Written by Caren Akoto-Adade, Communications & Fundraising Assistant, AWDF
As a child, I read several stories that always portended undesirable endings for the protagonist that dared to challenge the status quo and the authorities that upheld them.
From humans magically transformed into tubers of yam to stubborn young people who followed their hearts into unions that ended in poisoned tragedy, we believed that most of these rules and ways of being were to protect us from harm and preserve modes of doing things that hold value to our various societal identities. Now that I am older (and not a tuber of yam), I realise how these values are double-edged swords in how they become tools of oppression while being presented as acceptable ways of existing. Not to mention that it didn’t take me long to notice that, particularly for young girls, the writings always seemed to be in bold text with several exclamation marks.
When the African Women’s Development Fund (AWDF) was just a seedling of an idea in the hands of three visionary African feminists, it is likely that they too were assailed with stories of failure for choosing to challenge the status quo. Today, AWDF and our grantee partners are the physical embodiment of the life-changing work that has seen improved narratives and portrayals of African women’s contributions to social, economic and political development across Africa.
At the very heart of African feminism is the quality of choosing to challenge the systems of oppression that intersect to subjugate the African woman. This means that the African feminist not only battles with patriarchy but all the other forms of discrimination that often come together to create the different realities of oppression that confront African women. As Mona Eltahawy describes, ‘I want you to imagine an octopus. At the head of that octopus is patriarchy and each one of those tentacles is capitalism, sexism, racism, classism, ableism, ageism, homophobia, transphobia. Depending on where in the world you live, one or two or three or four or all eight of those are working in unison to keep that head of the octopus which is patriarchy alive.’ Mona illustrates how patriarchy works hand in hand with various forms of discrimination, to create a strand of feminism that picks and chooses which discriminations it is comfortable with. That is a feminism we cannot afford. We stand the risk of excluding millions of African women in our fight, the very African women we promised as feminists to stand with and protect.
Dr Pumla Dineo Gqola, author and Research Professor at Nelson Mandela University, shares this view, saying ‘African feminism means a movement, a way of thinking and being that has at its centre, the freedom of Africa women — and all others-of all ages, locations, classes and sexual orientations. For me, African feminism always has to be anti-homophobic and queer. It has to be historical and see difference as a strength rather than a division or weakness’.
Many countries continue to wrestle with what has often been described as the ‘last vestiges of colonialism’ on the African continent. However, it is evident that to call these very real and active remnants vestiges is to reduce the harm they have caused and continue to cause in our societies. The particular brand of homophobia that many nations on the continent continue to grapple with can be traced back to an unfortunate import that Africans have yet to part ways with altogether. In recent years, events in Nigeria, Uganda and currently Ghana have proved that if there was ever a time to do the painful work of examining our cultures, it is now. If there were was ever a time to rise as African feminists to choose to challenge the treatment of queer, trans and non-binary persons on the continent, it is now.
Choosing to challenge is inherent to African feminism because African feminism calls us to a lifetime of unlearning as it does to learning. We must be in constant conversation and interrogation of our movements and movement spaces; to be accountable to our communities in very intentional ways; to foster and hold with courage, honesty and grace, the difficult conversations that arise because of our differences.
AWDF is unwavering in its commitment to writing a very different ending to the stories of ill-fated protagonists that choose to challenge the realities and systems that have been sold to us as fixed. With our industrious partners with whom we are so honoured to do this work, we are choosing to challenge the limitations on African women and marginalised groups worldwide. This is how we choose to challenge.
Happy Women’s Day!