THE BLOG

African Women's Rights Will No Longer Be Overlooked

We are in a bittersweet paradox; chauvinism in Africa prevails more strongly as feminist liberation movements strengthen in the Western world.

06/02/2017 04:57 SAST | Updated 06/02/2017 04:57 SAST
Antony Njuguna / Reuters
Kenyan Assistant Minister for Environment and Nobel Peace Laureate Wangari Maathai holds her book during a photo session for the launch of the book in Nyeri District, Kenya, September 30, 2006.

More than ever before, patriarchal notions have been amplified and propelled by the 21st century human. Every aspect of our daily lives serve as perfect exhibits: woman as the video vixen, woman as the cook, women as the caretakers, woman as the secretary, and now, woman as the derivative of everything deemed inferior. We have stubbornly been part of this wave until recently when President Donald Trump's campaign stirred ripples round the world with his unashamed disregard for women, some of which arose from archives at the time of his campaign. And a question lingers within us: What is Africa up to?

Here, we come to a realisation of a bittersweet paradox; chauvinism in Africa prevails more strongly than anywhere else, as feminist liberation movements strengthen in the Western world. Look at the record-breaking Women's March in Washington DC, and around the world, even here in South Africa. The event, often called to mind the chants of the first Women's march in 1956: "Wathint' Abafazi, wathint'imbokodo." These words symbolised the boldness and courage of a woman. 'You strike a woman, you strike a rock.'

Breaking down the patriarchy narrative

The epitome of women objectification is still felt in the cradle of Africa, Sudan being perhaps the worst. We Africans were brought up by communities that taught us that the boy child was the bolder of the two genders, always. He was in-charge of security, hunting, fishing; with initiation marking the hallmark of manhood. All these activities roared masculinity, moulding him into a man, albeit one with a fragile ego.

The girl-child's significance was only felt in the kitchen, in taking care of the children, in fetching firewood while being subjected to derogatory rituals like female genital mutilation (FGM), which moulded her into a submissive being.

In an attempt to disrupt this, measures to bring about equity leverage have been put to place in various places. These include increased access to education, more self-development opportunities and exposure to leadership advocacy to the girl-child. It has taken great effort for the labour of women empowerment to bear fruits.

From Slyvie Kinigi, who ruled Burundi for a year, to Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri, who served as an acting South African President briefly in 2005, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who still holds Liberia's mantle today and Wangari Maathai, who unconventionally fought for environmental conservation in Kenya, there is a greater presence of women leadership at the highest levels of governance.

Being male comes with a reluctance to compromise for female-related causes. Sadly, we have been fitted into a traditional masculinity suit that has stripped men of humanity: care, empathy and feelings.

In early January, the African Leadership Academy, based in Johannesburg, South Africa, hosted African Land of Opportunities (ALOO), a day the school community dedicates to embrace and celebrate a myriad of immense opportunities in the African continent. The one-day event was a unique blend of workshops, live performances and panel discussions with focus points on the African woman in sport, art, tradition, religion and women's rights.

The workshops took a dive understanding the current social state on the African continent. This, in some workshops, involved analysis of famous Nigerian song lyrics. This analysis unravelled the underlying stereotype of women being objects. Surprisingly, some of these songs were composed by women. This was followed by an in-depth reading of texts to enlighten the workshop participants on the subject matter. Annotations of the texts served to enlighten participants on how, why, when and what could be done to tackle the unconscious patriarchal conceptions. This highlighted how the narrative ought to be revamped to 'The African Woman leader', which evokes a compelling drive as opposed to 'The African Woman'. Perhaps a reminder of how we need more of these platforms as conduits for leveraging women inclusivity.

Yes, men do play a part

In the African context, being male comes with a reluctance to compromise for female-related causes. Sadly, we fit ourselves into a suit of masculinity that strips us of our humanity: care, empathy and feelings. To break this, society's paradigm of gender must be changed by us too, the African men. We must break with the sexist, misogynistic narratives of the past.