African Women’s Day is celebrated annually on July 31. The day marks the first Pan-African Women’s Conference held in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania in 1962 and the creation of the Pan-African Women’s Organization.
But the Africa of 1962 is not the Africa of 2015. And while past generations exposed the effects of oppression, colonialism and patriarchy on women as well as pushed for advances in women’s rights in Africa, today, young African feminists are challenging patriarchy in their own ways everyday through social, political, economic and cultural spheres while also leveraging social media to push the boundaries and conversation for even further change. Recently, Malian singer Inna Modja released a music video for her song “Tombouctou” while asking people to use the hashtag #FreeTombouctou to continue the conversation online about Malian women’s rights and the rise of religious fundamentalisms.
The singer said in an interview with OkayAfrica: “The song ‘Tombouctou’ is about praying for peace in Mali and bringing awareness to women’s condition in the North of Mali.”
She adds: “In the video, by sitting next to my mother, grand-mother and nieces, I wanted to show different generations of women standing up for freedom.”
To mark African Women’s Day, the Young Feminist Wire asked four young African feminists what it means to them to be a young African feminist, not just on this day but to highlight them and their work in all their diversity and EVERYDAY victories and struggles.
Meet four wonderful young African feminists
Fungai Machirori is a blogger, editor, poet and researcher. She runs Zimbabwe’s first web-based platform for women, Her Zimbabwe, and is an advocate for using social media for consciousness-building among Zimbabweans. Her Zimbabwe seeks to harness the potential of digital media to share and tell Zimbabwean women’s stories, as well as nurture young women’s digital activism. She tweets at @fungaijustbeing.
Catherine Wanjiru Nyambura is a feminist passionate about advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights. She works at Dandelion Kenya, a non-profit grassroots organization based in Nakuru, Kenya. She’s a member of the African Youth Task Force on post 2015 and a young leader with Women Deliver. She tweets at @catherinenyamb1.
Nozipho Matumbu is a lawyer and human rights defender with a human rights network in Zimbabwe. She’s passionate about litigating for minority groups as well as doing advocacy and information dissemination work to empower vulnerable members of the society. She’s currently pursuing her studies for a Master of Business Administration Degree.
Mariatou J. Newlands is a program officer with Think Young Women – Gambia. She is also a volunteer Paralegal & Programmes Assistant with Female laywer’s association Gambia. She tweets at @yatouJnewlands
We asked them…
What does being a young African feminist mean to you today, in your context?
Fungai: “It means analyzing systems of power and challenging them. I am particularly passionate about showing agency in African women’s voices and narratives through using new media. For a long time, global dynamics have worked to ‘represent’ African realities on behalf of Africans, with little attention to nuance, complexities and point of view. I am invested in depicting the content more dynamically, and from the perspective of its inhabitants.”
Catherine: “Today being a young African feminist means confronting dynamic realities. One of these realities is body politics. It is an issue that most young feminists across the world are dealing with: from the gang rapes in India, to corrective rape in South Africa, the indecent dressing act in Uganda, public striping in Kenya, global repression with regard to women’s reproductive rights and victim blaming of rape survivors. African young feminist have to continuously find their space in a world that highly sexualizes and objectifies women and girls. However this also means that we have a platform to build upon the work of previous feminists. Being a young feminist today also means there are new ways of organizing: social media campaigns, blogging, and quick messaging services to help organize protest marches to demand reproductive and sexual rights, for example.
Mariatou: “To me, being a young African feminist means ensuring that there is gender balance and equality amongst all sexes. I believe that feminism is not about hating men or excluding men from the fight for gender equality in fact, I believe feminism can bringing them to realize that they are not destined to be perpetrators of violence against women (VAW). Being a young African feminist within The Gambia means a lot to me because I believe that for change to happen in terms of VAW, our generation can bring about the change because a lot of gender-based violence issues are deeply rooted in cultural beliefs and practices that the older generation dare not questioned due to lack of adequate empowerment. I would of course add that being a young African feminist entails being bold enough to speak one’s opinion with an older generation of feminists and be ready to learn from them but at all times be independent in decision-making. As a young African feminist, I fight patriarchy and fundamentalism.”
Nozipho: “To me being a young African feminist means assisting and empowering women to accept, exercise, voice and fight for their rights in spite of all the obstacles. It means to be able to have the same opportunities as my male counterparts without feeling inferior or being intimidated. It is the understanding that as young women, we are able to do what males can do and even better.”
