Firstly, it is important to say that when it comes to theory, it’s more accurate to speak of African feminisms than of one almighty ‘African feminism’. Not all African feminists agree with each other – luckily – as this would hinder deep reflection of issues such as those listed below, yet respecting differences whilst recognising a common ground is a priority. Also, as mentioned in my previous post, many women refer to themselves as both African feminists and Black feminists. (This is especially evident in bibliographies of both African- and Black feminist writing.) However, African feminist thought has an added commitment to analyses in African contexts.
I should also clarify that African feminists here, as mostly elsewhere, refers to feminists of African heritage both in Africa and in the diaspora, and that with ‘African women’ I’m referring to women of African heritage who are rural, urban and of all social classes who live in Africa and across the globe. Lastly, the views expressed below are mine and my choice to highlight seven key issues is not to suggest that there aren’t other equally pressing and important issues or that these seven are comprehensively covered in this one post.
All-righty, on that note, let’s start with the Big, Bad Guy.
Africa is no different to other continents in the world, where whatever autonomic space the society offers the individual, it is less if one is female. Unfortunately we don’t know of a time in modern history when women of a racial/ethnic/class group were not disadvantaged in comparison to men of the same racial/ethnic/class group. We know of times (including this current one) when women of one race, ethnicity and/or class may have social advantages over men of another race, ethnicity and/or class. African feminists pay attention to the ways that patriarchy – that is, the psychological and political system that values the male higher than the female – uses law, tradition, force, ritual, customs, education, language, labour (etc.) to keep women governed by men in both public and private life. African feminism sees that African men and women could have mutually beneficial, transformative and progressive relationships in the private and public spheres if our relationships were non-patriarchal and egalitarian. Nevertheless, African feminists assume responsibility for striving for such equal societies rather than hoping that men will someday redistribute privilege and power to create a better, more harmonious prospect for future generations.
African feminist thought does not solely deal with the ‘male-female’-imbalance because that would leave out other factors that affect African women’s lives, one of which is racial hierarchies and the politics that come along with them. In fact, African feminists tend to be well-versed in how racial politics has undermined those practices in parts of historical Africa that had complementary elements and that nurtured a spirit of mutual intimacy. African feminist writing aims to ‘undo’ the roles and conditions that made Africans dependent on their colonisers, to ‘unwrite’ the burden of a history of imperialism that spans through centuries and to give a new language with which African women and men can progress from the racialised trauma that till this present day affects women and men albeit in different ways.
It’s quite unpopular to criticise African traditions, or to point out that African history is marked by male dominance which African women have always resisted. Whether it is to do with the household, marriage customs, production methods or sexual freedoms, African patriarchal traditions for the most part make distinctions between male and female in ways that disadvantage the female. African women have been silenced for too long about the crimes of traditional patriarchy such as the abusive and dehumanising institution of patriarchal polygamy, widow abuse, genital cutting, witch-hunting and women’s lack of access to property and power in traditional society. That said, African feminist thought doesn’t seek to abandon tradition, as tradition also harbours a precious cultural memory and a rich legacy of knowledge and spirituality. Rather the goal is to enable tradition to adapt to its times so that rather than stagnate, it can enrich society, as customs and culture should do. Take for instance Sisonke Msimang, an African feminist who here describes incorporating the lobola (bride price) in her wedding ceremony in a completely feminist way! That’s a great example of how to maintain cultural pride whilst simultaneously preserving a commitment to evolution and harmony.
Africa, according to statistical indices, is the poorest continent in terms of people’s access to basic amenities. African feminist thought honours that poverty in Africa and wealth in the west are structurally linked. The west’s continued injustice towards Africa through military intervention, resource exploitation, NGO propaganda, unjustifiable debt and trade practices, and other neo/colonial practices of the power hungry has devastating effects on African states ability to cope with such factors as HIV/Aids, women’s sexual & maternal health and infrastructure development. Perhaps worst of all, is that the underdevelopment of Africa has impeded on the development of consciousness through adequate educational systems. As a result, African societies have been unable to naturally progress in ways where their jurisdiction, agriculture, intra-continental trade, indigenous healthcare and philosophical outlook has advanced to match the needs of citizens. In addition, this lack of consciousness development fuels unexamined claims like that the pursuit of gender equality is unAfrican or that homosexuality is sinful. Furthermore, poverty affects women worse than men in developing parts of the world because as Thomas Sankara said, “…women are dependant of the dependant.” African feminism seeks to enlighten that in order to develop African countries need to create social institutions that will resist foreign hegemony over African people, encourage engaged thinking and a workforce inclusive of all of its population on equally focused footing.
