Ugandan short story and children’s book author Hilda Twongyeirwe coordinated the effort to put together this searing collection of real-life stories spotlighting many of the issues that contemporary Ugandan—and African—women face on a daily basis.

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I Dare to Say: African Women Share Their Stories of Hope and Survival is filled with powerful remembrances of domestic violence, HIV/AIDS, female genital mutilation and war. The vignettes highlight the strength and resilience of each of the women profiled by Ugandan female writer’s collective FEMRITE. These often-inspiring testimonies of survival in the face of hardship and horrors give voice to a generation of women who have been marginalized by the societies in which they live.

Twongyeirwe, who has co-edited two previous anthologies of stories for the organization, is hopeful that the group’s effort inspires women writers the world over to provide an outlet for voices that have otherwise been silent. We’d all do well to heed Twongyeire’s plea in the book’s introduction: “Let us join hands to reflect on these and together work toward creating a world that cherishes and promotes peace and human dignity for all.”

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This was a project sponsored by FEMRITE. What can you tell us about that organization?

FEMRITE, the Uganda Women Writers’ Association was founded in 1995 as an indigenous nonprofit that promotes women writers in Uganda and Africa. Since its inception, FEMRITE has nurtured award-winning authors and poets.

While Africa boasts a rich literary tradition, there has been a general absence of women’s writings, which has resulted into an omission of women’s experiences from the literary and cultural heritage that shapes a society. In Uganda, for example, before FEMRITE came into being, the literary landscape was dominated by male writers. Our main strategy has been to bring together women writers from Uganda and across the continent to build a sense of belonging and to inspire women to write and to support one another.

Why aren’t these voices present in society?

Because men mastered the art of writing before women, so it is their stories that came first. When a few women started writing, systems were already in place and hard to penetrate. So men’s stories remained on reading lists for schools and universities, and critics trashed women’s stories as dealing with trivial domestic issues instead of politics and war. Women’s [voices] did not get space in the important spheres.

Even today, there has not been a single [female author’s work including in the country’s school curriculum], women’s works are not considered important. That is why FEMRITE advocates on behalf of women’s literary space. Also, in terms of true life stories, the issues that women [speak to] are considered “just women’s issues” and not given much attention in mainstream media and literature. The women themselves are not free and empowered enough to talk about some of these stories because they humiliate them so. But how else will they create change if they remain silent? 

Who is the audience for this book?

All people who can read because each person can help to build a violence-free society. But specifically we hope that policymakers will read the stories and come up with favorable policies for society and that activists will use the stories to advocate positive change.

We also target women readers so that we use the stories to build bridges of empathy between the women that have suffered these evils and those that have not. The evils described in these books are not confined to Uganda only. A colleague from Costa Rica read stories of female genital mutilation and said that the women in Costa Rica would clearly identify with the stories because they too are victimized in many ways.

Anything else you'd like to add?

I wish to encourage women in other countries to come up with women writing initiatives because women have unique challenges, and they need each other’s support in order to develop their writing.

Karen Calabria is a writer and editor based in Long Island, N.Y.