Throughout the history of social and political movements in African societies, generations of women have, in one way or another, worked to oppose patriarchal domination, laws and practices in the pursuit of gender equality; advocating for their equal participation in all aspects of social, economic and political life. Despite this tradition of women-centred and anti-patriarchal organising, it is only in the last few decades, partly due to efforts to entrench women’s emancipation and gender equality in development goals, that feminism in Africa has evolved as an explicit ideological and political concept.
African feminist movements have, over the ages, grown parallel to feminism(s) in the global North and have often contested the space in order to establish themselves on the terms of African women and in response to the needs of African people. Where older generations of feminists had been wary of the label “feminism”, the younger, Afropolitan generation exhibits less ambivalence towards taking up an explicitly feminist cause. Chimamanda Adichie’s call that “We all should be feminist” illustrates the attitude of a new generation of feminists in and for Africa.
As the articles in this publication reflect, various forms of Afrocentric feminism have emerged over time and represent steady inroads in the advancement of women’s rights, and sexual and gender rights more broadly, in Africa across generations. These diverse yet interconnected forms of feminism have led to the adoption of laws, policies and treatises on women’s rights and gender equality with regard to, among others, representation and participation in political office and access to healthcare, education and the economy. Emphasis has also been placed on addressing sexual and gender inequality from the perspective of power relations, articulating a philosophy and politics that not only advocate for substantive equality between men and women but also challenge the heteronormativity of the post-colonial state. This draws attention to the need to contest traditional gender roles and divisions of labour as well as to advance fundamental structural change for women, and for sexual and gender minorities, to be full and equal actors in development processes in Africa.
Despite the eclecticism and diversity of African feminisms across generations, and notwithstanding their many achievements, gender oppression – and sexual and gender-based violence, in particular – remain stark realities for women and for vulnerable groups on the continent, where many face multiple and intersecting barriers to economic, political, social and legal equality. Attaining true gender democracy and equality also means pursuing an African decolonial dialogue around the issues that steadfastly impede the attainment of gender justice in African societies.
This edition of Perspectives is a collaboration between the Gender Focal Persons (HBF staff members who serve as resource persons on gender issues) from our four offices in Africa and the Africa Division at our head office in Berlin. The idea for the edition was born out of a strategy to collectively develop an approach to gender-related political goals that is rooted in feminist realities, thinking and narratives specific to the African continent. The need to reflect on, analyse and document the evolution of African feminisms emerged out of this. This edition aims to do just that by highlighting the histories of women’s anti-patriarchal struggles in Africa and the various forms of feminist action that African activists have taken up to address both persistent and new threats to women’s rights and gender justice. It also aims to reflect on lessons learned from African feminist practices for current and future generations across the region.
The result is a wide range of articles from African feminists scholars, researchers and activists who, from diverse perspectives and a range of regional vantage points, engage with the topic of African Feminisms Across Generations. The articles draw on the various histories and features of anti-patriarchal struggles, approaches to these struggles, and their implications for intergenerational feminist thinking and activism in the contemporary African context.
We hope that the reflections, insights and analyses presented will stimulate further thinking on African-centred perspectives and inspire feminist action for the social, political and economic betterment of women and marginalised communities across Africa.
(Former) Programme Manager, Cape Town office
Programme Officer, Dakar office
Project Officer, Africa Division, Berlin office
Programme Coordinator, Nairobi office
Programme Manager, Cape Town office
Programme coordinator, Abuja office
Melanie Judge (Guest editor)