To point out the obvious, lesbians are women and homophobia and the persecution of African queer women by African states is a key issue in African feminist thought. The question of female sexuality in all its manifestations, and the control and suppression thereof, is in fact a central preoccupation for African feminists. How do we challenge the state that pushes a rigid heterosexist idea as the norm? How do we unlink sexual dominance from sexual pleasure? How are women’s bodies made to bear the wounds of history; and of foreign intrusion and prolonged national struggles? How do we address the psychological and physical suffering that women endure after violation? African feminist-centered thought and activism aims to query into and dismantle the mindset that doesn’t encourage the fundamental human right of ownership over one’s body.
For feminism to be far reaching in impact, African feminists, like all others involved in the women’s movement need to collaborate with each other as we are also co-dependent in an increasingly interconnected world. In the 20th century, African feminists were largely engaged in eliminating the arrogance and imperialism that had been imported through white-western feminism into African women’s narratives, but in the past decade or so the focus has been on ways to work together despite differences and especially to strengthen ties with Latin American and Asian feminist struggles. This pattern is in varying degrees the zeitgeist of all global feminisms, even though theory and practice are not always in unison.
African feminists need to curb (but not neglect) their anger towards the negative images that many white feminists have perpetuated and focus on the resourceful work that many white feminists have produced, and white feminists need to be starkly aware and critical of their privileged position.Only then can we mutually seek to empower the strength at the heart of womanhood.
Love is something that all human beings desire in life yet it is an undervalued emotion in the worldview that shapes much of modern ideas. Using art in all its forms, for instance, to infuse theory with passion and emotion is for many African feminists a radically transformative act. Art is a realm where African feminist positions are not stated, but are symbolically represented. By creating new intellectual traditions aside of white/male academic history, African feminists are in effect questioning the legitimacy of knowledge production and decolonizing and depatriarchalising minds.
African feminist thought is fuelled by the idea that love and justice are complementary to revolution and change. It is focused on healing, reconciliation, and on an insistence that the language of African womanhood, from its global position, is the language that can transform society into one where sexual, racial, spiritual, psychological and social equality are afforded. In such a society people can pursue lives with less daily micro- and macro-aggressions, less hostility and more space for self-realisation. From Miriam Makeba’s music to Oumou Sy’s fashion to Nike Ogundaike’s art, African feminists are at the forefront of using creativity to express that progressive thought is not only cerebral but also visceral and expressive.
More African feminist resources here.
I’m so glad I came across your page. I’ve been struggling to get myself motivated to work on my PhD on self-representations of women in modern Uganda and this is just the kind of writing I needed to get me started. There are so many new fresh ways to womanhood in Africa today and it irks me when some writers still propagate a notion of a helpless African woman trapped by tradtionalism and patriarchy. Women in modern Africa are daily discovering new ways to up-turn male-dominated discourses and create their own spaces for fulfilled lives.Looking forward to the rest of your series!
A year later but i would love to reach you as I am very interested in the modern Ugandan woman and her self perception. Thanks Linda and MsAfropolitan!
hello ,you too ,you do literature
,Specially african feminism
Thanks Linda, delighted that it’s motivated you and hope you’ll stop by again to share more as you go along.
Hi, informative article, showing various aspects at play and my thinking would suggest there is an interplay between the 7. On that point, you mentioned Africans viewing homosexuality as sinful and I understand that that can lead to problems but only given the other aspects mentioned? Surely there are many cultures also considering such behaviour as sinful yet have a higher view of women and allow people to partake in sinful activities in their private lives? Or is that what you suggested: homosexuality viewed as sin is not a problem or anti-women in itself but in the African context it often is?
I’m not sure I understand your question, but I don’t see homosexuality as sinful in any context.
Sorry, I meant to reply to this reply thread. Below is my reponse.
