Assuming nothing; questioning everything

Posts tagged ‘African feminists’

Some tea without sugar for the cyber-feminists

Smashing patriachy is my cup of tea

When I finally embraced feminism, I was one happy woman. I’d had ups and downs with feminism for about 10 years of my life, dropping it and picking it again every so often in my 20’s. I was conflicted between fully embracing women’s liberation, while battling with the need to conform to what was required of me as woman, based on social and religious teachings.

After a four year feminism-drop, I decided to explore and open my mind up to feminism once again. This time I wanted to understand feminism, and at the same time be as critical of feminism as much as possible. After immersing myself in feminism for a while, I emerged as a true believer in the power of feminism to change the world, and make it better for women.

I found feminism to be personally liberating, taking off so many of requirements that society had placed on me, by virtue of being a woman. As I began to drop the gender related societal pressures, I wanted to share this new-found liberation with the world, and with the women around me.

So I started, with some of the people closest to me; enthusiastically sharing my new-found philosophy; sharing articles, videos and initiating conversations on feminism.

It didn’t take long for me to realise that my new ideas were not as welcome as I expected, in a world that has for a long time embraced patriarchy and sexist ideas of the position of women and men in society.

Contrary to the enthusiastic reception I expected, I was disparaged, and dismissed with Biblical quotations and remarks on feminism being an un-African concept. On one occasion, I was informed that I was the only one that needed feminism, and many African women were happy to be dominated, particularly in marriage, as long as their husbands met their obligations as providers and leaders.

I was accused of demanding women to compete with men, whereas God wanted women and men to complement each other. As a result, I was promised a position in hell, if I continued to question and mislead other women to disobey the word of God, which required them to submit.

Completely frustrated at the turn of events, I decided to start blogging. My blog was my way of talking to myself and imagining that the world was listening. I had no real expectations; but to get an outlet for all the conversations and questions I was having in my head, but lacking people to discuss with. My blog was the outlet of a feminist, outraged by injustice against women, and consumed with fantasies of a new world for women.

A few months since I started blogging, I must say that I have been pleasantly surprised. I have developed friendships with feminists from Kenya, Ethiopia, Rwanda, South Africa, Canada and Nigeria, some of whom I have met physically, others online. I have met some of these wonderful women over mojitos, over tea, and the occasional dinner, and we have had some of the most stimulating conversations imaginable.

I have also discovered other smart, funny, and bold feminist writers from across Africa, writing all sorts of interesting stuff on being women, on feminism, sex and sexuality, patriarchy and sexism, and politics among other topics.

When we found each other online with some of the feminists, we formed the Facebook group, Feminists in Africa; a platform that has allowed us to have deep, intellectual and mind blowing conversations. The platform has allowed us to find solace and support in each other, providing cyber-encouragement and creating a community of feminists in Africa. I have learned so much from this forum, it feels like I just went through a course on feminism.


When I think about this short and exciting journey as a feminist blogger, I am completely awed at the power of social media. I get overwhelmed and excited when I think of what and how much could be done through social media. At the same time, I realise the limitations of social media in achieving social change.

While social media is key to organizing, it also has potential to exclude the same people we intend to include, particularly in contexts where access to internet is limited, and many women do not even have the skills to have discussions on Facebook, Twitter or discover some great feminist blogs.

Conscious of both the successes and challenges of social media in creating social change, techo-sociologist, Zeynep Tufekci in her Ted Talk argues that although digital technologies have made it easier for modern day social movements to organize, they are not registering highly successful results, in terms of overall social change. She opines that some of the benefits of doing things the hard way are being overlooked.

Zeynep tells the story of how the ruling Turkish political party, has succeeded in combining both online and offline organizing. Curious to find out what the key to their success was, she interviewed and official of the party who told her that “the key is he never took sugar with his tea.” He explains that, in addition to organizing online, his party met people in their homes, in meetings and other offline forums on a daily basis.

While meeting people in their physical spaces, he was often offered tea, and realised that if he was going to take sugar with all the tea that came with visits, it would pose a risk to his health and weight. He therefore had to stop taking sugar, as turning down the offers for tea would be perceived as rude. Zeynep concludes by saying, “to succeed in the long term, sometimes you need your tea without sugar, along with your Twitter [social media].”

The same applies to cyber-feminists. We are part of a radical movement, with power to transform the lives of women in this continent, but to succeed in that, we must move beyond the cyber space, and gradually get into the more lengthy, hard and demanding work.

It is great, but not enough that we write all these wonderful blogs, and create all these online spaces for us to discuss feminism and support each other. To succeed in the long term, we need to meet women in their physical spaces, and sometimes take tea without sugar, along with our cyber-feminism.

We can all do it


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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