Female activists storm off stage in angry protests at TEDxAfrica conference

Women at TEDxAfrica festival at Nairobi’s Uhuru Park on December 3, 2018 in Nairobi, Kenya.

On Friday, two speakers left Africa’s biggest TEDGlobal conference amid some drama surrounding Africa’s attention on women’s rights.

Marie-Hélène Ripert, a university professor who studies environmental conservation, spoke at the event. She told the audience about a huge landowner in the Ivory Coast who had been giving a farm to his daughter for free. To lure her to stay, she asked him why he wasn’t paying her to continue to work the land.

“Ferrari business, she replied, that is why you are paying her,” Ripert said. She added that this was a “violation of women’s rights” because there was no financial incentive for her to work.

She was later joined on stage by Mali-based journalist Hedy Belohlavek, who also spoke about abuses she had encountered at home — and the violence she had endured at work. It was then that she and Ripert launched into a passionate debate.

After she had finished speaking, Ripert, for her part, left a furious outburst:

“I was disturbed by your continuous interventions. You have attacked me and my work. It is time to stop,” she told Belohlavek. She then refused to shake her hand, and even doubled up on the podium.

At that point, Ripert was carried from the stage by two security guards. Then, several security guards escorted her out.

Belohlavek, the two African women, found it difficult to accept what was happening. She said she was being “demonized” and accused the men in charge of the conference of turning a “blind eye” to the abuse she endured at home, adding that Ripert was refusing to let her stand.

Ripert responded by accusing Belohlavek of being racist and suggesting that if Belohlavek’s husband was doing well, she would never have had to spend her time on the continent.

In interviews after the incident, both women walked a line between the racism claims and the accusations of sexism, appearing to walk a sort of dividing line.

“Of course it was racist, it was always like that,” Ripert said. “I hate racists and if you ask me about sexism, I’m not here to fight sexism, I’m here to fight racism,” Belohlavek told the Agence France-Presse.

We will soon know if that line is fluid enough to spare Africa or two of its most prominent global institutions from the fate of the migrant crisis.

Read the full story at Quartz.


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