In the UK, women earn 28% less than men for the same jobs. In Nigeria they earn 51% of what men earn. Literacy rates for women in Africa are substantially lower than those of men. African women suffer from poverty, HIV, violence and neglected healthcare to notably greater extents than African men. In the West the female body is objectified to a point where a recent study shows that 8 out of 10 women are unhappy with their bodies and globally one in three women is beaten or sexually abused in her lifetime.
Simply put, opposing these types of violations of women’s human rights is what feminism is about.
As the statistics imply, women’s struggles are still a global affair even though the feminist agenda differs from region to region. For example, domestic inequality has been more of a priority for Western feminists. However, just as economic disparity is also relevant in the West, so are domestic issues significant to African women also. To assume otherwise is a prejudiced misinformation that African women’s only concerns are poverty and tradition based issues such as preventing their genitals being cut or their harvest not producing enough crop.
I’m not belittling these important issues, but sexism in the private and public lives of African women is as much of a hinder to national growth as poverty is.
Take for example in Nigeria, where it is increasingly common for male professors in universities to demand sex for grades. This is not just a feminist issue, anyone who is concerned with the credibility of the national academia will not rejoice its being negotiated through such misogynist practices.
In Africa both women and men together are facing the consequences of imperialism. In combating sexism, feminism does not aim to take attention away from other pressing issues such as poverty, racism and corruption. In fact, unlike her Western counterpart, an African feminist cannot afford to separate one inequality from the other because they all intersect.
Given this intersection of gender with other nationalist concerns, it is damning that an African woman can debate Socratic democracy, discuss Macchiavellian philosophy, set forth a rhetorical discourse of Montesquieu’s laws, critically analyse the spirit of Marx’s texts using Freudian psychoanalysis… She can produce a body of work on labour principles of the African proletariat, or on the decentralization of power from African chieftaincies and her discourse will qualify as political, not Western.
Yet let her talk of women’s issues and she will be accused of neglecting her African past and reinforcing racist Western values. Her knowledge will be dismissed as oppressing other women by speaking on their behalf. She will be told that feminism is un-African.
Anti-colonial struggles have justifiably oriented African women towards nationalist-political rather than feminist perspectives. Unfortunately, however, nation building is not gender neutral and what is un-African is to pretend that it is.