What I meant is that in some cultures and according to certain worldviews homosexuality is recognised as sinful/destructive behaviour yet tolerated. What we see in certain African subcultures though (and of course some non-African ones) is that there is a violent repsonse to such behaviour. And I was thinking that in a society thinking less of women even or where men expect sex from women on demand (or to a greater extent at least), lesbians in particular would be victims of abuse more often than gay men even. I don’t see the view of homosexuality as sinful as effecting women negatively in itself but only within a violent, intolerant society rather.
I repeat – I don’t see homosexuality as sinful in ANY context.
Yes, I understand that. Fully. I deducted that from the beginning and was not questioning that. Maybe my question is still too vague. I was just wondering whether you implied that people,communities,etc. who does see it as sinful are necessarily ‘anti-women’ or only if that view goes along with a specific mix of other cultural phenomena/beliefs.
If someone says they love the ocean, then goes on to say but only when it is calm, then they do not love the ocean, they love a calm ocean.
If you love women, you love all women. If you love humanity, you love all humanity. Otherwise, you make your selection clear and stop unintelligently stirring.
Ok, this is turning into an unnecessary long thread here from which I considered an honest, straight forward question. I’m not sure if you have attempted to answer me yet? but it seems you might not want to, rather than misunderstanding my question, as was initially the case. If this is so I will move on. Looking forward to read some of your other posts though: important topics.
Machifeh Nestor Alvine Johnson says
is africAn fer
is african ferminism of any need.?
EDEU DANIEL says
This is so wonderful because i have been able to use the knowledge to understand African feminism.
keep up the spirit.
Thanks Edeu, happy it was useful.
Nicole Winnie Rop says
Nicodemus Elakoloh Nyamekeh says
i believe in the Africa identity and for that matter feminism
Chamonkorn Hathailux says
Do you have any sources or research that relevant with this post ? I just what to learn more about these and I would be nice if you could suggest me some. 😀
Sorry about the late reply. Check out my African Feminist Resources page https://msafropolitan.com/african-feminist-resources
Farai Morobane says
After going through the comments I’d like to add onto a reply that ms. Afropolitan posted two years back. I think Servaas was trying to ask something like is there a necessary link between patriarchal societies and institutionalized homophobia and the violence that follows.
My understanding of this is that there is definitely a link. Patriarchy stipulates very rigid sexual and gender roles in society, it thrives on the sustenance and reiteration of these roles through social institutions. As such, deviant sexual and gender identities that do not conform to the ascribed roles, i.e homosexuality in this instance (for arguments sake we can include all factions of the LGBTI), are a direct resistant force to the equilibrium, which is the norm. So yes, there is a clear link between societies that oppress women and societies that are institutionally homophobic.
Thanks for this perceptive, Farai. You might be right and must apologise for misunderstanding Servaas’s contribution if so. Perhaps it seemed so obvious to me that there is a link between patriarchy and homophobia, but thanks for succinctly elaborating why this is.
Farai Morobane says
Oh, and I’m writing a thesis on the wave of gender conservative laws that have swept through African states over the past 5 years. This was very useful in giving an overview of African feminisms @MsAfropolitan:disqus
I’m glad to read that this was useful Farai 🙂
I’m glad to read that this was useful Farai your thesis sounds incredibly interesting and would love to hear more about your findings.
I really enjoyed this piece, you put into words what i have always thought about. When you speak of enabling ‘tradition to adapt to its times’ I guess that is written under the idea that tradition changes over time, of which is evidently accurate, and that it will remain the same. As an archaeology student I have realised that most if not all historical accounts based on African history are very eurocentric. One source however that tends to be less bias is our tradition. We retain and tell our history through cultural mediums such as myths, dances, songs and art, all of these make up a tradition. I am not opposed to the idea of allowing tradition to adapt to its times in order to feel and be accomodated as an African feminist, I just want to underline the importance of identity in an African context. So if we are going to encourage constant alterations to our traditions, constant because time moves rapidly these days, we might want to learn about who we are first.
Great comment. I completely agree. Traditions are often beautiful examples of collective exploration and we should not throw the bay out with the water but simultaneously oppose those traditions which oppress.
Njeri Maish says
am always strunded taking a degree in gender and everyone at home is like;where will you get a job?what kind of course is that?
