“if you’re African, why are you a feminist?”
Whenever I share my views about the lack of equality that clouds the lives of women everywhere, I’m usually met with huffs and puffs or eyes that say ‘here she goes again’. This I can dust off, I enjoy sharing my opinions with others. One thing I can’t tolerate however is ignorance, in a recent conversation I was asked: “if you’re African, why are you a feminist?”
First of all…
what is a Feminist?
To quote the beautiful Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, this is ‘someone who believes in the social, economic and political equality of the sexes’.
So in a place where black women are made to identify with being black before acknowledging their womanhood in the eyes of patriarchs… There are plenty of reasons to be an African that identifies with the feminist movement.
Most of our cultures highly emphasise the prominence of clear gender roles. A woman’s place is not shoulder to shoulder with a male’s, instead, it’s a couple steps behind. From a rather young age, many of us are taught that the male is the head of the household, the ‘big chief’ – no decision is made in the home without his say so. Many are raised to see the world in this way, males are the natural born leaders and it’s in a woman’s best interest to be a silent passenger. Playing these roles is what places women at a huge disadvantage in their private lives.
As a result, the continent has some of the highest rates of gender-based crimes. With matters of FGM, child marriages and sexual abuse still haunting the lives of many females, around 200 million women alive today have undergone the procedure, while another 3 million are at risk of being forced into this every year. And a large majority of them are cut before the age of 15. This coupled with the rising statistics of domestic violence within the confines of marriage clearly exemplify sexual inequality.
Such harmful practices are a clear endangerment of female lives and a direct violation of one’s human rights. When you take away a basic freedom such as the right of choice and control over another’s body you not only distort their sense of being but you diminish their sense of self-worth and this does nothing but reinforce gender-based marginalization.
As a whole, women are subject to fewer opportunities than their male counterparts. Simple things like rights to owning and controlling assets, access to health care and work bear much difficulty in the life of a woman, what more if you are not married? As it seems that’s the only way to gain a seat at the table.
How do we change this?
The lack of access to education surrounding this matter has the effect of a double-edged sword. Failing to educate women places them at a disadvantage politically, economically and socially. It limits exposure to opportunities and more importantly knowledge of their own self-worth. The sooner all women have uninhibited access to education, the sooner we can rebuild nations. Africa cannot reach its full potential when half of its inhabitants aren’t wholly recognised.
Men also don’t know how to accept this new stance of womanhood. Most still believe that marriage gives you rights over a woman’s body’s and in essence the ability to control her entire being. To me this defensive state that most seem adopt on this matter can only be a reaction to feeling threatened. Female empowerment is seen as a power shift when in reality women are fighting to have this power recognised. The sooner we teach men that women aren’t beings to be controlled or dominated, we are equal. We would be a step closer to minimising gender-based acts of violence and other female injustices.