The absence of Afrikan women in feminist dialogues.

When I got to college, I decided to take a gender’s studies courses because I thought hearing and learning about other women’s stories would be empowering and would help me find the sense of self-love I had been looking for all my life. I had always been the type of person that spoke her mind and stood up for what she believed in. I was also continuously silenced by culture (like other women) as a woman because of the gender expectations. So, on my journey to unlearn different things, I had to learn about why women like me, from Afrika, were often absent in feminist dialogues.

“We refuse a feminism that claims to speak for all women, while denying and minimizing the ongoing legacy of white supremacy and racism in this country.” -Beverly Tatum. I have often had trouble calling myself a feminist not because feminism is “Un-Afrikan” but because feminism continuously silences the pain, cries, victories and contributions of Afrikan women. Many times people have asked me if I am a feminist and I have hesitantly answered with, “I am not a feminist, I am an Afrikan feminist” as if feminism and Afrikan feminism are two different theories. I always continue to explain how feminism is supposed to free both women AND men of gender expectations and create equality. BUT THIS IS ONLY IDEAL! Reality is “feminism” forgets about non-western women such as Asian, South American, and Afrikan women. If Afrikan women are part of the discourse, they are portrayed as solely victims and this discourse becomes a platform for western women to showcase their heroism and save the other women.

The absence of Afrikan women in the feminist discourse has led to many Afrikan feminists rejecting the theory. In many communities, feminism is considered “Un-Afrikan” and many people explain this by saying that it is because Afrikan communities have always been, therefore are naturally, patriarchal and that women in Afrikan societies have always been the submissive ones. However, how can an Afrikan woman say feminism is Afrikan if Afrikan women are not part of the discourse? When women that fought for women’s rights in different Afrikan countries are not highlighted as feminists? Can you really blame Afrikan women for saying feminism is un-Afrikan because the theory and movement assumes that first wave feminism is the beginning of feminism? Women such as Yaa Asantewa of Ghana Kingdom, Queen Nandi of the South Afrikan Zulu kingdom and Funmilayo Kuti Ransome of Nigeria were all women that fought for women’s equality long before the women’s movement in the U.S. How can an Afrikan person embrace this feminist ideology when it eliminates a big and important part of their history? Few Afrikan and non-Afrikan communities know that pre-colonial Afrikan communities were either egalitarian or complementary. Formal feminism documents do not intensively study pre-colonial Afrikan women even though they contribute a lot to the feminist ideas we use today. If feminism is known as a movement that started in the U.S. with white women, then what do we call the Afrikan women that fought for equality long before the word “feminism” ever existed? That is what I identify as because I feel like being solely “feminist” will be me partaking in a system that reproduces injustice and inequalities.

Feminist Audre Lorde said, “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept and celebrate those differences.” Women are oppressed in different parts of the world, some more than others. Women across the globe agree to some degree agree to the global social and political economy being patriarchal. However, it is not enough to see the similarities in women’s struggles. It is equally important to accept our differences in struggles. Women in different countries, communities and cultures face different oppressions. It is important to recognize and accept each and every one of these as part of the overall women’s struggle and to commit to standing up for all women. Embracing difference in women’s struggles helps in combatting gender inequality because we learn from each other’s communities. If one community does not have a certain issue then their community becomes a model for other communities that do have the problem. When some women while others are not, it creates tension, mistrust and reproduces oppression. Therefore, embracing the differences in women’s struggles and understanding intersectionalities in oppression invites all women to become allies for each other.

If I am going to consider myself as a feminist, like Aïssatou Cisse said “In the fight for women to reclaim their voices I have personally pledged to leave no stone unturned.” I plan to reform and transform feminism and for Afrikan women like these to be known and heard.

“If feminism is known as a movement that started in the U.S. with white women, then what do we call the Afrikan women that fought for equality long before the word “feminism” ever existed?”


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