Tonney Odhiambo says
I am so glad I got this page. May I ask what the basic tenets of African Feminist Theoretical Perspectives are, and who are the proponents, please?
“One white lady that lived near us at McBean slipped in a colored gal’s room and cut her baby’s head clean off ’cause it belonged to her husband. He beat her ’bout it and started to kill her, but she begged so I reckon he got to feelin’ sorry for her. But he kept goin’ with the colored gal and they had more chillun.” – Unnamed former slave, enslaved in Georgia, interviewed ca. 1937 [WPA Slave Narrative Project]
“…Louise Newman’s excellent book, White Women’s Rights: The Racial Origins of Feminism in the U.S…makes a convincing case that eveloped an explicit racial ideology to promote their cause, defending patriarchy for “primitives” while calling for its elimination among the “civilized.” She writes: “Feminism developed in conjunction with—and constituted a response to—the United States’ extension of its authority over so-called “primitive” peoples, and feminism was part and parcel of the nation’s attempt to assimilate those peoples whom white elites designated as their racial inferiors.” (p.181)”
“…the racism of the early women’s movement was central rather than peripheral to the movement…The reality is that white supremacy and feminism were completely intertwined at the root. This is not simply an old problem of a previous century, or of individual white women who “caved in to” the racism of the surrounding society. Rather, white supremacy is baked into white feminism.”
“many of the avowed white supremacist women I studied in my study of Cyber Racism view themselves as feminists. …there’s nothing inconsistent between white supremacy and white feminism. That’s why it’s so important for a critically engaged feminism include a commitment to racial justice.”
“The white feminist thought shaped by evolutionist theories, imperialism, and missionary zeal continue to shape the feminist movement today.” – Jessie Daniels,’Trouble with White Feminism: Racial Origins of U.S. Feminism’
….The two adult white women who started this confrontation by reportedly slapping Tatiana Rose in the face have not been arrested or charged. A young 14-year old girl is traumatized, and a community who rallied at the police department on Monday night is outraged.
Few white people have stood up and called out the white adult women who harassed a fellow neighbor having a pool party with her friends, and with her mother’s permission. But many white people have watched the video and concluded that the officer’s treatment of the 14-year-old girl was justified. The gender dynamics in this moment are interesting. There is no universe in which a police officer would drag a young white girl in a two-piece bathing suit by her hair, demand she put her face on the ground, and then kneel for several minutes on top of her adolescent body. If such a thing occurred, it would elicit massive moral outrage on the part of white people (and Black people, too).
But Black girls are never deemed feminine enough for their sexual and adolescent vulnerability to register for white people. They are frequently viewed as aggressors by both police and regular citizens alike, even for doing very adolescent things like mouthing off to those in authority. This is the reason why education scholars suggest that Black girls are suspended from school six times as often as white girls, because even simple adolescent forms of testing boundaries are perceived as far more aggressive based on race.
Moreover, the violent incivility of the white women who harassed and physically assaulted these teenagers who had every right to be there escapes notice. White women have been some of the worst perpetrators of racial aggression and racial indignity in this country, but their aggressions frequently escape notice, precisely because white womanhood and the need to protect it animates the core of so much white supremacist aggression toward Black people. The domestic sphere, much to the chagrin of my fellow feminists, has long been considered the sacred domain of white women. Many a Black man was lynched in service of protecting white women’s domestic sanctity and sexual virtue. Meanwhile, white women have been emboldened by such a system for centuries to police, demean and humiliate Black people, and Black women in particular, within domestic spaces.
But you won’t see white feminists contextualizing or calling out this long history of white female bullying of Black women with less social, political or economic power than them. They leave that work to Black feminists. – ‘America’s war on Black girls: Why McKinney police violence isn’t about “one bad apple”’
‘Texas teacher claims she couldn’t have fondled black student because she’s racist’
“Prosecutors said that after failing a polygraph test, Stokes insisted to Humble police that she had not touched the girl “on any part of her body.”…“She doesn’t like to even touch the black children on their hand, she shies away when they try to hug her — she admitted to being prejudiced,” Blanchard said…The complaint stated that Stokes “doesn’t like black students because she was prejudiced” and “has little to no interaction” with her accuser.”
‘Georgia high school principal under fire for racist comments at graduation: “Look who’s leaving — all the black people!”’
