Feminist While African

editorial by Varyanne Sika

Ilustration by Naddya Oluoch.

In the past decade, there has been a tremendous amount of work done in articulating feminism in Africa and the global South. In the past 5 years, in particular, feminist discourse has exploded online (on websites, blogs, journals) and especially on social media as well as in the street. In Kenya, for instance, there is vigorous debate about gender based violence, homosexuality, the policing of women, and women in popculture (e.g. in discussions about music videos by, say, Elani, Sauti Sol, Kalekye; television shows like Tujuane in Kenya, How to Find a Husband; the rise of the socialite as a publicly visible figure of female sexual expression and autonomy; voluble and visible campaigns such as #WhenWomenSpeak, #MyBodyMyHome, #MyDressMyChoice, #BringBackOurGirls).

Women and feminist-allied men are continuously positively discussing policy and legislative issues affecting women as well as the labour of living with everyday sexism. The growth of Nollywood and African television and cinema has provided an important trove of cultural production which remains relatively untouched by African feminist discourse.

Recent novels like the Folio Prize nominated, Dust, by Caine Prize winner, Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor (Kenya), Kintu , by Commonwealth Prize winner, Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi (Uganda), Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, are written with fierce female voices and imagine new ways of African women inhabiting the modern world. The Feminist Africa journal, founded by Amina Mama, remains a cornerstone in African feminist organizing and thinking.

The Wide Margin’s inaugural issue seeks to imagine living a feminist life while African, thinking and creating through and beyond the work already done by the many feminists working in East Africa, and Africa as a whole as well as its diaspora.

“What is it that African women and men mean and aspire to when they say ‘I am a feminist’? What misgivings, and¬†perhaps misunderstandings, about feminism, are revealed when people refuse or reject feminism?”

Feminism has often been distorted or coopted by media, by religion, by capitalism, and by patriarchy. Many Africans avoid associating themselves with feminism. The claim that feminist ideals and projects are not our culture is often parroted as a stodgy excuse to disengage with feminism. But, as shown in Silence is a Woman by Wambui Mwangi, Transversal Politics by Nira Yuval Davis, We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, amongst others, the concept of culture is fraught, and, while often in an antagonistic patriarchal relationship with women’s lives, culture also provides an archive and site of articulation for women’s transgenerational quests for sovereignty, autonomy, freedom, and pleasure.

The popular spaces (our national newspapers and dailies, lifestyle magazines, mainstream television) where we could explore feminism are ridden with superficialities, silences, and erasures which perpetuate sexism, or they are inaccessible to those who would reform them.

How then should we subvert the popular sexist ways of discussing women and feminism and advance the growing interest in talking and thinking about women beyond gender stereotypes? How should we advance thinking about feminism in Africa? What are the issues with which younger feminists are grappling? What new frontiers of African feminism are becoming visible even as the old struggles continue? Feminist While African explores how we (Africans) have come to understand feminism, how we are involved (or not) in feminism, how we interact with feminism, and how we have learned and continue to learn about feminism.

The Wide Margin is pleased to publish its inaugural issue: Feminist While African with contributions from a few feminists to whom feminism in Africa is important to think, talk and write about. In this issue, the Wide Margin explores a diverse range of perspectives on learning, (mis)understanding and practicing feminism; from embracing our defiance of how we are expected to be, to how we became to be feminists, to how we relate to each other as feminists.

“We are here to occupy space, to increase the number of feminist voices from the continent, and to tell other young¬†feminists in Africa, ‘you are not alone’.”