“Empowering women benefits us all”

Lucia Kula is an African feminist and researcher at SOAS, University of London, who studies interdisciplinarly irregular migration, borders, gender and law and economic violence.

Kula is also a freelance writer, activist, and analyst. In this interview she addresses the issue of emigration (which is at the top of the international debate agenda) as well as the challenges that remain with regard to gender equality and makes the interconnection between these two issues.

NgolaJornal (N.J.): First of all, talk about your career and how you built consciousness as a feminist.

Lúcia Kula (L.K.): Fleeing Angola as a young girl and growing up as an asylum seeker in the Netherlands contributed a lot to my interest and subsequently involvement in feminist activism and becoming an academic. Facing a lot of uncertainty and insecurity with regard to the safety and legality of our family, it forced me to be assertive and disciplined in wanting to contribute to change and affect (inter)national legal scholarship.

N.J.: You speak a lot about the difficulties of insertion of emigrants, especially in Europe. Was your own experience difficult?

L.K.: My own experience growing up as a refugee/asylum seeker in Europe was a difficult one, for the majority of my life, from the age of 8 until 21 years old there was the uncertainty and insecurity of not knowing where you stand and what your rights were, you also didn’t know whether you would be able to actually build a life at some point, with no right to work, and no right to education once you became an adult, it was incredibly difficult to imagine the future.

N.J.: In What project are you currently working on?

L.K.: Angola and the DRC share a long porous border which engulfs a diamond mining rich area. The economic dynamics in the region play a significant role in the socio-economic narratives of the political economy of violence and displacement. This projects looks at a critical examination of vulnerability, (irregular) migrants lives and their strategies to survival to understanding migratory movements and the intersections of mobility and gendered theories within borders. The project also examines the tenuous temporalities of refugee communities in border spaces and the role of law (in particular the law on State Responsibility and human rights law), economic factors and gender effects in the production of vulnerabilities and violence. My research pivots around an empirical study to examine border spaces and the changing forms of legality, highlighting the importance of an interdisciplinary approach that holds gender, race and economic privilege/disadvantage in mind. It aims to explore different feminist perspective to the vulnerabilities of cross border migration in (post) conflict regions, especially where there is a diminished capacity of an individual or group to anticipate, cope with, resist and recover from the violence in certain spaces.

N.J.: The issue of emigrants is a key issue at the present time. How do you look at this world drama?

L.K.: The migrant debate is being discussed in Brussels this next few days and it is inherently clear that European leaders cannot seem to agree on the approach to this new influx. If we look at the recent developments with migrant ships being refused in certain countries, such as Malta, and then we also look at almost 13000 migrants being stranded in the Sahara desert by Algeria, we can see that what’s happening in Europe still largely affects the actions within the African continent. European leaders are putting pressure on transit countries to limit the influx into Europe. This with disastrous consequences of course.

N.J.: In this context you have described, can we say that women suffer doubly?

L.K.: Yes, women (and children) are often much more affected in these situations because they are at a higher risk of being victims of human trafficking, (sexual) exploitation, and violence.

N.J.: The struggle for gender equality is secular, some progress has been made, but we still have a that problem. What needs to be done to make a definitive change?

L.K.: There is no definitive change or action that can be implemented to fight against gender inequality. There must be a commitment from all involved to fight for gender equality, this includes government and other actors who play a significant role in influencing legislation and policies that are meant to bridge the gap between men and women.

N.J.: Have you recently been in Angola, what impression do you have of contact with organizations and women struggling for gender equality?

L.K.: I was extremely impressed with the women’s organizations involved in Angola. So much has been done to affect a positive change in the country. And oftentimes without any government or external funding. Women and young girls are dedicated to be agents in their own struggles and have their voices heard. This is a stark contrast from what I witnessed when I was in the country in 2015/2016. Working with organizations such as Ondjango Feminista convinced that there is indeed a place for feminist intervention in Angola. We are doing it and although it’s still quite a young movement, the impact is already quite visible. From women’s rights to sexual health, empowering women benefits us all

N.J.: Africa faces serious economic and social challenges, do you believe that addressing gender issues on the continent must be made in line with our problems and our reality?
It's often that we seem to get "ready recipes." .

L.K.: The socio-economic issues we face, are gender issues as well, we can’t talk about advancing in certain areas without looking at the balance between the position of women and men and how this affects for example, wages, medical care, infant mortality rate, and access to land. As long as we remove gender from these conversations, we will continue to face the same problems.

N.J.: Do you agree with the people who say that in order to combat the migratory flux of the population of the African continent, it is necessary to combat the causes, in particular extreme poverty?

L.K.: Yes and no, extreme poverty plays a significant role in current migrant influx, but so does conflict and climate change. Extreme weather, wether drought or rain, have changed the landscape and agricultural opportunities in different regions, this then leads to food scarcity and internal displacement which can then lead to cross border migration. Tackling poverty is not the only solution. Joint efforts, regionally should be made to ensure self-reliance in food production and job creation.

N.J.: You are working on research on gender issues and emigration. At the moment you are working on a specific research project?

L.K.: At this moment I am working on a project with fellow academics at SOAS, University of London where we are on the inital stages of setting up a BorderLab. The SOAS BorderLab is an interdisciplinary knowledge hub for issues on Borders, Borderlands and frontiers. collaborative relationships among staff and students interested in these subjects across departments and disciplines, as well as to link everyone into wider networks beyond. We have a particular interest in supporting learning and teaching in Frontier/Borderlands communities themselves in the regions where we work, such as my own region of focus, Angola-DRC.

N.J.: From your experience, what attitude and what needs to be done for a good adaptation and integration in the European continent.

L.K: We need to look at the migration issue beyond borders and who we are trying to keep out. If we want to avoid and prevent deaths from dangerous crossings we need to look at why people are willing to risk their lives. No one put themselves at risks if they have other choices. The discussion in Europe now is mostly focused on how to prevent people from coming in and how to maintain the European borders as free of migrant movement as possible. Even the regional influence into countries such as Turkey, Algeria, Lybia etc. is focused on how to keep migrants as far away from the European borders as possible, fuelling the narrative are people with rights who can be shuffled around without any sort of protection. It creates lawless situations and limits the conversation in ways that only worsens this already strenuous situation we’re in.