Feminism in Africa: Part Two

by Developed Africa 3. September 2013 09:00

Following from yesterday's blog on the differences in Western and African feminism, we explore the journey of Feminism in Africa to date.

An interesting article from Think Africa Press has brought to the surface another aspect of Feminism in Africa that was not discussed in the previous article. The reason feminism is prevalent in Tunisia was due to an authoritarian regime using treating women fairly as a means to prove that the regime was an "advance society" and "deserving of sovereignty" to the international community. And when Ben Ali came to power "state feminism" and the protection of women's rights was used to "gain legitimacy" from the international community. 

Whilst this may have been the case, it is evident that throughout Africa as we entered the 1990s, feminism stopped being purely a top-down policy, and stopped just being women's grass roots groups who participated in cultural activities and produced goods. It began to be influenced by the international feminist movement, and therefore started to come from the Women themselves. 

The 1985 UN Conference on Women held in Nairobi and especially the 1995 UN Convference on Women in Beijing served as catalysts for many organisations and activists. International donors, weary of state corruption and waste, began to shift resources towards non-governmental organisations, including women's associations." 

This is where we can argue that, on a visible scale at least, public level feminism became owned by women themselves and women's organisations, not just a tool used by corrupt governments to legitimise themselves to the rest of the world. 

Gwendolyn Mikell writing in 1995 discusses what she felt to be the

peaking of a new feminism now as African states reinvent themselves in the 1990s"

This, she describes, followed the "feminism" that was forced upon African women from both the West and from the government's of their countries, neither of which were really their battles. She describes the difficulty of evaluating feminist movements in Africa, as before the point at which African women began to own their own feminist movement, there was anger towards what they perceived as:

attempts by Western academics and activists to co-opt them into a movement defined by extreme individualism, by militant opposition to patriarchy, and, ultimately, by a hostility to males."

From her research Mikell has come to recognise that African Feminism has been able to rebuke the assertions laid upon it by Western feminism, thus developing into a movement which will have the ability to properly scrutinise politics, norms, and society and decide logically whether these aspects respect women and men the same. It has managed to avoid the story of hating men, and will not be a movement which will

fixate on the female "body," champion woman's autonomy from man the "victimizer," or question the value of marriage and motherhood"

but it is one that has recognises African women's many struggles and adapt this into fighting for their own equality in their own context.


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