These African women have fought to keep feminism alive 

“It
 is
 not
 possible
 to
 advocate
 independence
 of
 African development
without
also
believing
that
African
women
must
have
the
best
that
the
environment
can
offer.
For
some
 of
us, this
is
the
crucial element
of
feminism.”

— Ama Ata Aidoo 

Over the years, various individuals have made statements that often imply that Nigerian women and, in some instances, African women are not practising feminism the “right way.” On X (formerly known as Twitter), the discourse about what feminism is by textbook definition and how it is practised often conflicts with what people (read men) find acceptable.

Complaints about the misinterpretation of feminism, transforming it into a form of misandry, are increasingly common on platforms like X. This has led to phrases such as “Twitter feminist” or “online feminist” being used disparagingly, with a clear intent to undermine the feminist cause.

On the other hand, African history is riddled with tales of African women championing the fight against objectification, dehumanisation, and lack of autonomy imposed on women by colonial and patriarchal ideologies and laws. In the ways these women fought, through riots and strategic enforcement of rules, there is no “right way” to advocate for the sexes’ social, economic, and political equality.

African feminism is more than just a Twitter movement.

In the words of Ruvimbo Gordema, African feminism carves its unique path within the rich tapestry of African culture and traditions, distinctly diverging from the feminist narratives prevalent in America and Europe. This brand of feminism extends beyond the foundational quests for social, economic, and political equality championed by Western feminists. It delves deeper into the vital discourse around recognising women’s humanity, transcending their mere sexual identification. This nuanced approach highlights the complexity and the broader spectrum of challenges African women face, weaving in the cultural and traditional contexts that shape their realities and struggles.

African women who have fought for female humanity

Long before the advent of technological gadgets and the proliferation of social media, African women have been on the frontlines, championing their humanity. Their struggle has been for recognition, to be treated with dignity, and to have access to the same opportunities as men. Fighting for their humanity has led to various political movements that have reshaped perspectives and sparked African feminist movements. Numerous women have advocated for and stood at the forefront of the war against inequality of the sexes.

Here are some African women who have championed the fight and given African feminism hope.

Nwanyewu (Nigeria)

Aba Women’s Riot via Pulse Nigeria

She led the Aba Women’s War of 1929, protesting against unfair taxation imposed by the British and showcasing the power of organised female resistance. The Aba Women’s Riots, also known as the Women’s War, were a series of protests led by women in southeastern Nigeria against British colonial policies and taxation.

Thousands of Igbo women from various ethnic groups participated in the uprising, demonstrating against unfair taxation, land expropriation, and colonial injustices. The protests, which spread to other regions, highlighted the power of collective action and women’s resistance against colonial oppression.

Margaret Ekpo (Nigeria)

African feminism
Margaret Ekpo via BBC

Margaret Ekpo was a pioneering Nigerian women’s rights activist and politician who played a significant role in Nigeria’s struggle for independence and advancing gender equality.

Born in Creek Town, Calabar, she became actively involved in political and social movements after studying nursing and midwifery in Britain. Ekpo’s leadership in the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) and her grassroots organising, particularly among market women, mobilised women to join the fight for liberation. Co-founding the Aba Township Women’s Association (ATWA) in the 1950s, she advocated for women’s education, economic empowerment, and political participation, inspiring generations of Nigerian women.

Elected to Nigeria’s Eastern Regional House of Assembly in 1961, Ekpo continued to champion gender equality, leaving a lasting legacy as a feminist icon and political trailblazer whose activism paved the way for greater inclusion and empowerment of women in Nigerian society.

Aoua Keita (Mali)

African feminism
Aoua Kieta Via Wikipedia

Aoua Keita was a trailblazing Malian feminist, educator, and political leader dedicated to advancing women’s rights and social justice in Mali and beyond.

Born in Bamako, Keita’s early experiences of gender discrimination fueled her commitment to fighting for gender equality and empowerment. She played a pivotal role in forming the Union of Sudanese Women, advocating for women’s education, healthcare, and economic opportunities. Keita’s leadership in the anti-colonial movement and her involvement in the Malian Democratic Union (UDM) earned her widespread respect and admiration.

Throughout her life, she tirelessly campaigned for women’s rights, serving as a beacon of inspiration for generations of African feminists and activists. Aoua Keita’s legacy resonates today as a symbol of resilience, courage, and determination in the struggle for gender equality and liberation.

Fatema Mernissi (Morocco)

Fatma Mernissi via BBC

Fatema Mernissi was a pioneering Moroccan sociologist, feminist, and writer known for her groundbreaking work on gender, Islam, and women’s rights in the Arab world. Born in Fez, Morocco, Mernissi received her education both in Morocco and abroad, earning a doctorate in sociology from the University of Paris-Sorbonne.

Her seminal works, including “Beyond the Veil” (1975), “The Veil and the Male Elite” (1987), and “Dreams of Trespass: Tales of a Harem Girlhood” (1994), challenged stereotypes and misconceptions about Muslim women and offered insightful analyses of the intersection of religion, culture, and patriarchy. Mernissi’s scholarship emphasised the agency and resilience of women in the face of oppressive social norms. It provided a nuanced understanding of the complexities of gender dynamics in the Arab-Muslim world.

As a prominent advocate for women’s rights, she promoted dialogue and activism around education, political participation, and legal reform. Mernissi’s contributions to feminist thought and her efforts to amplify the voices of marginalised women have had a lasting impact on academic discourse and social movements worldwide, cementing her legacy as one of the most influential feminist scholars of the 20th century.

Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti (Nigeria)

Fumilayo Ransome Kuti via Wikipedia

Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti (1900–1978) was a Nigerian educator, political activist, and women’s rights advocate who played a significant role in Nigeria’s struggle for independence and the advancement of women’s rights.

Born in Abeokuta, Nigeria, Ransome-Kuti received her education in England and returned to Nigeria to work as a teacher. She became actively involved in political activism and joined the Nigerian Women’s Union (NWU), where she advocated for women’s rights, education, and social welfare.

Ransome-Kuti was a vocal critic of colonialism and oppression, organising protests against unjust policies and advocating for Nigerian independence. She also played a crucial role in the anti-colonial movement as a National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) member. Ransome-Kuti’s activism extended to women’s rights, and she fought against discriminatory practices such as the taxation of women without representation.

She founded the Abeokuta Women’s Union (AWU) and was involved in the Women’s Conference of 1949, which led to the establishment of the Federation of Nigerian Women’s Societies (FNWS). Ransome-Kuti’s fearless advocacy earned her widespread respect and admiration, making her a trailblazer for women’s rights in Nigeria and beyond. Her legacy inspires generations of activists fighting for gender equality and social justice.

The African woman’s battle for absolute liberation

African women have always been at the forefront of advocating for their rights, long before the digital age brought social media into our lives. Their battle against the forces of dehumanisation and marginalisation has yet to be fully supported by their male counterparts. This struggle for emancipation and recognition challenges the very foundations of patriarchal norms that have historically dominated our societies.

Today, Nigerian women continue this legacy, leveraging platforms like X (formerly known as Twitter) to ignite discussions about women’s liberation. These dialogues are vital, picking up the mantle from past generations of gender activists and pushing forward in the relentless quest for equality.

The journey is ongoing, a perpetual fight for a world where women can make life choices freely, unbound by societal expectations or limitations placed upon them because of their gender.

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