Many of us, without realising it, and perhaps without intentionally desiring it, are feminists, or at the very least align ourselves with feminist ideology, thought and/or even philosophy.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in her book Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions, introduces the moral need to urgently have conversations about raising children differently, about trying to create a fairer world.
The real question perhaps is, whether one’s response or reaction to something is shaped by gender inequality. If it is not, and it is solely based on humanity, then the reaction is possibly a feminist reaction or response.
In the last column, we explored the various accomplishments of the international, regional and local or national women’s rights movements. At the times the feats were made, they may not necessarily have been called with the word “feminist”.
The feats themselves, however, had the effect of moving forward the feminist agenda, coming from a humanitarian perspective, and being the advocacy for women’s rights on the grounds of equality of the sexes. This leaves us with the simple question of, so what is feminism?
Language, in as much as it aids or assists in communication, engagement and interaction, can also have the effect of obscuring, in how often, it is impossible to adequately, effectively and impactfully represent certain things.
Feminism is one of these obscure things that language often fails to represent. The word itself, originates from Western philosophy in the recognition of behaviour that questions the patterns and structures of the system of patriarchy. It has largely been adopted by other regions of the world, not particularly as definitive, but as a way of describing acts, which far precede the naming, in terms of era, and action.
This is to say therefore, the perception that feminism itself is a Western construct, is false. The basis for this contention derives from the variously qualified feminisms, coined for the context of each region, or even nation. It is a rather tedious and perhaps perilous task to attempt to define “feminism”.
Rebecca West once said, “I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat...”
This is true for many of us. Feminism is a description of our expressions, our actions, our belief systems, our philosophies and our ideas. There is no hard and fast rule to pointing out the steps to being a feminist. One can almost say, there are renderings of feminism.
In the Charter of Feminist Principles for African Feminists, the Preamble explains or perhaps interprets why various African Feminists define themselves as feminists. The preamble reads: “We define and name ourselves
Choosing to name ourselves feminists places us in a clear ideological position. By naming ourselves as feminists we politicise the struggle for women’s rights, we question the legitimacy of the structures that keep women subjugated, and we develop tools for transformatory analysis and action. We have multiple and varied identities as African feminists. We are African women – we live here in Africa and even when we live elsewhere, our focus is on the lives of African women on the continent. Our feminist identity is not qualified with “ifs”, “buts” or “howevers”. We are feminists. Full stop.”
African Feminists in Accra, in 2006, developed this preamble, when the effort was to reenergise and reaffirm African feminism in its multiple dimensions. The preamble itself places African feminism in the African political body politic. The intention of the Charter itself, is to undo traditional and conformist dynamics that undermine the critical edge of African Feminism.
Often when feminism is considered, it is perceived to be the public advocacy for women’s and others’ equality. Feminism however is not localised in that sense. Feminism takes place at various levels of the many layers of a society. This is why in the preamble, the focus is on the various scopes.
The general trajectory of feminist identity or rendering in Botswana, is often in the context of one’s identity as an African, and thereby keeping with the African feminist movement. There is an overall acknowledgment of various theoretical perspectives, which illustrate the complexities of varying material conditions and identities of women.
The feminist in Gaborone, an urban aspirational cosmopolitan city, can therefore not be the same as that in Kavimba, a rural village in the northern parts of Botswana. The material realities of the different people are at the hinge of this. This stance does not, however negate one in favour of the other.
This heterogeneity in experiences is key. It almost says a feminist is not identified by what they are not, but rather by where they are. The second crucial feature is the resistance of Western dominance, by African women, and its legacy in the renderings of African women. Our realities differ.
Having established that African Feminism is vast, and can be used to describe various resistances, next we will explore what this looks like, practically.