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Aina-Nia Ayo’dele Addresses the Women’s Assembly

Aina-Nia Ayo’dele addressed the Women’s Assembly at the 2023 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago, USA.

Greetings my relations. Did I hear you? Greetings. Give me some energy. Jumbo, Jumbo, Jumbo. I am Aina-Nia Ayo’delei, which means Aynania, she who has purpose. Ayo’delei, joy has come home. Ajoa because I was born on a Monday and Ifayemi Ifa befits her.

Ifa is my African tradition that I follow. I acknowledge my ancestors of African descent, for whom I continue this work of spiritual liberation activism, for humanity, and especially for black people, women kind, and all those who continue to be most oppressed and dehumanized. Today I honor my ancestors. You will see them behind me, or ancestors, specifically women ancestors, who fought hard and tirelessly for our liberation. And I want to call their names. If we had time I would call all their names, but I want you to acknowledge them. All the women who fought behind the men who were never named. I want you to acknowledge them. 

On every continent, we can see the expressions of blatant hate and movements against human rights, which is directly and indirectly dehumanizing women and girls. Authoritarians are becoming brusher and more overt in their abuse across the globe. Democracy is being threatened globally. We’re experiencing real danger, more than ever. As spiritual trailblazers, activists, and religious leaders, we have a responsibility to be bodacious, vigilant, and consistent in our committed actions for liberation and democracy.

This call to conscience defending freedom and human rights is an urgent call. Each of us who leads spiritual communities and faith organizations must make it our business to challenge the global threat of autocracy and acts of neocolonialism in case we didn’t realize that it’s here and very much at our doorstep.

There are two points that I wish to highlight in this short moment. 

First, the micro-actions of daily political decisions within our systems that are threatening democracy, human rights, and justice. In Canada where I live, one could argue that even our most conservative governments are not a threat to democracy, yet we are seeing very direct policy changes further oppressing those who are most marginalized. Let me give you a couple of examples. For instance, we have a family child benefits policy, which is one of the best policies we have in Canada. And under the current government administration, many women and children are now excluded from basic support. Ontario Bill 23 was enacted late last year and now removes the municipal government’s ability to mandate much-needed affordable housing and green spaces as developers gentrify and redevelop to build condos and overpriced market rent units. While activists across Canada continue to bring light to the violence against women, girls, and 2SLGBTQ peoples, only recently the Government of Manitoba publicly refused to search the landmines for remains of two Indigenous women bodies left in the dumpsters like unused garbage.

We know that capitalism is working hand-in-hand with autocracy, patriarchy, and overall colonialism for policies that continue to destroy the souls and crush the dreams of human lives by the very people who are meant to govern them. So, as we focus on the macro policies and actions, let’s pay very close attention and bring intentional voice to these micro impacts on the ground, for we know that any society that invisibilized those most marginalized is a society that dismantles democracy gradually, deliberately, and effectively. 

Secondly, as spiritual feminist activists and our men who are allies, as we work together, we must also acknowledge that intersectionality matters in empowering for liberation and democracy. According to US stat in 2022, the gender gap in pay is worsening. I’m sure that COVID had something to do with that, and of course women are getting the brunt of it as we do in these situations. Women in general earn 82% to every dollar earned by their male counterparts. However, that is compounded when you consider intersectional identities. In 2022, black women earned 70 cents to the dollar, Hispanic women 65 cents to every dollar earned by their white male counterparts. As you can well imagine, that wage gap widens for women who are black, Indigenous, racialized, women with disabilities, and the list goes on. 

Intersectionality matters. Canadian stats recently showed homelessness among women is increasing, it’s about 34% right now of the population of homelessness in Canada. Indigenous and sexual minority women are highly overrepresented in these numbers, many with intersectional identities, including black women and women living with disabilities. As we work together for the common outcome of defending freedom and human rights with a focus on women and girls, we must also recognize that our experiences of patriarchy and colonization are not the same. And it is in honoring our various intersectional identities which shape our experiences and strengthen this cause.

As Audre Lorde declares, one of my favorites, “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are different from my own.” So in closing, my colleagues, my friends, my relations, community, we do not have the luxury of separating church from state and being in the world, but not of the world. We cannot remove ourselves from neither the micro or macro actions of those writing policies and making decisions for people’s lives. We are in a state of emergency to disrupt the dismantling of democracy and the uprising of neocolonialism and autocracy across the globe.

 On April 16, 1963, in the midst of the civil rights movement, while in Birmingham jail, Dr. Martin Luther King wrote and I quote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.  Never again can we afford to live with the narrow provincial outside agitator idea.” The threat to justice is on our doorstep. The threat to injustice is the threat to justice is at my doorstep. The threat to justice is at your doorstep. It’s at our doorsteps. 

So let’s make a daily commitment to decolonize and to shift our own autocratic gaze in our own ways. Every day I ask myself, Aina-Nia, how are you still acting in colonized ways? And we need to ask ourselves because it begins with us. We must move away from the autocratic gaze. We must move away from the colonized ways of being in our own ways so that we can employ an intersectional lens to our calling as spiritual and faith leaders. 

Be courageous. Be courageous enough to make visible those most marginalized and oppressed that you may create sustained transformation in your local and global environment. Remember your power to lead. Remember your power to disrupt. Remember your power for change. Remember our collective power you saw march this morning and how the energy was so powerful when we get together as women. So remember your power because together we can disrupt injustice everywhere. Thank you for being with me today.

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