There is a stigma that comes with the word feminism in the African community and there is this tendency to label it as a western concept. The majority of the people who so strongly stand against “feminism” misunderstand the meaning of the word itself and the implications of the concept. Feminism is quite simple and it is about ensuring that women have as much rights and opportunities as their male counterparts in society. Feminism is meant to strengthen the fundamental idea that all Humans are born equal. I still do not understand how people can reject gender based equality in Africa when women do already play major roles in family, culture, religion, economics and even politics all over the continent. I am even more disappointed when anti-feminist avowals are made by African men that bear the title of intellectuals and who claim to advocate for democracy, good governance, development etc.
How can one find it abnormal that “White” people discriminate against “Black” people, yet find it normal that men discriminate against women? The same way that the color of our skin does not confer any superiority to an individual, our genitals matter less especially on a continent where both women and men fought vehemently against slavery, occupation and colonization. Especially on a continent where the only kingdoms that won their battles against foreign occupants were ruled by female leaders such as Queen Nzinga against slave merchants in Angola and Empress Taytu Betul who defeated the Italians at the battle of Adwa making Ethiopia the only non-colonized nation in Africa.
Far from wanting to generalize or state that at all times, in every part of the continent women had equal opportunities as men, I just want to explain that there are enough examples to demonstrate women were not inherently weaker in Africa; they were weakened. We can write several books on how religion, politics slavery, colonization and recently globalization have contributed to weakening African women on the continent by pushing them out of decision making and leadership roles and confining them into that of subordinates. But that is still not enough to justify the obstinacy of educated African men who see feminism as a threat and who constantly work against it.
As a female activist engaged in a struggle against a dictatorial regime from a very young age, I was and still am a victim of gender based discrimination and as elaborated in my book, that discrimination came from both supporters and opponents. However, when asked if I am feminist I say No. No because I believe my activism goes against all sorts of oppression, domination and exploitation and surpasses gender. Feminism is included in my struggle but my struggle is not limited to it. I challenge systems whether political, religious, cultural or economic that abuse people and I advocate for social justice, equality AND equity because I believe some people are so disadvantaged (by society or nature or both) that they need more than equality to survive. My rejection of the feminist title is not an attempt to undermine the importance of feminism but simply an avoidance of specialization in the battle for Human Rights which then again has several layers, fields and scopes. Nonetheless, I have realized that my refusal to embrace the word feminism satisfies the ill needs of those men who see feminist activists as a threat because they are against the acknowledgement of Women rights and fall in the same ladder as the WhiteLivesMatter folks.
There will be no feminists if women were not oppressed on the basis of gender. Millions of girls are aborted all over the world because of the trauma that comes with giving birth to them. Millions of women are deprived from education because some believe it will make them rebellious as they are to be raised as obedient subordinates. Millions of women are physically abused and killed by their families or partners all because society believes their lives matter less and can be disposed of. And so on, and so forth… The poor living conditions of women worldwide and in Africa particularly is a fact that we all (both male and female) are aware of and we need to stop justifying and start fixing it. If African men can give us a single example of a community in which gender equality led to the destruction of that society, yeah we might understand that fear of feminism. On the contrary, there are proofs of societies performing better when women have equal access to resources and equal opportunities as men.
When addressing students at the University of Joseph Kizerbo Ouaga I in Burkina Faso in December 2016, a student pointed that their female colleagues where not interested in such gatherings as they only care about telenovelas but they will be the first that will complain of being discriminated against when them, the boys will be taking leadership roles. I told the students that it is their duty, as men to go out there and fetch the women. Society separated us in a way that women are since childhood expelled from “serious” discussions meaning anything that has to do with politics and decision-making. As a result, by the time we are adults, most women do not see the point of attending such gatherings and they self-discriminate. There is therefore a need to reeducate women on their roles and responsibility and make them take it. Equality is not and should not be a choice. It is not for the privileged to decide whether to lose his privileges or not or the under-privileged to choose to reject it.
Some will ask what incentive men have in fighting for women’s rights. In this age of globalization where nations are competing against one another, it is ludicrous that some will choose not to fully use the potentials that over half of their population has to offer as women make up 51% of Africa’s. For a continent that is left behind and is starting the development marathon decades after others have departed, keeping women in our current weakened and deprived state will make it impossible for the men to catch up with our competitors talk about surpass them. It is therefore a win-win or a lose-lose situation for both genders. For as long as African women will be underprivileged, uneducated, abused, and dependent, African men will keep dragging their legs in poverty, insecurity, wars, crimes, illegal immigration and all the awful consequences of under-development. This continent cannot advance without women and it is high time the “nouveau smart”, the newly self-acclaimed intellectuals and opinion leaders who advocate against women’s rights, realize that they have as much to gain (if not more) from feminism than us women. Gender equality might not by itself suffice to lift this continent out of poverty but without it, the mission is impossible.
Telling African Women that feminism is a western thing is an insult to one’s own intelligence. Justice, equality and freedom transcend geographical, political, religious and cultural boundaries. Wherever and whenever people are abused, there comes a time when they seek to improve their lives. And limiting feminism to the recent achievement of western women in the 20th century is a pure exhibition of ignorance. Africa needs people who fight for the emancipation of its people and women are the majority of these people.
Africa needs feminists!
Farida Bemba Nabourema