The concept of feminism is often described as a radical western ideal that consists solely of shaming men and burning bras. Coupled with that, it is riddled with complex jargon that cannot be easily translated into our African languages. This feeds into the idea that feminist ideals do not exist in African cultures. Most times, talk of feminism in such environments, is often shut down or seen as far removed from the lived experience of black women. This skewed interpretation of feminism prevents conversations (about feminism?) in African communities. It is thus important to reclaim feminism as African communities are not immune to the wrongs that feminism seeks to right.
Simply put, feminism is the fight for equality of the sexes on social, political and economic grounds. In the context of an African family, feminism would manifest as the equal recognition and mutual respect of every member of the family. As Minna Salami suggests, it contests the dominance of the male figure. She adds that it challenges the non-consensual dictator-like role that male figures – at times – assume.
The reclaiming of feminism starts with understanding that the loaded terms thrown around in feminist discourse describe universal feelings that are not limited to western societies. For instance, patriarchy is not exclusive to western cultures. Having men – be it in your family, at work or any sphere of your life – impose gender roles on you or patronise you is an example of patriarchy that transcends cultural lines.
As Pontsho Pilane and Lorato Palesa Modongo explain it in Setswana, patriarchy ke tsamaiso kakaretso ya setšhaba, e e fang banna marapo le maatla a go busa le go gatlaka basadi.
The more controversial side to reclaiming feminism comes in when subjects such as lobola le mesebetsi are discussed. It is in such spaces when feminism has been dubbed ‘unAfrican.’ Feminism is falsely accused of attempting to erase customary practices. The reason this claim is false is that what feminism promotes is the involvement of the voices of women in customary practices.
Essentially, it encourages a culture of respect and recognition, especially with regard to the consent of women. Feminism calls for patriarchs to stop using their dominance to silence women in customary practices.
In the words of renowned author and feminist, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “people make culture. If it is true that the full humanity of women is not our culture, then we can and must make it our culture.”
The idea that feminism is a white woman’s fight is a myth that is dispelled by the universality of inequality and oppression. The nature of feminism is an inclusive one and the onus is on us as Africans to reclaim it and relay it to our families and communities. This will aid the necessary process of engaging in feminist dialogue, as it is through conversations that one can begin to dismantle oppressive and discriminatory opinions.