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African Feminism.  

Feminism has long thought to be the private hunting or the shooting preserve of Westerners. For decades, women around the globe have been decrying male supremacy. Their fierce will has been and still is a female agenda. The core of this political movement is to fight sexism and promote equality between sexes. In this respect, can we talk about Black African feminism? In a continent in which women are more often than not considered to be relegated to a secondary position, can one has the temerity to answer such an unobvious question? This article has the firm will to answer those painful questions in the light of African literature.

Feminism is perceived as a controversial concept in feminist literary discourse. It consists of a global political movement which fights against sexism and favours an equal social relationship between with men and women. First used in France by Hubertine Auclert, the term embarks on England before migrating to the United States of America. Nevertheless, a distinction between White feminism and African (Black) feminism is mandatory given the peculiarity of cultural and historical experiences of the different contexts. In the process of our analysis, we will try to highlight the existence of African feminism and to interrogate its relevance to the system of analysis in African literature.

The term “feminism”, according to African (Black) feminists, is Euroamerican import which focuses on European and North American culture. Given its Eurocentric agenda and concern, Feminism cannot equitably, rightfully, and justifiably address and interrogate the issues of African communities. African feminism, as many African feminists argue, should have a methodology whose nodal point of reference should be Africa, which Yaba Amgborale Blay calls “African centered methodology”.

Thus, African feminism deals with power relationship and gender issues; especially patriarchy for African society is perceptibly patriarchal, male domination. In its discourse, African feminism raises the question of colonialism, westernized African cultures, race, and class. In this regard, Oyewunmi argues that the idea of class, race, and domination came to Africa with colonialism. They did not exist in traditional Africa. In her analysis, she focuses on one town in Nigeria (Oyo town) and condones that women used to be “king” and they had power. African women did not have the domestic issue. They worked for their own benefit. She insists that the social context of patriarchy in Africa is distinct from the one in the Western environment.

Nevertheless, some western feminists put forward the question of polygamy that put African or Black women in a disadvantage position. In addition to that, the "levirate" (widowhood) is also a little bit problematic, these critics say. Thus, these above mentioned factors were not that oppressive in Africa and they should be understood and linked to the question of economy. Before colonialism, polygamy issue was not widespread and only kings and landowners could afford it. Polygamy was a sort of economic protection. The more land one acquired, the many wives one married, and the many children would help in the labor.

In the same vein, Nnaemaka says that there was patriarchy, domination yet we shall see how our cultures practice patriarchy. It was not domination in the fuller sense of the word but this kind of domination needed negotiation, compromise, and consent between men and women. She calls it “nego-feminism” (negotiation). Women occupied important places in traditional African societies. For instance, women used to be “food soldiers” in many African countries. As a case in point, the Nigerian Aba women’s role in the struggle for the liberation of the country is conspicuous. Moreover, the South African women’s ferocious resistance to the Apartheid regime is a concrete and overt case in point.

Omofolabo Ajayi’s famous “double patriarchy” condones the existence of patriarchy in African society, yet in top of it was the colonial patriarchy. She posits that in Igbo Nigeria, there was dual sex political system: the Obi (the king) and the Omu (the queen). The latter is in charge of the ordering of the market, treating women and children. In short domestic affairs are her responsibility.

For Omofolabo Ajayi, there used to be women’s economic independence and power nevertheless the colonial regime subverted them and gave preference to men over women. As a result, African women face double patriarchy. Ajayi posits with respect to the condition of women: “For African women, upon whom western form of patriarchy has been imposed during colonialism, the reality is, a sense of double patriarchy”. This is conspicuous in African literary discourse. On the one hand, African feminist literary discourse counterattacks the demonizing, passive, and indolent women they were thought of, and on the other, re-represents the status of the female characters in their creative or reflective works.

African feminism is a relevant system of analysis in African literature in that it propels writers – be it male or female – to voice women’s status to the entire planet. In addition, through African literature, women react against the denigration and the secondary position to which they were relegated. Not only do African women or female writers undertake the reconstruction project of the false representation of their image by European (feminists) writers whose lack of knowledge and understanding the condition of African women is overt, but also some male writers (Ousmane Sembene, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, and Alex LaGuma) engage in that enterprise.

In the same category, Wole Soyinka’s representation of Iyaloja (a female character) in Death and The King’s Horseman is of extreme importance. Iyaloja is the mother of the market women who has political post in Yoruba political system, under the election of the market women. She has power to sit in the counsel. She works and is imbued with authority, which ranks her among the high-ranking position in the society. By contrast, Soyinka pictures Mrs Pilkings, (the District officer’s wife, a European woman), as indolent, passive, and lazy wife who does not have a job. Her movement and action are limited purposefully by the playwright.

In the light of the above mentioned assumption, we can put forward that feminism has existed in Africa long before the European intrusion in the continent and the subsequent subjugation of both African men and women. Albeit patriarchy was present, African women held important places in many instances in our traditional African societies through negotiation, compromise, etc.

For instance in the history and political organization of the “Lebous” (a Senegalese tribe which settled in the coast of Dakar and from which Sembene Ousmane had familial bond), women held a place of paramount importance in the “Assembly of the Jambur” (which means counsel of the elders). The Assembly of the Jambur elected the “Jaraaf” (Head of the government), the “Ndeye Ji Rew” (literally means the mother of the state) who played a double role. She was both the Home Secretary and was in charge of Foreign Affairs. The Ndeye Ji Rew was more trustful to deal with internal affairs and she was more reliable as far as negotiations and diplomatic issues are concerned.    

African feminism has existed long before Euroamerican feminism. The latter, in conducting its western-based discourse and declaring its expansion to the South (Third World countries), misunderstand the social context of their counterpart’s feminism and subsequently misrepresent African women. On the contrary, African feminism can be perceived as a relevant system of analysis in African literature in the sense that it partakes in the “counterattacking” project of Enlightenment age which, as Ajayi posit, “eagerly constructs Africa as its direct opposite, Dark continent” and therefore voice women’s predicament in modern society.


M. Drame. (Pan-Africanist)  


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