrated in an exhibition of hand-crafted quilts curated by The Advocacy Project, a humanitarian group that helps marginalised people tell their stories and raising public awareness of their issues.
The exhibition, titled A Women’s World, consisted of 20, 2.5m by 2.5m, quilts hand-crafted by women from all over the world.
Two had been created by Kenyans, one by women from Kibera and Kangemi, the other from Pokot and Samburu. The other countries represented were Bangladesh, DRC, France, India, Jordan, Mali, Nepal, Uganda, Vietnam and Zimbabwe.
The Advocacy Project was founded by former journalist Iain Guest.
“Often it is people working at the community level who are the most capable of creating change, yet it is their stories that are rarely heard, which is why we started the Advocacy Project,” said Guest.
“When I realised we would be coming to Kenya to participate in ICPD, I contacted Gill Rebelo,” said Guest, referring to the current chairperson of the Kenya Quilt Guild.
It was short notice, but he hoped Rebelo, working with women in the community, could make a quilt to exhibit at ICPD and thereafter be given to the United Nations to become part of its permanent collection.
The Quilt Guild was already working with one women’s group based in Gachie on the outskirts of Nairobi. But Rebelo needed to assemble a new group so she gathered 22 young women from Kibera and Kangemi.
None had ever quilted before she introduced them to Christine Kibucka, a master craftswoman from Uganda, who taught them not just how to embroider but also how to translate some of the challenges they face into picture stories that they could stitch onto denim squares, and finally onto one large quilt.
Not all the squares could fit on their quilt, but those that did told stories in multicoloured threads about women’s struggles to deal with issues like domestic violence, child labour, early pregnancy and walking long distances every day to find clean water and firewood.
The second quilt at ICPD was from northeastern Kenya, and was about conflict resolution among the Pokot and Samburu. That quilt was crafted by four women, two Pokot and two Samburu.
At the closing ceremony of the conference, the quilt was given to the United Nations representative to take to New York, where it will be hung at UN Headquarters.