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Walking the talk: Reflections of a young researcher

Svri2022 Fotter Flower 07 10
Written by Jane Ndungu

“Hello, I am Jane, a researcher and activist advocating for prevention of VAWG.”

You are probably thinking, “Okay, so am I. What’s new?” THIS! This is new and news; to me as well! Okay, please grab a coffee and give me a chance to explain.

See, I am a deeply introverted person, who prefers to sit behind a screen, as opposed to standing in front of a crowd; in fact, I insist on it. So, I have always believed, and I have on many occasions been known to say, that I am not an activist.

“I am not an activist, I am a researcher,” or so I thought! I joined the field of VAWG prevention, through research, in 2014 but did so behind my laptop screen and remained there. After attending the SVRI Forum 2019 however, I often found myself speaking out in spaces where I had been known to be quiet; I agreed to give talks that I had previously declined; I started gaining a voice and sadly, I lost a few friends and colleagues. BUT I still believed I was not an activist. I was a vocal researcher. Yup! I kid you not!

So, when did it dawn on me? SVRI Forum 2022! At the SVRI Forum 2022, my latent activism manifested. Eight years into the field! I was holding the mic at the SVRI Forum 2022, and I found myself discarding my prepared speech and just spoke! I promise you. Words were just flowing, and I was hearing them for the first time as the other participants did. “Is this how it feels to speak in tongues?” I wondered. I later told my sister that I now believed there is such a thing as the SVRI spirit! The space felt safe and caring enough for me to speak my mind freely.

To back up my theory, of the SVRI spirit, how else do you explain the atmosphere witnessed at the SVRI Forums? How do you explain all those different organisational cultures, nationalities, races, ages, hierarchies, academic disciplines and all the other differences that we bring to the conference disappearing and everyone speaking as one? How many times have you heard someone say something relatable at the SVRI Forums? How many times do you find yourself listening to a conversation at a coffee break and thinking, “you think so too?  I am not alone?!” How do you explain the energy to do more that people leave the SVRI Forum with? How do you explain the consistent kindness the SVRI core team projects, even during the pressure of hosting over 1000 people at a conference? And how do you explain the ‘I am with my people’ feeling at the SVRI Forums? Indeed, my sister, who attended the SVRI Forum for the first time in 2022, said this as she watched people dancing at the gala night, “this is how the world should be; free.” How else do you explain that? I reflected on this, on my loooong 36-hour trip back to South Africa.

I think this spirit emanates from the SVRI community walking the talk. I have had the great privilege of witnessing or experiencing many kinds of this at the SVRI Forums. An example that recently directly impacted me was inclusion/breaking barriers. The SVRI Forum 2022 was hosted in an even more accessible venue, making it easier for people from different walks of life and ableism to participate. SVRI 2019 was accessible, but the 2022 Forum takes the cake. Which conference provides a wheelchair service?! Not one that I have been to. What’s more? Thanks to the SVRI Forum funders, I received a full bursary to attend the SVRI Forum 2022 to present my PhD research; complemented with an additional bursary for someone to accompany me on the journey to the conference, and at the conference. This enabled me to experience the full benefit of the conference. What an amazing act of inclusion!

The opportunity to attend the conference and present my research, coupled with the opportunity I was afforded to give reflections on the conference and the engagements I had with various people – which in some cases led to discussions on involvement in some research projects – are all a remarkable form of inclusion, breaking barriers, and empowerment! All which the SVRI advocates for.

So, yes, “I am now Jane, a researcher and activist advocating for prevention of VAWG through research! Thanks to the SVRI Forums. Mucho gusto! And you are?”

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