Feminism In The African Society–Okechukwu Ezeobele

By Ikenga Chronicles March 28, 2018

Feminism In The African Society–Okechukwu Ezeobele

Simply put, feminism advocates for the equality of the sexes. While this definition seems innocuous and very simple, it has not spared the concept of feminism the vitriol and outright hate it has received over the years.

Even within the feminist movement itself, it is still commonplace to have disagreements over what ‘equality’ means – whether true equality can be achieved, whether gender roles can exist alongside equality. But it can be said that feminism means equality or the aspiration to equality; all nuances noted.

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African feminists address cultural issues that they feel pertain to the complex experiences faced by all women of all cultures on the African continent. In an 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 centre 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 centre of feminist conversations. Finally, she looks at nego-feminism and snail-sense feminism, which urges 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.

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These forms of feminism share several commonalities. First, they all challenge the term “feminism,” due to it being both a Western term and having Western roots, and 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 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 from time immemorial.

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The feminist movement has been making headway in Africa despite all odds. A small percentage of Africans have come to understand and accept feminism from literature. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a Nigerian writer has not only been explicitly feminist, but has also subtly inserted feminist characters in her works. Ifemelu from Americana, Kainene from Half of a Yellow Sun, Beatrice Achike from Purple Hibiscus are all characters who are depicted as strong women who redefined what it means to be female. These women warm their way into the hearts of young African girls (who have been conditioned from watching older women in their lives perform femaleness). These young impressionable minds learn that there is no one way of being female. They become feminists without knowing it.

It is not uncommon to find Africans that subscribe to some doctrines of feminism but consider some as too radical or too in contradiction with traditions. Necessarily a compromise is created–feminism that is safe and ‘politically correct’, still feminist, but unique.

The important fact to note is that Western feminism differs from African feminism to the extent that it ignores the heterogeneity of women in the third world. It ignores the contextual differences in proffering solutions or propounding its theories.

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These different shades of feminism beg the question ‘what exactly is feminism’? But feminism is amorphous. It is contextually different across the globe.


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