African Feminist Profile: Tjipo Portia Tshegofatso Loeto

1. Who is Tjipo? (Where are you from? Where did you grow up? What do you miss the most about your childhood? What do you miss the least? My name is Tjipo Portia Tshegofatso Loeto. I am an Nkalanga feminist from Matobo, a village in the North-Eastern Part of Botswana. I grew up in another village called Tonota where my mum worked as a nurse from the early 90s until 2000. I lived there until I finished high school. I am also a Gender Education Lecturer at the University of Botswana, and currently a PhD student in Gender & Cultural Studies at the University of Sydney, Australia. One thing I certainly miss about my childhood, or perhaps this fond memory I have is one about where my childhood friend and I (we were neighbours) used to climb one of the trees in our yard and just sit up there and just be ourselves. I loved it because that really was us “crossing the line” as young girls. It felt absolutely great! Waking up early to go to the fields in Matobo during school holidays as a young girl-I don’t miss that. I loved my sleep a little too much!
2. How did you come into your activism? Think of a moment, either of witnessing injustice or justice that made you realise that a different life can be lived in this earth. During my Masters Studies at the University of Botswana (2011-13), I lived on campus in the Graduate Village. I will never ever forget the day we watched, as a body, wrapped in a white sheet was carried into the University ambulance. A young woman, fellow student was murdered by her boyfriend. Word was that he strangled her to death with her night gown belt. I was just starting out as a Gender Studies student and of course finding ground in my own feminism. That incident stirred something me and I knew then that in my own little way, I had a responsibility to contribute towards making sure that young women realise that life can indeed be lived differently by taking and owning their own power in a society laden with toxic masculinities and stifled women’s voices. I am an educator and my teaching in every class of mine is my activism. My everyday life is my activism: it’s in the conversations I engage in or the issues I write about as a budding academic.
3. What inspires you daily? It can be people, it can be things? The need to keep doing better. To teach and reach out. I have had many young women tell me that I inspire them, and I also tell them that they equally inspire me. That chain of positivity drives me.
4. Do you believe that the future we work hard to achieve is possible? What gives you hope? The future we work hard to achieve is possible, however the reality is that the backlash and resistance is huge. I often feel like we are not as radical as we ought to be, but I also understand why and I am in no way belittling the tremendous efforts of the ones that came before us that brought us here. What gives me hope is the rise in the realisation that we are not fighting single struggles as African women, as Audre Lorde said: “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.” Collaborating and bringing our individual efforts together will surely bring the change that we so desperately seek.
5. What can you absolutely not live without? I always got to moisturise my lips so VASELINE. Lol!
6. What is your favourite time of the day? Probably night time. I reflect more with a clearer mind in the stillness of the night.
7. How can we strengthen our work as queer/feminist women/womxn in Africa? By bringing our efforts together. Intersectionality in our fight for justice cannot be over emphasized.
8. What would you do with a million dollars? An African Research Institute that promotes an African feminist voice through extensive African feminist research and all forms of art. The power is in us as African women telling our own stories the best way we know how and shaping our own narratives. Our solutions. Our way. Context is crucial.

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