“Women are powerful, more than any creature on Earth,” said Agnes Taile, a Cameroonian journalist turned Central Florida-based African fashion designer.
She would know. She was the 2009 recipient of the International Women’s Media Foundation Courage in Journalism award before she immigrated to the United States a decade ago, trading in pen and paper for fabric and scissors.
Taile earned the accolade for her reporting on political corruption, human rights issues and gender inequality in Cameroon, as well as her February 2008 coverage of the escalating conflict in a war-torn Chad.
“It was exciting,” said Taile, of reporting in the field, at times amidst the chaos of raining bullets, burning buildings and an exodus of refugees. “You want to get closer to the action because you are people’s ears and eyes. You have to put the fears aside to be able to do that. I was not thinking about anything else but to get the story done in the right way.”
To Taile, that’s the only way to report -- boots on the ground, talking with the afflicted and fighting to capture the truth alongside her fellow soldiers armed with pen, paper and camera. Taile said she saw her people suffering and dying, so doing what she could to lead a revolution was only natural, even in a country where journalists like her face termination, prison or death.
“For me, journalism was about putting out what I know to save lives. It takes courage to lift your pen and write the truth,” Taile said. “It just attracts you the more you get to know what it is.”
She got to know the craft in Yaoundé, Cameroon’s capital, and fell in love with it when she hosted her own radio show, “A vous la parole,” which means “Have your say” in English.
Taile’s show was famous for lobbing criticisms against the country’s corrupt, often untouchable government. Paul Biya, who has served as Cameroon’s president since 1982, was a frequent target of her reports. She reported the truth about Biya and other political officials, knowing the key to resolving every human rights issue starts with the government.
“The government is everything when it comes to change,” Taile said. “It starts with the laws that we have to put in place. If you cannot start from the roots, there is no way you can fix the branches.”
It’s something she recalls as a women’s rights advocate as well, an underlying thread woven in her work as both reporter and dressmaker.
“When it comes to women, it’s a whole different world. We still have a lot of issues when it comes to stepping out and being equally treated,” Taile said. “When it comes to women, it will be my priority to be the voice of the woman who does not have any voice.”
Even after leaving Cameroon and journalism due to threats on her life, Taile continued to draw attention to her culture, and particularly its women, in creative ways. In 2016, she started her own African-inspired clothing line, CamericaCreations, in Orlando.
“What crossed my mind was bringing out women’s topics,” said Taile, of her work. “For some reason, I always wanted to be linked to Africa in general, and to Cameroon specifically, to bring out what we don’t talk about here.”
Thus, her African clothing business was born. According to the CamericaCreations website, the fashion line was founded “upon the principles of integrity and progress.”
Taile said the transition from reporter to designer was seamless. Fashion design remains her first passion, one that has grown since her first runway show at 17 years old.
“I would have been very miserable if I didn’t find any other passion for anything else (other) than journalism,” Taile said. “I’m having much more fun sewing and seeing every single project coming alive.”
But Taile said she’s still a journalist at heart and would return to the field if given the opportunity. The one beat that would bring her back? Women’s issues.
“Luckily, we have more and more women actually realizing that they have a role to play to close that gap (between men and women),” Taile said. “Isolated actions may help instantly, but we have to look into it deeply to have more coordinated actions. That’s one thing we as women need to do. To come together, lift one another up and then move forward toward our goals.”
Taile said the problems facing American women and Cameroonian women may be different, but one thing remains the same for all women.
“We build the world. When we want to build, we do. We do it with our heart, with our mind. We do it with everything,” Taile said.