Stella Dadzie discusses OWAAD



Stella Dadzie talks about her reasons for setting up the Organisation for Women of Asian and African Descent (OWAAD).

The African Students' Union – a place for women?

Stella Dadzie discovered the work of the African Students' Union (ASU) while she was at university in the early 1970s. This organisation resonated with her politics in many ways: 'It was anti-colonial, it was anti-imperialist, it was anti-racist'. But the ASU did not take account of women's experiences. Stella Dadzie was deeply involved with African women's liberation, and felt that black and Asian women needed greater representation within both women's movements and racial equality movements in Britain.

The story of OWAAD

In 1978 Stella Dadzie co-founded OWAAD, which over the next four years campaigned on issues including immigration and deportation; domestic violence; exclusion of children from school; industrial action by black women; policing and defence policies; and health and reproductive rights. Their campaigns on reproductive rights included protesting against the testing of contraceptive drug Depo-Provera on women from marginalised communities. You can find out more about Depo-Provera in Bodies, Minds and Spirits.

Unlike Southall Black Sisters, OWAAD functioned as an umbrella organisation, bringing together lots of different groups with divergent interests and focuses. As with the Women's Liberation Movement as a whole, these differences were both a strength and a weakness of OWAAD – the various priorities between each group caused complications. It was difficult, for instance, to maintain the organisations' primary fight against racism and sexism in Britain and the USA while also attending to the struggle of women in Africa, the Caribbean and Asia. Eventually, in 1982, the organisation ceased to exist. Nevertheless, it made a huge contribution to placing the experience of black and Asian women on the women's liberation agenda.

Stella Dadzie, Gail Lewis and Mia Morris talk about the history of OWAAD in detail in their oral histories. Amrit Wilson also talks about OWAAD and one of its key precursors Awaaz (which means 'voice' in Urdu), an Asian women's umbrella group. Stella Dadzie went on to co-author The Heart of the Race (London: Virago Press, 1985), with Suzanne Scafe and Beverly Bryan, which examined the lives of black women in Britain, especially in terms of where their stories had been left out of women's history.

We're not feminists – we reject that label because we feel that it represents a white ideology. In our culture the term is associated with an ideology and practice which is anti-men. Our group is not anti-men at all … We're working together by different routes. We want to show people sisterhood in operation, something that's a forward movement, not a divisive one. We take our responsibility to the community very seriously.
(OWAAD organiser quoted in Dadzie's The Heart of the Race)

What do you think of this view? Do you think that different versions of feminism can exist? Is this an example of the misunderstandings that can arise between women of different cultures, even when they are living very close to each other in localities and neighbourhoods?

Image details

OWAAD banner at meeting photograph © Stella Dadzie



You’ve described how the Black Women’s Movement emerged from those anti-colonialist, anti-imperialist, anti-racist politics in a way and…


…I was wondering about those black women who were very few in number who came through the white dominated Women’s Movement.

Well, I think it’s only fair to say this, to just correct that for a minute. The people that I closely associated with came from that background, people like Gerlin Bean who I’m very close with, we travelled America together, we were real sisters and I have a great deal of respect for that woman, really, she was a real influence. So we had a sort of politics that was grounded there and I think Gail Lewis would be part of that as well. There were other women who were coming from, as I say, the Black Panther movement so they had more a black nationalist kind of hat on, there were women coming from the white women’s movement so they had a more sort of feminist or radical feminist politics emerging. So it wouldn’t be fair to say that OWAAD was grounded just in that anti-imperialist, I think those of us who had the most influence at the start in terms of being the founder members envisaged it being that kind of organisation, but the reality is, it was an umbrella organisation, it brought together a plethora of groups with all kinds of different backgrounds and histories and origins and it was that very diversity that was both our strength and our Achilles heel. So it wouldn’t be fair to say it was just them versus us. In terms of the women who were coming from the white women’s movement and, as I say, I’ll preface this by saying this could be unfair because they weren’t the women I associated with most closely in terms of my social life, but people like Sylvia who I knew and loved, people like Gail, I know they were exploring their sexuality, I think Gail was always fairly grounded in hers, and they were raising issues, issues around homophobia in the black community, which was a real concern and remains a concern, issues around women’s sexuality and issues around relationships with men that probably wouldn’t have been our primary focus. Having said that, I think there was never, and what makes the black women’s movement different from what was happening I think its counterpart was, there was never this sense of wanting to exclude men, there was never this sense that they were the enemy.

Stella Dadzie discusses OWAAD
June 2011
Sound recording
Stella Dadzie
© British Library
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