Over 150 women and girls from 14 countries have told their stories through 18 embroidered quilts, which are on display at the Nairobi, Kenya Summit on International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD25).
The exhibition is curated by The Advocacy Project (AP), a non-profit organization based in Washington DC that helps marginalized communities tell their story and take action for social justice. AP offers embroidery to partner organizations as a means of employment and self-expression, as well as an authentic description of the problems facing women and girls. “Many of the artists have been spurned and ignored,” says Iain Guest, Founder of the Advocacy Project. “Quilting gives them a unique opportunity to be heard at a major international conference like ICPD25.”
The exhibition features eight quilts from five African countries namely, Kenya, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Mali and the DRC. Other quilts are from Nepal, Bangladesh, India, Vietnam, Kosovo, France and Belize. Many of the themes are deeply sobering. The Ahadi quilt from DRC and the Alafia quilt from Mali carry explicit images of sexual and gender-based violence resulting from conflict. A cautionary sign boldly written, “some of the images in this exhibition are graphic and could be disturbing, ” is even made visible for all visitors.
Among the graphic ones is one of a young girl who is lying on her back, her legs open to expose her genital area. A blood stained knife is nearby indicating female genital mutilation, one of the pandemics that the ICPD25 agenda is aimed at ending by 2030.
Other quilts are optimistic, however. The Maasai Girls Quilt expresses the dreams of students at Kakenya’s Centre of Excellence, a pioneering girls’ boarding school in western Kenya whose founder is Dr Kakenya Ntaiya.
The Butonde quilt from Uganda is made from 10 000 recycled straws and urges protection of the environment. Three new and highly topical quilts are being exhibited for the first time at ICPD25. Twenty three Kenyan women from the communities of Kibera and Kangemi have told their stories for an imposing quilt, A Women’s World, which they will present to the Executive Director of UNFPA, Dr Natalia Kanem at the closing ceremony this Friday.
Children Peace Initiative Kenya, the Kenyan advocacy group is showing the Kenya Cow quilt, which describes the importance of cattle to pastoralists in northwest Kenya. Constance Mugari founder of the Women Advocacy Project in Harare is presenting the Zimbabwe Child Marriage quilt, which poignantly describes the pressure on girls to marry before the legal age of 18. The squares were produced by 11 girls from Harare.