Black Women Leadership in Africa, 10/01/2019, #5

On July, 11, 2003, “Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa” was adopted by the newly created African Union. It was aimed at guaranteeing protection and affirmation of African women’s rights, which, importantly encompass sexual, reproductive and domestic freedoms. The protocol culminated from years of activism and goes further than other treaties in that it expressly rejects FGM and other women’s rights violations, such as child marriage, and their customary and cultural justifications. Drawing  on Camara’s “African Women Leaders and the Advancement of Peacebuilding in International Law” this protocol would be delineated as a restorative – not a generative – instrument to facilitate women’s equality and freedom in Africa.  I focus on this important distinction, because of a quote that struck me in the piece: 

They suggest that women on the African continent did not derive their impulses for freedom from those eccentric and well-intentioned Western women who traveled south to educate and uplift us. Indeed, it might be worth considering the reverse possibility: that African women’s various actions may well have served to inspire [them], and so contributed to the genesis of modern feminism.

Camara discusses a cultural based approach to advancing women’s rights in Africa: specifically, enforcing the historical fact that Africa has a matriarchal tradition. Camara presents the idea that a restorative process should take place, in order to return to pre-colonial tradition and mitigate inequality between men and women and remove the disparate power structure that upholds it. Camara discusses the intersection between colonialism and patriarchy, namely, how Africa’s patriarchal authoritarianism was introduced or strengthened by European colonialism. 

It is particularly worthwhile to carefully consider the kind of gaslighting, which is at play with narratives that suggest that the influence of Western ideas drives African feminism. “Opponents of equality and gender equity on the continent often base their arguments on the spurious claim that Western imperialism is at work, trying to impose foreign constructions on Africans.” This is notable, because through the progression of history as social order is established and re-established, original cultures and practices are pushed aside and new ones are adopted or imposed. It is often in these contexts that people internalize and rationalize oppression. The oppressive structure becomes so embedded in society that a departure from it seems wrong. Camara notes that this alienates African feminist activities and treats its participants as outcasts, despite the fact that social entrepreneurship and feminism occupies the roots of African history. The case can also be made, that this also justifies the Western savior complex that we often see relating to the protection of human rights in other countries. 

It easy to engage with Camara’s piece, because there is a trail of evidence of the social entrepreneurship tradition of African women. A combination of their economic role in the household and in agricultural society and the tradition of forming associations conferred African women mobilizing power in anti-colonial and postcolonial struggles. Camara provides the example of women’s participation in the Ugandan National Resistance Movement and the subsequent quota system in the legislature that reserved a specific number of seats for women. But the greater consideration should be made of why rights and representation is a process of “earning.” What bothers me is the theme that African women must help men solve problems they experience (or may have created). Then, and only then are they conferred a fraction of dignity and agency. I have seen related sentiments echoed in “To Ghana Women and Women of African Descent,” from Selected Speeches of Kwame Nkrumah where Kwame Nkrumah confers African women the responsibility to rise up to help men in their crusade for freedom. My hope is that women’s freedom will eventually be an independent priority, not contingent on passing tests or proving loyalty to another cause. 

Bibliography 

Fatou Kine Camara, “African Women and the Gender Equality Regime in Africa:  From Patriarch to Parity” (61-97) in Black Women and International Law.  Deliberate Interactions, Movements and Actions.  Ed. Jeremy I. Levitt.  Cambridge University Press, 2015

Kwame Nkrumah, From “I Speak of Freedom” (Several online sources) and “To Ghana Women and Women of African Descent,”   from Selected Speeches of Kwame Nkrumah, ed. Samuel Obeng (Affram, Ghana,   1960): 110-115

Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa (African Union Website)

Featured Image:

Sebastiane Ebatamehi, “How African Feminists Are Redefining Global Feminism.” The African Exponent, October 2018. https://www.africanexponent.com/post/9211-how-african-feminists-are-re-defining-global-feminism

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