African feminism is a type of feminism innovated by African women that specifically addresses the conditions and needs of continental African women (African women who reside on the African continent). African feminism includes many strains of its own, including Motherism, Femalism, Snail-sense Feminism, Womanism/women palavering, Nego-feminism, Stiwanism, and African Womanism. Because Africa is not a monolith, these feminisms are not all reflective of the experiences African women have. Some of the feminisms are more specific to certain groups of African women. African feminism is sometimes aligned with, in dialogue, or in conflict with Black Feminism or African womanism (which is perceived as by and for African women in the diaspora, rather than African women on or recently from the continent) as well as other feminisms and feminist movements, including nationally based ones, such as feminism in Sweden, feminism in India, feminism in Mexico, feminism in Japan, feminism in Germany, feminism in South Africa, and so on.
Need for an African feminism
Some argue that African women are the first feminists, were already deeply engaged at the 1985 Womens' Conference, and have long been recognizing each other's contributions. Others feel African feminism became necessary in part due to white Western feminism's exclusion of the experiences of the black woman and the continental African woman. White Western feminisms does not take into account the particular issues black women face at the intersection of both their blackness and their womanhood. Currently, white feminism often classifies African women as "women of color," which groups and thereby represses the African woman's historical trajectory and specific experience. Hazel Carby in "White Women Listen! Black Feminism and the Boundaries of Sisterhood" notes why white feminism is considered the normative experience of all women. She writes, "History has constructed our sexuality and our femininity as deviating from those qualities with which white women, as the prize of the Western world, have been endowed." However, white feminism cannot continue to erase Africa or African women from feminist theory or feminist advocacy, because as the Mother Continent of humanity, the narratives and experiences of Africa's women will always be relevant.
African feminism was not wholly a reaction to being excluded from white feminists' vision of feminism, but also from their own ingenuity and desire to create a feminism that embraced their backgrounds and experiences. African feminism voices the realities of women in varying African countries. Women's needs, reality, oppression and empowerment are best addressed by having an inclusive and accommodating understanding of the generic and more general issues as well as the peculiarities and group attitude to self-definition as women. Naomi Nkealah writes that African feminisms "strives to create a new, liberal, productive and self-reliant African woman within the heterogeneous cultures of Africa. Feminisms in Africa, ultimately, aim at modifying culture as it affects women in different societies."
At the same time, Africa is not a monolith and so some have critiqued any idea of "African feminism." There exist differences regionally, ethnically, politically, and in religion, which all work to impact how women conceptualize what feminism and freedom looks like for them. While African women from, for example, Egypt, Kenya, South Africa and Senegal will have some commonalities, there will be variations in the way they understand gender and gender struggles. Therefore, these varying cultures alter the way these African women experience the world. Thus, one cannot simply merge all woman under an unrealistic expectation of sisterhood, but instead to recognize and respect the differences that exist as a result of these diversities. There is a commonality to the struggles women face across the world since the common factor is male privilege. The modern African woman is strong, smart, and resilient and has woken up to the options she has. She is no longer satisfied with the options created for her, but seeks to create new options and choices for the generation of other African women that will come after her.
Some scholars have called for more attention in African feminist theory to sex work, the white savior complex and violence against African women, women in the military, fieldwork with African women, same-sex intimacies, contemporaneity, and activists' thought.
Principles of African feminism
African feminisms address cultural issues that they feel pertain to the complex experiences faced by all women of all cultures on the African continent. In regards to feminist theorizing, many of the authors of such theories originate from West Africa and Nigeria in particular.
In her article, "West African Feminisms and Their Challenges," Naomi Nkealah discusses the various forms of African feminisms. First, she points to womanism, which she argues is not part of African feminism, as it pertains to African women of the diaspora and not continental African women. Second, she looks at stiwanism, which, on the contrary, places African women at the center of the discourse because stiwanism is deeply rooted in the experiences and realities African women face. Third, she looks at Motherism, a maternal form of feminism that sees rural women as performing the necessary task of nurturing society. Fourth, she looks at femalism, which puts the woman's body at the center of feminist conversations. Finally, she looks at nego-feminism and snail-sense feminism, which urge the inclusion of men in discussions and advocacy for feminism and both argue that the inclusion of men is necessary to the freedom of women.
These modes of feminisms share several commonalities. First, they all challenge the term "feminism," both its Western term and roots, because they bring to the forefront the experiences of the African woman. Second, because they are dependent on indigenous blueprints, they take from the histories and cultures of African peoples in order to create the necessary tools needed to embolden women and educate men. Third, they incorporate "gender inclusion, collaboration and accommodation to ensure that both women and men contribute (even if not equally) to improving the material conditions of women."
The variety in feminisms displays the African woman's active engagement with gender relations.
