Thoughts On African Feminism–Nnaemeka Oruh

By Ikenga Chronicles March 31, 2018

Thoughts On African Feminism–Nnaemeka Oruh

In celebration of my birthday in 2018, my friends decided to organise an essay competition with the topic, “Feminism In The African Society”. That decision was (according to them) hinged on the need to celebrate what they agree is an ideology that I am very passionate about.

I must say that the submissions for the Mr. Oruh Essay Competition were totally dazzling.Of course there were some very poor essays but what struck me more was how widely feminism has become entrenched in our society. I believe that Flora Nwapa, wherever she might be now, will be very proud.

As is customary with such competitions, it is always a difficult task to decide who should win, especially as there can only be one winner. But what I must say is that all of the participants are winners in their own special ways.

The essays of course widened my own personal views on feminism. For instance, Ayosojumi Adeniyi’s submission calmly answered the question of what exactly feminism is about. As he opined, feminism does not seek “EQUALITY WITH MEN”. What is seeks is “EQUAL RIGHTS WITH MEN”! In other words, the feminist is not asking to have a man’s physiology or unique qualities, what he or she is saying is, “I am a woman, and I can do what I can do. So do not limit me or deny me of what I desire because I am a woman.” Feminism says; “it is not the woman’s job to cook simply because she is a woman, in the same way it is not the sole responsibility of a man to provide for the home, simply because he is a woman.”

Okechukwu Ezeobele (chosen by the judges as the winning essay), while highlighting the attempts by some scholars to evolve a new form of feminism that does not have its roots in Western civilization reminds all of us that prior to the incursion of colonialism, there was feminism in Africa. What is noteworthy about Ezeobele’s contribution is the fact that he is ultimately aware that for several reasons, context is important in defining and practicing feminism in our societies. For this reason, African feminism needs to proceed by taking into consideration, all of the peculiar needs of the African societies. Accordingly, he asserts that; ” 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.”

But it was the essay of Mary Ogechukwu Ulasi that clearly reflects my perception of what feminism in Africa is about. Ulasi understands that because of the peculiar cultural or to put it a better way, the contextual differences in societies, feminism for each must differ. In other words, each society’s feministic focus must be in tune with the pressing human rights needs of the women of that particular society. That way, feminism is not a lord, with a specific universal makeup and rules that must be foisted on all societies in the same manner. Ulasi captures this explicitly when she says;

“In the western world, the concept of feminism has advanced. The feminist movement is focused on issues like the female body or sexual identity…[while] African Feminism hinges on the concept of changing the cultural, religious, political and social subjugation or oppression and relegation of African women to the background and the concept of seeing women as lesser and inferior beings to their male counterparts.”

So while the African feminist is still battling with such issues as Female Genital Mutilation, boy-child preference, the same may not necessarily be the case with Western feminist. This is essentially my personal concept of what African feminism should be about– bending our feminism to address the peculiar issues that are currently predominant in our society. Tomorrow, after we have solved all the current pressing issues, we can proceed to addressing other current ones. What is important is that we proceed from the basis of feminism– the rights of women.

African feminism must therefore evolve with the changing times but must place a finger at all times on the pulse of the society and address pressing women rights issues. Those issues may not have evolved to the extent of Western feminism, but they are solid foundations to build on.

The words of Bolu Alebiosu ring so true;

“Africa needs feminism not just as a means of recognizing the shared humanity of both sexes, but also because to not do so would be to abandon our culture.”

And it is by doing so, can we truly begin to take the most important step towards being great again.