“A high school principal in Lilburn, Georgia has come under fire for making a racist remark during Friday night’s commencement ceremony. Video of the event shows that moments after Nancy Gordeuk accidentally dismissed the assembled crowd before all of the speakers were finished, she called out, “Look who’s leaving — all the black people!”
…“You people,” she said, “are being so rude, not to listen to this speech. It was my fault that we missed it in the program. Look who’s leaving — all the black people!”
‘White Teacher Reportedly Tells Student That Killing All Black People Is on Her Bucket List’
“Cynthia Ramsey, a math teacher at Camden County High School in North Carolina, allegedly told a student that if she only had 10 days left to live, she would kill all black people.”
“White woman calls 3-year old Aboriginal child “ugly” for dressing as a character from “Frozen””
“A mother and her two daughters told my daughter they didn’t know why she dressed up as Anna & Elsa [because they] aren’t Black and that Black is ugly,” said Rachel…She went on to tell the Ballarat Courier, “I asked the woman what she meant by the comment and then one of the woman’s young daughters screwed up her face, she pointed at Samara and said, ‘You’re Black and Black is ugly.’”
“We don’t say enough about how the racism of White women—who often escape scrutiny because the public face of racism is The White Man—harms people of color. We forget how the aggression of police when encountering Black bodies is often tied to the idea that these people present a danger to the fragility of White womanhood and how the word of a White woman will nearly almost always be believed over that of a Black man or Black woman (or a Black child, which is frightening, considering how many White women are teaching Black kids that they don’t necessarily value or believe in.)
White women are human and fallible. They are not standard bearers for femininity, they are not in need of our protection and many of them have willingly participated in the systems of racism that lead to educational disenfranchisement of “unteachable” Black children and overpolicing of Black “superpredators.” Our torrid love affair with Whiteness and White supremacy often make it hard for us to hold White folks accountable, but I’d be willing to bet you that the brothers hollering about Rachel Dolezal doing work wouldn’t be as easy on Ronald Dolezal showing up in an Afro- toupee. And considering that mentally-ill Black women are routinely sentenced to prison and discarded by society, I’m disinterested in a lengthy psychoanalysis of Dolezal that can be used to give her a pass. She will be just fine, wherever she imagines herself next.” – Jamilah Lemieux, ‘The Infallibility of Miss Ann (Or, the Last Rachel Dolezal Thinkpiece Ever)’
“African feminists need to curb (but not neglect) their anger towards the negative images that many white feminists have perpetuated…”
Lol. Um…no. White women are some of the worst perpetrators of racist violence, aggression, physical assault, and bullying in this society – ESPECIALLY against Black women and Black girls. There is a LONG history of white female bullying of Black women and children. We don’t say enough about how racist white women go out of their way to SPECIFICALLY harm Black women and children JUST to prop up their OWN unstable white female identities and egos.
White female ‘educators’ are the MAIN ones responsible for branding innocent Black children “unteachable” and exposing them to school-to-prison pipeline. They need to be held accountable for violating the basic human and civil rights of innocent schoolchildren. I have about 500 years worth of LEGITIMATE reasons to LEGITIMATELY fear, distrust, and dislike white women in general and white feminists IN particular. I have the right to feel however I want about theoppression I am experiencing. I also have the right to feel legitimate outrage at evil. Period.
Malaika Aryee-Boi says
I’m so late to discover your blog and this article, but I am glad that i did now and I will be following closely. A question I have, which may be answered in more recent writings, is your opinion on an African feminism that also reflects on binary gender. Could a decolonial African feminism perhaps, move away from defining cis-women as the only ones dealing with/ fighting against a patriarchal society? What about trans-women and gender non-conforming people/ trans-femmes? can we make space to examine gender as a whole, that as some have argued has been colonially defined? sorry for the long thread of questions, but i’d love to read more on these issues form an African feminist perspective! thanks
Hi Malaika! Thank you for your recent comments and the engagement with my ideas. A decolonial feminism must in my opinion be inclusive of all women including transwomen and gender non-conforming people, and men too. Fighting patriarchy is not only the work of ciswomen. I agree with those who argue that gender has been colonially defined. It’s something I’ll definitely write more about in future, thanks for the questions.
hello ,you too ,you do literature
,Specially african feminism