African Feminism, Is There Anything Like That? –Nnaemeka Oruh

By Ikenga Chronicles March 8, 2017

African Feminism, Is There Anything Like That? –Nnaemeka Oruh

A few years ago, at a Civil Society workshop we were divided into working groups and given tasks to come up with suggestions on possible solutions to the myriad Niger Delta problems. When my group settled down to begin deliberation, the self-appointed Group leader, one Mr. Sibe stated that in making our suggestions, we should adhere to “world’s best practices”. I immediately started to explain that we must not necessary adhere to “world’s best practices” as what works in one area may not work in another. That was as far as I went, as Mr. Sibe with the look of the all-knowing one, who was being spoken to by somebody with no grounds waved me down. Before I could protest, my friend Dum Syl Aminikpo mumbled something to the effect that “world’s best practices” was about “international standards”. So I shut up.

Throughout the deliberation, I was less concerned about making suggestions than trying to figure out my sin. It was days later that it hit me; I had committed the ultimate African sacrilege of trying to question our zealous drive to be part of a universal process! In Africa, there is a hunger so deep to foist universality on all our attempts at proffering solutions, or defining our problems. It is almost a travesty to try and suggest that our problems wear uniquely African faces, and those solutions must not adhere to “world’s best practices”(or standards), but primarily on what works for us as a people.

I worked at the top of women rights’ organisations for over two to three years. So that makes me well positioned to talk about women’s rights in Nigeria, on the practical front. Theoretically, I have been an avid student of feminism for well over fourteen years. So that makes me theoretically well-grounded too. I like to say that in all of these years, one constant has been the inability of exponents of women’s right in Africa, to present a common front, and clearly define what the movement is about. At the scholarship level, the voices are so discordant that Professor Charles Nnolim, in a powerful essay entitled “Feminism in African Literature: A House Divided Against Itself” sarcastically questions the real motive of feminism and implies that the house will fall, as it is divided against itself. From Nawal el Sadaawi who kills off the men, to Flora Nwapa, who finds a way to show that women can live without men, to Ifeoma Okoye, who believes that complementarity of the sexes is key, the voices are discordant, and the ideology clearly undefined. The only exception to me is the distinct voice of Chimamanda Adichie, who has begun the process of distinctly providing a guide that is more in line with reality.

When I began to work with women’s right organisations, I had hoped for some form of distinct definition of what the movement is about, after all, this was the real world. But that was not the case. One group says one thing, the other says another, and the exponents themselves are most times at a loss as to what the movement is about!

One thing though that is common is that they all seek for ways to improve the lot of women. Be it fighting against gender-based violence, seeking for women’s improved participation in key sectors of life, enactment of women friendly laws, etc. But my concern rests on one thing; a lack of proper statement of what the ideology is all about. Some form of guide that will ensure a uniformity that shepherds all exponents. It is not enough to say that it is all about the good of women. In fact, the recent social media attack on feminism clearly pokes holes on all of the expected principles of feminism. So when a feminist rises and says women are seeking for equality, one can easily knock her down by saying, “if it is equality that you want, then let the man and the woman equally share financial responsibilities at home!” But then of course, the feminist would not have that, as in several mediation that I am privy to, women’s right organisations have always found a way to demand that the man pays the woman upkeep money! That to me isn’t equality! In fact, the manner in which most champions of feminism have gone about it has led to many people believing in that unfounded tag that feminists are “bitter women with a vengeance against men.”

What I expected is for us as feminists in Africa, to take into consideration our peculiar circumstances, the many years of deprivation that have seen the woman lose ground in life’s race, and say, we need to balance this up. And to balance it up means that we will not channel the feminist ideology espoused by the West(who by the way have had years to make up for lost ground) wholesale as the solution to our peculiar problems. We should clearly come up with a powerful manifesto of plans, and core values,  that is distinctly African. We should be asking for equity, not equality. That is where the full implementation of affirmative action comes into play. You cannot be waving around affirmative action and be asking for equality, it is contradictory! This is only one of so many things that should be modified.

I think that why we are so stuck at the point where our feminist ideology is scattered is because we are making the African mistake of refusing to give our own peculiar problems solutions with African colourations because we have to foist a certain universality on them. Granted that women all over the world face problems of discrimination and violations of their rights, but those violations are not the same for women all over the world. The woman in Texas for example, is not worried about whether or not she will be forced to drink the water used in bathing her husband’s corpse, but somewhere in Igboland, that is a woman’s biggest challenge. So the type of feminism that will liberate that Igbo woman, will definitely not be the type that will liberate the Texas woman. Which is why we should put aside the desire to adhere to international standards, and as people committed to the welfare of women in Africa, bring ourselves together and clearly chart a path for African feminism–because the fact is, there should be a peculiar brand of feminism called “African feminism”. This path should be one that takes into consideration all of the strategic steps we have to take to come out to the sunlight. If we properly articulate this ideology, its uniformity will help us effectively make our demands, and gain more grounds quicker.

There is African feminism, but we need to arm it with a uniform ideology. And that ideology, I dare say, cannot adhere to Mr. Sibe’s favoured “world’s best practices”


  • Oruh, the author of In Memoriam of a Modest Shame is on Twitter as @Oruhnc