An opinion piece by Thabiso Molapisi – Pretoria, South Africa
For many Africans, the tradition of culture plays a huge role in who we are and ultimately who we become. Culture is the foundation of our identity and structures our perspective in the way in which we identify with people; with religion coming a close second as seen in some of the West African countries where some countries identify as ‘’Muslim states.’’ Culture as per Oxford dictionary is defined as ‘’the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular person or society’’. However, culture is not entirely stagnant, customs adjust, ideas change and some social behaviour gets accepted or in some cases tolerated. What is unfortunate is that cultural change changes in favour of patriarchy and although there are arguments that African culture was matriarchal in times many of us read about, we become accustomed to seeing a heavily male-dominated society, especially within the realms of politics, the corporate sphere, the entertainment industry and even in personal climates.
For many years I fought with the structure of my identity as it relates to my culture and feminism. Feminism on its own is a complex concept to define as each person has their own definition of what it means and how it should be implemented. With various voices defining one thing that tells a similar story, it is no wonder it can get misconstrued and misinterpreted. Feminism is ‘’ the advocacy of women's rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes’’, and although on paper it is easily explained. There are different types of feminist; an African feminist, environmental, radical, traditional, black, socialist and Marxist feminist just to name a few and each type has it own values. As culture and feminism evolve, many still peg feminism as being un-African, as it is deemed challenging to the cultural teachings we have received throughout our childhood. Can one stand for the equality of women and yet still be able to not cross the line of cultural and ancestral disrespect?
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is an African feminist who writes books directed at feminism and the unspoken domestic violence in Nigeria. She highlights the importance of feminism and how it benefits both genders, relaying to household finances, equality in streams of income and the advantages of men having paternal leave just to name a few. However, numerous people still think that feminism is un-African as some people view it as challenging the definition of masculinity and femininity as well as shifting gender roles. Yejide Orunmila the president, African National Women’s Organization believes feminism is un-African as many of the African communities were very matriarchal in ancient times. Orunmila says Africans have always had an inclination of sharing, surviving and struggling together, whereas feminism according to her ‘’shifts us away from our common struggle of destroying capitalist and colonial oppression, to one that is focused on seeking validation from the oppressor’’. Minna Salami who is of Nigerian-Finnish descent and an award-winning writer, blogger and speaker, however; argues that feminism is in no way un-African, explaining that, even if ‘’African societies were matriarchal in precolonial times, which was not actually the case, most African societies today are governed by a global gender order, which is patriarchal’’. Salami further explains that if anything should be considered un-African it ‘’ is the discrimination and inhumane treatment that significant numbers of girls and women are subject to’’ on a daily basis.
Although feminism is incessantly in conflict with the traditions that culture has, it would not exist if there were no need it for. Feminism brought us the legendary Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, a Nigerian educator, political campaigner and suffragist, who was born in 1900 and served as a women rights activist. Feminism brought us the heroine that is Mme Charlotte Maxeke, a South African national who was born in 1871 and was a religious leader, social and political activist. She was the first black woman to graduate with a university degree in South Africa with a B.Sc from Wilberforce University Ohio in 1901, as well as the first black African woman to graduate from an American university. It brought us Sarah Francesca "Sally" Mugabe, Winnie Madikizela- Mandela, Ruth First and Graça Machel, just to name a few. These women were not just qualified personnel, they were wives and mothers, mothers not only to their children but to children that transcended communities they never touched before. Feminism is not a new age thing nor is it a trend, it starts as far as the 1700s probably even way beyond, to women taking the streets of the most popular cities in 1960s to burn their bras as a form of independence, to now in the current climate of the #MeToo movement. It does not matter how you define feminism or whether or not you want to be identified as one, the underlying concept is the idea of a shared idea and custom that celebrates our identities within our the difference in our genders. This is not meant to whip out what makes us African, but rather give a once disadvantaged gender a fighting chance.