Feminism(s) in Africa

The day after International Women’s Day, the next AIAC Talk looks at the struggle for women’s liberation on the continent. Stream it live YouTube, Facebook, or Twitter. Subscribe to our Patreon for the archive.

Photo: Maria Salamanca, via Flickr CC.

On Monday, the 8th of March, International Women’s Day is set to be celebrated across the globe. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) has announced its 2021 theme as “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world.” Declaring that the world has to end the marginalization of women and girls, UNDP administrator Achim Steiner writes that to do so, “we must break down the deep-seated historic, cultural, and socioeconomic barriers that prevent women from taking their seat at the decision-making table to make sure that resources and power are more equitably distributed.”

The tricky thing about commemorative periods centered around an ongoing cause for justice and liberation—whether it’s something like a black history month, women’s month, or Pride month—is that the interests, politics and concerns of the affected groups are usually presented as being uniform and without contradiction. Steiner’s statement is a good way to illustrate the internal tension within the movement for women’s liberation—there are those who think that female representation in decision-making authorities (through individuals) is significant enough for effecting change, and there are those who think that the fundamental change comes by challenging those power structures from the outset.

It is the women belonging to the latter, more radical tradition, who actually paved the way for International Women’s Day to be observed in the first place. Its roots originate from the Socialist Party of America organizing a “National Women’s Day” in 1909 to honor a 1908 garment workers strike, and inspired by this, at the International Socialist Women’s Conference the following year, a group of German socialists (including Clara Zetkin, Luise Ziets, Paula Thiede and Käte Duncker) proposed an International Women’s Day. As Cinta Frencia and Daniel Gaido note for Jacobin, for these women, the adoption of the day “meant promoting not just female suffrage, but labor legislation for working women, social assistance for mothers and children, equal treatment of single mothers, provision of nurseries and kindergartens, distribution of free meals and free educational facilities in schools, and international solidarity.”

But, as women continue to wage these struggles, it is important to look beyond the North American and European history, and to recognize the contributions of feminists from elsewhere since as Rama Salla Dieng emphasizes for Africa Is a Country series “Talking back: African feminisms in dialogue”: “There has been a deliberate erasure of generations of women from Africa, The Caribbean, India and Latin America because they contest mainstream feminism so their voices should also be heard, the specificities and nuances of their diverse struggles acknowledged.” So this week on AIAC Talk, we’re interviewing  Professor Shireen Hassim, Rosebell Kagumire and Rama Salla Dieng. Shireen, a South African academic, is the Canada 150 Research Chair in Gender and African Politics at Carleton University, Rosebell is a Ugandan writer, award-winning blogger and pan-African feminist, and Rama is a Senegalese writer, activist and lecturer in African and International Development at the Centre of African studies at the University of Edinburgh.

Recognizing that feminist theory and practice on the continent is varied and multivocal, we would like to talk to each of them about their experience working through different topics and issues, whether its exploring how women’s liberation organization’s in South Africa become co-opted into the ruling power structure, the intersection of land rights struggles and gender rights struggles in Francophone Africa, or how women across the continent are using digital platforms to organize. What are the connections between these different fronts of struggle? How are women making them? And what would an African feminist agenda include for the world being remade in the time of COVID-19?

Catch the show the show on Tuesday at 19:00 CAT, 17:00 GMT, and 12:00 EST on YouTubeFacebook, and Twitter.

Last week’s episode explored African film and TV in the age of streaming. For that one, we had Dylan Valley, Sara Hanaburgh and Tsogo Kupa talk to us about how big streaming platforms like Netflix are trying to gain a foothold on the continent, and with Mahen Bonetti we discussed the African film festival in the digital age.

Clips from that episode are available on our YouTube channel, but as usual, best check out the whole thing on our Patreon along with all the episodes from our archive.

Further Reading