Perspectives #01/2021: African Feminisms Across Generations

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Throughout the history of social and political

movements in African societies, generations

of women have, in one way or another,

worked to oppose patriarchal domination,

laws and practices in the pursuit of gender

equality; advocating for their equal participation

in all aspects of social, economic and

political life. Despite this tradition of women-

centred and anti-patriarchal organising,

it is only in the last few decades, partly due

to efforts to entrench women’s emancipation

and gender equality in development

goals, that feminism in Africa has evolved as

an explicit ideological and political concept.

African feminist movements have, over

the ages, grown parallel to feminism(s) in

the global North and have often contested

the space in order to establish themselves on

the terms of African women and in response

to the needs of African people. Where older

generations of feminists had been wary of

the label “feminism”, the younger, Afropolitan

generation exhibits less ambivalence

towards taking up an explicitly feminist

cause. Chimamanda Adichie’s call that “We

all should be feminist” illustrates the attitude

of a new generation of feminists in and

for Africa.

As the articles in this publication reflect,

various forms of Afrocentric feminism have

emerged over time and represent steady

inroads in the advancement of women’s

rights, and sexual and gender rights more

broadly, in Africa across generations. These

diverse yet interconnected forms of feminism

have led to the adoption of laws, policies

and treatises on women’s rights and

gender equality with regard to, among

others, representation and participation

in political office and access to healthcare,

education and the economy. Emphasis has

also been placed on addressing sexual and

gender inequality from the perspective of

power relations, articulating a philosophy

and politics that not only advocate for substantive

equality between men and women

but also challenge the heteronormativity of

the post-colonial state. This draws attention

to the need to contest traditional gender

roles and divisions of labour as well as to

advance fundamental structural change for

women, and for sexual and gender minorities,

to be full and equal actors in development

processes in Africa.

Despite the eclecticism and diversity of

African feminisms across generations, and

notwithstanding their many achievements,

gender oppression – and sexual and genderbased

violence, in particular – remain stark

realities for women and for vulnerable

groups on the continent, where many face

multiple and intersecting barriers to economic,

political, social and legal equality.

Attaining true gender democracy and

equality also means pursuing an African

decolonial dialogue around the issues

that steadfastly impede the attainment of

gender justice in African societies.

This edition of Perspectives is a collaboration

between the Gender Focal Persons

(HBF staff members who serve as resource

persons on gender issues) from our four

offices in Africa and the Africa Division at

our head office in Berlin. The idea for the

edition was born out of a strategy to collectively

develop an approach to genderrelated

political goals that is rooted in

feminist realities, thinking and narratives

specific to the African continent. The need

to reflect on, analyse and document the

evolution of African feminisms emerged

out of this. This edition aims to do just that

by highlighting the histories of women’s

anti-patriarchal struggles in Africa and the

various forms of feminist action that African 

activists have taken up to address both persistent

and new threats to women’s rights

and gender justice. It also aims to reflect

on lessons learned from African feminist

practices for current and future generations

across the region.

The result is a wide range of articles from

African feminists who, from diverse perspectives

and a range of regional vantage points,

engage with the topic of African Feminisms

Across Generations. The articles draw on

the various histories and features of antipatriarchal

struggles, approaches to these

struggles, and their implications for intergenerational

feminist thinking and activism

in the contemporary African context.

The edition commences with a critique

of post-colonial freedoms by Furaha

Joy Sekai Saungweme which explores the

common thread of patriarchy that runs

from the liberation movements against

racial oppression to post-colonial times.

The article questions why women, as critical

catalysts for change in the struggle

against colonialism and in the fight for the

attainment of rights in post-colonial Africa,

continue to live under conditions of oppression

linked to persistent institutional and

structural inequalities.

Dr Barrel Gueye and Dr Selly Bâ provide

a historical perspective on women’s

activism as they explore and compare three

waves of feminist evolution in Senegal.

While these waves share a common goal of

fighting against male supremacy, each has

a unique character, ideology and strategy

to address the challenges of the times.

The authors argue that each wave of feminist

activism has contributed positively to

women’s status in Senegal while also facing

specific obstacles and limitations to enabling

fundamental change in the lives of

Senegalese women.

Another perspective from Senegal is

that of Dr Fatoumata Keita, who reflects on

the development of feminist ideas through

the writings of four women authors. Dr

Keita argues that, although written from

different times and contexts, the authors’

texts offer teachings that can inspire and

enrich current feminist debates, not only in

the Senegalese context but across the globe.

Two conversational articles, one from

South Africa and the other from Nigeria,

turn the focus towards key debates within

present-day feminist movements from a

cross-generational perspective. In the first,

a conversation between Mase Ramaru and

 Elsbeth Engelbrecht explores the complexities

of intergenerational feminist relations

and how to think through possibilities for

intergenerational solidarities. The second

article is an interview by Monika Umunna

with Nkoyo Toyo and OluTimehin Adegbeye

that explores feminism and gender

rights activism, past and present, and how

different generations assess one another’s

struggles and achievements. The interview

engages with some of the ideological tensions

between older, more traditional women’s

rights feminists and a younger feminist

generation that speaks to issues of intersectionality,

religion and queer rights and the

importance of forging alliances across these


In her article, Wanjiru Nguhi asks the

provocative question of whether we can

imagine a feminist future within religion,

interrogating the patriarchal nature

of Christianity and its implications for

African feminism and feminists. Bernedette

Muthien provides a historical account of the

power of oft-overlooked matricentric indigenous

societies and how their practices are

claimed by indigenous feminists in struggles

for post-patriarchal egalitarianisms.

Njeri Kabeberi’s article reflects on the lives

of five courageous feminists from southern

and eastern Africa whose lives bear testimony

to the power of feminist, anti-patriarchal

struggles in Africa across the span

of 300 years. In the final article of this rich

collection, Nothando Maphalala focuses on

the place, power and problematics of Motherism

as a basis for feminist action in contemporary

African feminism.

We hope that the reflections, insights

and analyses presented in these articles by

African feminist scholars, researchers and

activists will stimulate further thinking on

African-centred perspectives and inspire

feminist action for the social, political and

economic betterment of women and marginalised communities across Africa.

Paula Assubuji

Programme Manager, Cape Town office

Selly Bâ

Programme Officer, Dakar office

Nicola Egelhof

Project Officer, Africa Division, Berlin office

Caroline Kioko

Programme Coordinator, Nairobi office

Claudia Lopes

Programme Manager, Cape Town office

Monika Umunna

Programme coordinator, Abuja office

Melanie Judge (Guest Editor)


Product details
Date of Publication
Juin 2021
Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung e.V.
Number of Pages
Language of publication