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Let’s talk: is feminism un-African?

In March, Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie published Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions, to much acclaim. But some Africans argue that the feminist movement is a Western import.

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Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

YesIn the Middle Ages, when European women were practically slaves, African women were reigning over kingdoms and were gatekeepers of commerce and military leaders. Many African societies were matriarchal, with African women being afforded sexual and social freedoms which led to less possessive relationships.

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The major shift in the status of African women, however, came as a consequence of the European attack on Africa, which resulted in slavery and colonialism. Modern feminism exists in African spaces as a way to deepen contradictions that were born from this attack. Our natural inclination as Africans is to struggle together; however, feminism shifts us away from our common struggle of destroying capitalist and colonial oppression, to one that is focused on seeking validation from the oppressor. This is extremely harmful to African women who are suffering from imperialist-driven rape, high incarceration rates, theft of our children, sexual exploitation, etc. Feminism doesn’t solve these problems; instead, it isolates the plight of women from the plight of African men. The reality is that all African society is suffering because of colonial conditions such as poverty, poor infrastructure and violence. If we look at our history, these conditions were just as un-African as the bourgeois, band-aid feminism [of today], and are what facilitates the exploitation of women – not patriarchal ideas, as feminism presupposes. ● Yejide Orunmila, President, African National Women’s Organiz­ation

No. Ask a good number of Africans what they think about feminism, and they will tell you that it is un-African. To an extent, I can understand where such views are coming from.

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There are things about feminism which do not seem typically African. For instance, rather than viewing femaleness and maleness as biological conditions that inherently inform our social behaviour, contemporary feminism tends to argue that we instead are socialised into our gender roles. Also, many Africans believe that their culture is historically matriarchal, and therefore insist that feminism is redundant. However, even if African societies were matriarchal in precolonial times, which wasn’t actually the case, most African societies today are governed by a global gender order, which is patriarchal. Furthermore, the present-day patriarchal gender order in Africa is responsible for unprecedented female suffering. If anything should be considered un-African, it is discrimination and inhumane treatment that significant numbers of girls and women are subject to. Last but not least is a sentiment that, in fact, has no place in public discourse: the belittling idea that there are parts of shared human culture that are ‘un-African’. Not only is Africa part of the world, it is a force of resistance in the world. So long as feminism is the global movement of resistance to gender inequality, which it is, then feminism is inevitably and indispensably African.  Minna Salami, Award-winning writer, blogger & speaker


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