Academic journal article Gender & Behaviour

Internal and External Crises Africa's Feminism: Learning from Oral Narratives

Academic journal article Gender & Behaviour

Internal and External Crises Africa's Feminism: Learning from Oral Narratives

Article excerpt

Crises in African Feminist Theorisation

African women's response to the inequities of white middle-class western and African-American feminisms has been to theorise their own feminisms in concurrence with Africa's historical and cultural trajectories. Accusing these feminisms of obsession with sexual politics, feigned blindness to racism, prejudiced indifference to colonialism's re-organisation of gender hierarchies in Africa, and a utopian celebration of blackness, scholars such as Chikwenye Okonjo Ogunyemi, Obioma Nnaemeka, Catherine Obianuju Acholonu, Molara Ogundipe-Leslie, Chioma Opara, Akachi Adimora Ezeigbo, and Mary Modupe Kolawole have propounded their own feminist models which bear marks of indigeneity and are at once transnationally located.

The womanisms of Ogunyemi (1985; 1996) and Kolawole (1997) emphasise African women's resistance of not only patriarchal domination but also ethnic discrimination, linguistic segregation, poverty and illiteracy as well as other forms of oppression which condemn women to male servitude. Nnaemeka's nego-feminism (2003) reiterates the need for a multi-pronged approach to combat gender inequalities, stressing the need for negotiation and the suppression of egoistic tendencies which may forestall rather than enhance the meaningful partnership between women and men that is fundamental to the feminist cause. Ezeigbo's snail-sense feminism (2012) further advances the necessity of negotiation, collaboration, tolerance and accommodation in the feminist fight against gender inequities and injustices. Acholonu (1995) calls her feminist brand motherism and describes it as an Afrocentric alternative to feminism. Motherism has echoes of Opara's femalism (2005) as both models conceptualise female power at the intersections of motherhood, nature and nurture. By contrast, Ogundipe-Leslie's stiwanism (1994) locates female power in women's agency as they strive for the social and political transformation of Africa.

These theories take cognizance of the different contexts of women's lived experiences, acknowledging that, in addition to gender, African women have suffered injustices on the basis of race (being black), class (being poor), ethnicity (being of a minority ethnic group), language (being speakers of an indigenous language), and marital status (being single). In addition, they recognise that the colonial expedition in Africa exacerbated the patriarchal domination of women where colonised women were further subjugated through denial of access to education and civil privileges in colonial administrations. In the postcolonial context, women have been struggling to catch up with men in areas of personal development, white-collar employment, professional careers, and state management. African feminisms address these women's concerns with a visceral insight that white middle-class western and African-American feminisms did not exhibit. As Nnaemeka (2013: 318) notes, "while claiming the feminist spirit and ideal - equity based on fairness and justice - in their respective traditional milieu and elsewhere, African women expand the horizon of feminist engagement by posing new questions and imposing new demands".

In spite of the robustness of their theorisation, African feminisms are marked by contradictions, exclusions and ambivalences, all of which signify a difficulty in proposing a single theoretical framework for a multiplicity of peoples with varied cultures and histories. Underlying intratheoretical and inter-theoretical tensions point to a need for continuous engagement with African feminisms, especially at the present time when imperialism and neoimperialism are packaged and distributed in Africa as global feminism. African feminisms need to be strengthened to withstand the erosive forces of western imperialism and to enforce their legitimacy in global feminist politics. Introspectively, they also have to acknowledge their internal fault lines on the basis of which a politics of difference continues to be perpetuated. …

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