African feminists found

Guest post by Varyanne Sika 

When I found Cera’s blog I was desperately searching for less known and less established feminist writers (at the time) who were writing about feminism in accessible ways in Kenya. I found Cera’s blog on twitter through a simple search using a combination of two key words Kenyan + feminist. It was a search for feminists who stood firm in their feminism and at the time, to me, nothing was more firm than a bio or name that did not hide behind the kind of meandering and clumsy definitions of feminism I had been finding. Upon finding the blog I quickly read her latest post, at the time it was “I Refuse to Shrink” which was a timely post published on International Women’s Day. In the post, Cera said “we need to raise daughters to refuse to shrink” and I thought, “we must also learn to un-shrink ourselves because shrunken women (who want children) cannot raise daughters to refuse to shrink”. After frantically commenting on the post and complaining about being unable to contact her, I proceeded to share the post with the facebook feminist friends I had at the time (I keep saying ‘at the time’ because things have changed rather drastically, and pleasantly in the past few months). I knew Cera and I were going to be talking to and with each other for a long time.

I was looking for more and other feminist content which was relevant to Kenya and to other countries on the continent because I grew weary of reading the usual dominant feminist platforms which were run outside Africa. Having Pambazuka and the African Gender Institute permanently open in one of my tabs and having downloaded all the Feminist Africa Journal issues (which are free for download), wasn’t enough. I was hungry for more feminist content from the continent because I needed to be able to name at least ten online feminist platforms without thinking too hard.

Four years ago I stumbled upon MsAfropolitan which is run by Minna Salami (who gave this TED Talk) and on her website I found a treasure! A list of African feminist blogs and African feminist resources! I went through the list, subscribed to the running blogs to which I could subscribe and shared the list with the feminists I knew. Two years after the treasure that was the list of resources, I wrote an essay ‘Fashion for Feminists’ on how dress and fashion shapes women’s identities for the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa’s publication Buwa! which publishes thematic essays on varying issues on feminism in Africa. All of their publications are also free for download. Buwa! inspired in me a pressing need to contribute to and to increase feminist voices online.

Image from Open Society

Image from Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa.

A year ago I asked Nyaboe who also runs a music blog called Songs we Like to join me in putting together an African feminist anthology. I asked her this because I had spotted Simone De Beauvoir’s ‘The Second Sex’ in her library and that was all I needed really. However, Nyaboe and I could not get the anthology started because of usual distractions and a crippling fear on my part, that we wouldn’t be able to string together coherent, let alone compelling paragraphs to add anything worth anyone’s time to the African feminist conversation. Towards the end of last year I read from ‘Voice, Power and Soul’ edited by Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi and Jessica Horn, two paragraphs that reminded me of the critical need for feminist voices on the continent.

Our current struggles as African Feminists are inextricably linked to our past as a continent – diverse pre-colonial contexts, slavery, colonization, liberation struggles, neo-colonialism, globalization, etc. Modern African States were built off the backs of African Feminists who fought alongside men for the liberation of the continent. As we craft new African States in this new millennium, we also craft new identities for African women, identities as full citizens, free from patriarchal oppression, with rights of access, ownership and control over resources and our own bodies. We also recognize that our pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial histories require special measures to be taken in favour of particular African women in different contexts. We acknowledge the historical and significant gains that have been made by the African Women’s Movement over the past forty years, and we make bold to lay claim to these gains as African Feminists – they happened because African Feminists led the way, from the grassroots level and up; they strategised, organized, networked, went on strike and marched in protest, and did the research, analysis, lobbying, institution building and all that it took for States, employers and institutions to acknowledge women’s personhood.”

The Wide Margin was thus born, and Cera did not know it at the time but she was going to write about the [Feminist] Liberation not being Un-African.

Image from wide marging

Image from The Wide Margin website, illustration by Naddya Oluoch.

The Wide Margin was started because, “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…We are here to occupy space, to increase feminist voices from the continent and to tell young feminists in Africa, ‘you are not alone.’ ” – Editorial, Feminist While African, The Wide Margin.

After (and during the process of) publishing the inaugural issue of The Wide Margin, I discovered even more feminist content in Africa including Mon Pi Mon in Uganda, Third Culture Feminism in Zimbabwe and HOLA Africa, a Pan-Africanist queer womanist collective. Through deliberately occupying space online I learned that I did not in fact find already existing African feminists, we found each other.

The word for woman in my language is ‘mutumia’. Loosely translated this means the voiceless or the silent one…The fact that woman and silence are synonyms is reflective of the [imposed] voicelessness of women.” – Cera Njagi in ‘Mutumia

This is a reminder to those who already know about all the women speaking to share the words of other feminists as often as they can and as widely as possible. This is also an announcement to those who are not aware of feminist voices from Africa that African Feminists are being found with more regularity and consistency, tell a friend and tell them to tell other friends.

Bio:Varyanne is the editor in chief of The Wide Margin. She practices black feminist breathing while championing inclusive, intersectional, rigorous and unapologetic feminism.

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