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