What’s the most pressing/not-talked-about-as-much issue you are working on and why did you choose this specific issue?
Fungai: “I think many people still don’t understand social media, even though they use it every day. People are always surprised when you explain how concentrated ownership of social media space is among very few large corporations who, through mergers and acquisitions, largely run the online terrain and are moving online participation more and more towards a profit motive agenda. At the same time, many are not conversant in the language of the science of social media – by this, I mean algorithms – and think that social media is value-free. I am not saying that we all have to fully comprehend how these platforms work, but I believe we have to continually ask questions about how content gets to us in order to be conscious users of online tools. I have chosen this aspect of information sharing because social media is becoming more and more popular globally, and also more and more concentrated in terms of ownership and outlook (profit). As more people take it up, understanding the greater context in which it operates is becoming increasingly important.”
Catherine: “For me, it is important that women and girls’ bodily autonomy is held in high regard. The articulation of women’s reproductive rights as their bodily autonomy and the respect of their choices is not something we tackle effectively in my context. It is not enough to talk about unsafe abortions from an economic standpoint or to point to the fact that many women die from unsafe abortions. That’s how we dance around the issue. Articulating abortion as an issue of reproductive justice is something I choose to do because young feminists need to push the envelope. We need to make this seep into the public consciousness that women and girls’ bodies should be their own and provide a platform to approach the issue from various fronts. Finally, it is important that adolescents, especially girls, have access to comprehensive sexuality education. I choose to work on access to comprehensive sexuality education for girls so they can understand the issues of bodily autonomy and be equipped with information that provides them with skills to make informed decisions.”
Mariatou: “I will highlight two “not-talked-about-as-much” issues that I am currently working on in my country. These are FGM and comprehensive sexuality education for children. These issues are not talked about due to cultural beliefs that FGM is very good practice for a girl-child to undergo and cultural taboos that sex and sexuality related issues should not be discussed with children until they are ready to get married. These are issues that I have chosen to work on as there is enough evidence in my country to show that FGM is harmful, evidence to show that lack of comprehensive sexuality education is leading to the high teenage pregnancy rate and divorce rate in my country and evidence that these two issues are a human rights violation. I have chosen to highlight these issues and based on interactions with other young African feminists, I have gathered that these are issues not only affecting my country but other countries in Africa as a whole.
Nozipho: “The most pressing/not-talked-about-as-much-issue is that of women’s sexual and reproductive rights in marriages or relationships. For example, women can be raped by their husbands and suffer in silence, and the cultural practice of inheritance of a wife is still practiced in some areas. Women are usually afraid and ashamed of talking about their sexuality and more so, the issue of their sexual and reproductive rights and health.”
The hashtag #TheAfricaTheMediaNeverShowsyou has been trying to fight ‘poverty porn’ by showing images that don’t normally circulate about Africa in the media. From a young African feminist perspective, what would you add to that hashtag that you feel is something the media never shows about young African women?
Fungai: “I personally have begun to refrain from using such hashtags because I think it’s not essentially my role to show anyone the Africa the media never shows them. With the increasing number of platforms curating diverse African content and perspectives, it should be the duty of anyone who is genuinely interested in exploring the continent to head to Google and search around. This is how we, on the continent, learn about everyone else’s realities. Of course, the fact that we are largely raised on western media and culture means that our outlook is already oriented that way. But I don’t feel a need to reorient anyone’s gaze or show anyone the Africa I inhabit and embody. I have learnt to enjoy documenting Africa for myself, first and foremost. Anyone who wants to engage with it is always welcome.”
Catherine: “Young African women are growing up and being socialized with a much broader world view than the media showcases. We are intelligent and revolutionary young women and we constantly strive for more. Young feminists are comfortable in their skin, their bodies and have worked hard to show the world what young Africans have to offer. We constantly embrace the struggles of our sisters before us and define our path in a fast-moving world. The media should shows more young African women who start tech companies and provide spaces for their fellow sisters to find their niche. But, the media generally don’t do a good job of articulating our issues so we need to take that into our own hands.”
Are you also a young African feminist? Do you have something you’d like to share with us. Email us: email@example.com.
Main photo credit: Catherine Wanjiru Nyambura