Dark Continent Consciousness: Why feminism has been, and should remain in Africa

In line with the Afrolutionist’s brilliant theme the past week; I decided to do a piece about the ever polarising F-bomb: feminism; specifically feminism in Africa. Admittedly, I’m weary of treating my continent like it’s a monolith (I think just about everybody outside of the continent has done that enough for us all); but because I think the rise, and resulting resistance to feminism in Africa has been fairly, if not largely homogenous across the continent, it’s important for me, a staunch African woman and feminist, to discuss not only the need for an African feminist agenda, but to invalidate some of the myths about what kind of people feminists are and what feminism seeks to achieve.

Before I delve into the politics of feminism, I’d like to address the “feminism isn’t African” argument. Not only has feminism pre-existed the colonisation of Africa,with feminist icons like Queen Nzinga of present day Angola (a personal favourite of mine), or the all-woman military of the Dahomey kingdom in present day Benin, many women across Africa have fought for economic and social equity between men and women. During colonialism, the liberation movements that emancipated many African countries were made up of women who also fought for inclusion of their gender’s liberation in addition to the emancipation of their countries. Burkinabe Thomas Sankara, arguably one of Africa’s greatest liberation heroes, and admittedly a humanist who nonetheless fought hard for women, said in his heartbreakingly beautiful speech (worth looking up) “The revolution cannot triumph without the emancipation of women”:

“The status of women will improve only with the elimination of the system that exploits them”
Sankara’s government went on to include a large number of women, putting many in high governmental positions, and getting rid of many cultural practices that put women at a disadvantage or in danger. Feminism in Africa is older than anybody reading this, and it is just as necessary today as it was a hundred years ago. Anytime women are not being treated equally as men because of their womanhood, feminism needs to step in. Still, not only does the system he spoke of in his speech of exist today, it is dismissed by many men and women on a daily basis. The facts are gender equity indices place Africa right at the bottom, domestic violence in Africa is nothing short of a humanitarian crisis, and rape is practically an epidemic, with countries such as South Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo having shocking rape statistics. These are researchable and indisputable facts, and if they exist for any reason, it is to debunk the argument that feminists are simply melodramatic bra-burning man bashers. Sure, radical feminists exist, but they are no more of a representation of the reasonable fight for the fundamental rights of women as the KKK are of white America. A lot of resistance, especially the resistance from a literate urban dwelling people, is simply lazy intellectualism and on the part of men an attempt to derail important conversations and retain privilege on a continent that has seen a historically oppressed black populous, and an even further oppressed black woman.
(cont.. to next page)