Role of men in African feminism
The goal of feminism is to empower women so as to ensure equality to men. For some people, the term feminism incorrectly came to mean a movement that was anti-male, anti-culture and anti-religion. For purposes of inclusion, some women prefer to engage themselves in gender theory and activism by including men into the discussion because it promotes the idea that feminism is about equality among all genders and it is important to note that they also face hardships as males. Because the majority of policy-makers in many African countries are men, some believe that inclusivity is important if women are to gain ground in policy changes that impact them. The importance that many women place on communalism and family results in their desire to work with men to develop an inclusive approach to solving gender issues. In order to eradicate the oppression women face because of their gender, working with men has become a necessity. The role of African men in feminism is nuanced and depends on location, environment, and personal ideology.
Variants of African feminism
Catherine Acholonu notes that feminism is useful. "Feminism, has as its ultimate goal the triumphal emancipation of the woman as a unique, distinct individual with a mind uncluttered by patriarchal beliefs and abusive submission to tradition." However, though the general notion of feminism aims to provide women with political, social, and economical freedoms, it has been criticized as excluding the narratives and experiences of women of color, especially black women. Because of this exclusion in feminism, womanism has emerged as the African-American and African variant. African Womanism addresses feminism from (1) an African perspective; (2) an African geopolitical location; (3) and an African ideological viewpoint. Womanism is important because it places the feminist vision within black women’s experiences with culture, colonialism and many other forms of domination and subjugation that impact African women’s lives. Womanism "aims at identifying the problems relating to male dominance in society while seeking solutions to women’s marginalization by looking inward and outward."
A variant of Womanism put forth by Clenora Hudson-Weems is Africana Womanism, terminology which she coined in the mid-1980s. Her use of the term "Africana" indicates that women-focused activism should be inclusive of women on the African continent and women in the African Diaspora. She argues a complete break from white feminism, a movement which was created by and for white women without any incorporation of the African experience. She also argues that Africana men and women have more in common than Africana women do with white women, further reason to develop a new kind of activism.
Founded by Omolara Ogundipe-Leslie, Stiwanism focuses more on the structures that oppress women and the way women react to these institutionalized structures. Ogundipe-Leslie argues that the struggle for African women is a result of colonial and neo-colonial structure that often place African males at the apex of social stratification. Furthermore, the struggle African women face are also impart to the way they have internalized the patriarchy and have come to endorse the system themselves.
African feminist, writer, and scholar Obioma Nnaemeka discusses and defines the term "Nego-feminism" in her article Nego-Feminism: Theorizing, Practicing, and Pruning Africa's Way." She writes, "Nego-feminism is the feminism of negotiation; second, nego-feminism stands for 'no ego' feminism and is structured by cultural imperatives and modulated by evershifting local and global exigencies." Most African cultures have a culture of negotiation and compromise when it comes to reaching agreements. In Nego-feminism, negotiations play the role of giving and taking. For African feminism, in order to win challenges, feminists must negotiate and sometimes compromise enough in order to gain freedoms. Nnaemeka writes that African feminism works by knowing "when, where, and how to detonate and go around patriarchal land mines." This means that nego-feminism knows how to utilize the culture of negotiation in order to deconstruct the patriarchy for the woman's benefit.
In her book, Motherism: The Afrocentric Alternative to Feminism, Catherine Obianuju Acholonu writes that Africa's alternative to Western feminism is Motherism and Motherism is composed of motherhood, nature, and nurture. When defined, Motherism is a multidimensional theory that involves the "dynamics of ordering, reordering, creating structures, building and rebuilding in cooperation with mother nature at all levels of human endeavor." A motherist is someone who is committed to the survival and maintenance of Mother Earth and someone who embraces the human struggle. Acholonu makes it clear, though, that a motherist can be a woman or a man. Motherism has no sex barriers because at the core of motherism is partnership, cooperation, tolerance, love, understanding, and patience. In order for motherism to work, there must be a male-female complementarity that ensures the wholeness of human existence in a balanced ecosystem.
The femalist model was developed by Chioma Opara. Opara describes femalism as "A hue of African feminism, is a softer tone than liberal feminism and highly polarized from radical feminism." At its core, femalism is African and it accentuates the African woman's body.
Snail-sense feminism is a theory proposed by Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo. This feminism encourages Nigerian woman to work slowly like a snail's movement in her dealings with men in the "tough and very difficult patriarchal [Nigerian] society they live in." Ezeigbo proposes that women "must learn survival strategies to be able to overcome the impediments placed before her and live a good life."
Notable African feminist critics
- Molara Ogundipe
- Naomi Nkealah
- Akachi Ezeigbo
- Catherine Acholonu
- Mary Modupe Kolawole
- Chikwenye Okonjo Ogunyemi
- Obioma Nnaemeka
- Amede Obiora
- Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
- Sylvia Tamale
- Josina Machel
- Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti
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