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Keletso Thobega

"I am a little bit of everything all rolled into one.I am a lover,I am a child, I am a mother,I am a sinner, I am a saint. I do not feel ashamed.I am your hell, I am your dream, I am nothing in between." "I am the past you know nothing bout. The future you cannot ignore."

Feminism: A viable movement in Africa or a Western inspired concept that doesn’t serve the women of this continent?

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This month (August) is said to be ‘women’s month’. Though women deserve to be applauded and their role in societies realized, I firmly disagree with the idea of a month being set aside for them. It affirms the idea that women are an “alien” species-primitive and pathetic thinking that is rampant in many societies and comes concealed in different forms, whether intellectual, scientific or traditional. Females have long been relegated to non-functional and limited status, which fuelled what is now referred to as feminism. This feminism has gone out of hand. Although it opened doors for many women, it messed up female generations who now carry bitterness, resentment and propagate childlessness. These women see almost anything, natural or otherwise as a form of slavery.

The term feminism has a negative connotation because of misconceptions that have been sown around it its true purpose. To many, it is seen as defying culture and tradition, wanting to turn against normality and the natural order of society. Yet, an intense study of feminism, more importantly African feminism magnifies the oppression females have long endured and so the movement you will come to realize is based on fundamental reasons-which boil down to access to resources and a sense of freedom. The same institutions that are supposed to protect them perpetuate oppression against Africa women: churches, governments, traditional set-ups, neo-colonialism of Africa. The patriarchy prevalent in these institutions has remained a wound in women’s sides. No, African women do not seek the freedom to exploit their power or compete with men. That is what differentiates African feminism from that of their American counterparts. American feminism is aggressive, stratified, strives to prove a point and settle score. It can be easily classified as bitchy (refer to formal definition of word)-rude and assuming, which are not the noble ideals any human being should aim for.

African feminism is subtle and advocates for recognized opportunities, equality (participation in leadership and decision making roles) and access to resources. Women in Africa are not engaged in an particularly organized feminist movements that can be readily named yet it quietly exists, though with many challenges for there are causes to be fulfilled. It is unfortunate that privileged African women exclude themselves from the causes of other African women as they consider themselves free of oppression; based on their better on their better education, touch with the modern world and access to material commodities. Many women in rural areas remain quiet, shell-like, as they are not afforded platforms to air their grievances and propagate the changes they need. Urban women are given some of these opportunities but their thoughts are subjective to themselves and they do not cater for all personalities.

Today’s modern African women believe that men have no place in their quest for liberty as they administrate their subjugation. They want to connect feminism with what they view from a western perspective without considering the racial, cultural, regional and historical variations. An example is the debate on the legality of abortion. White and black women had a say in the issue, yet for many black women it was a consideration based on socio-economic conditions and for modern African and white women, it is to exercise choice over a sexual mishap. Modern African women have slowly infused this liberal and seemingly uncultured thinking it their lives and define it as independence and part of worldly development and human advancement. Another example is female sexuality. The West propagates female sexuality at every blink (cheapening it to lollipop value) and attaches it to power. In African culture, women are socialized that humility goes with power. These different ideas create conflict as the cultural environments both these groups are raised in differ.

African women do not need to subscribe to Western ideas of how they can elevate their stature. They must be empowered through access to resources such as education, health and housing, especially in rural areas and townships where mentalities hinder much development. Above all these things, women’s basic human rights must be considered-to be respected as living beings and they must reflect themselves as worthy of such.

Life is transitional and if the socialization, mentalities are not challenged, Africans face a dichotomy which will break down the backbone of African communities.

In 1995, at the Beijing Women’s Conference it was concluded that gender-neutral language should be adopted. These are some of the ways women around the world try to ease dichotomy and inequality in many societies. Racism, classism and favouritism make it difficult to advance neutrality, where women are concerned.

For every African face that speaks, laughs, cries-a woman played an active role. Every woman who consciously goes through labour and the challenge of raising an individual views herself differently, for nothing can compete the strength required in bringing another human being into the world-emotional, mental and physical. It is said, Basus imboko/ Bawel’ imilambo (They remove boulders and cross rivers). Think of your mother, the women who raised you, contributed to your life, the mother of your children, that sister on the streets. Show respect and acceptance, so you too can be worthy of the same. In turn women should wonder if they are reflective of the positive qualities they want to be identified with. The best way to be a woman is to embrace feminity; especially the natural and everyday must be a celebration of womanhood and pride in womenfolk. Women cannot measure their worth against a tape set by men, who for all I gather, may well be misogamists. In wisdom lies the intelligence to view the variables and the constants in order to pursue a quality life and contribute to creating a healthy living environment for all. Just another rambling thought.

Recommended reads

  • Feminist theories and the study of gender issues in southern Africa-Changu Mannathoko.
  • Gender in southern Africa: conceptual and theoretical issues-Ruth Meena
  • African feminism: The politics of survival in sub0saharan Africa-G Mikell
  • Unravelling the silence of Black sex-Osha Sana(online publication)
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