African Feminists Mark Women’s Role in Shaping Their Continent’s Future

“The revolution is a woman,” declared Mariam Kirollos to a room of over 160 African feminists, who convened in Harare, Zimbabwe, last month for the fourth African Feminist Forum (AFF).

Kirollos, cofounder of Operation Anti–Sexual Harassment and Assault, an activist group in Cairo, recounted how Egyptian women helped craft and sustain the movement that overthrew the regime of Hosni Mubarak. For their contributions, they faced violence—both during the revolution in targeted physical attacks on women protestors, and under the current government, which has persecuted and imprisoned women’s rights defenders.

Kirollos paused at the microphone as memories of the onslaught came back to her. Rising to meet her distress, a chorus of Southern African women began to sing “Malibongwe igama lamakhosikhazi (“Let the Name of the Women Be Praised”), a song rooted in the 1956 women’s march against the seat of the apartheid government in Pretoria, South Africa.

It is moments like these that attest to the significance of the African Feminist Forum, a biennial meeting hosted by the African Women’s Development Fund first held in 2006. The AFF allows for political analysis and tactical networking, but also serves as a living archive of African women’s contributions to the struggle for democracy and justice.

From Cape to Cairo, there is a largely undocumented history of African women’s leadership in political and social movements. As noted in the framing document for the AFF, the Charter of Feminist Principles, “Modern African states were built off the backs of African feminists who fought alongside men for the liberation of our continent.” At the AFF, activists have the opportunity to correct the historical record, set plans to keep progressive activism alive, and share the backstory of how movements were built and led, succeeded and faltered.

In Harare, we heard firsthand from young queer feminists who helped create the #FeesMustFall movement in South Africa against race- and class-based exclusion in tertiary education, and from women with disabilities from the Y’en a Marre (“I’ve had enough”) movement in Senegal that prevented President Abdoulaye Wade from securing an unconstitutional third term in office.

National African Feminist Forums in Nigeria and Uganda chronicled their leadership roles in campaigns against homophobic legislation and attempts to censor women’s dress choices, and in building a critical mass of activists to defend principles of choice and bodily autonomy. Ugandan LGBTI rights activist Kasha Jaqueline Nabagesera acknowledged the support of other members of the Uganda Feminist Forum in building a cross-movement front against the increasingly fierce persecution of LGBTI people in that country. And members of the Liberian Feminist Forum told of the catalytic actions of women on the front lines of the Ebola outbreak, mobilizing communities with a reach that extended further than efforts by international humanitarian organizations.

Two common points emerged in the weave of testimonies. The first was the political rigor and inclusiveness of feminists in protest movements. Intersectionality—the understanding of the interrelatedness of oppressions and the struggles to end them—has been central to crafting feminist practices of freedom.

The second was the persistence of antifeminist backlash. In a eulogy to Zimbabwe Feminist Forum member and liberation fighter Freedom Nyamubaya, who died in July, Margaret Dongo exposed the realities of women who fought alongside men, only to face sexual abuse by their own comrades. Dongo, a cofounder of the National Liberation War Veterans Association, reminded us that the abuse of women “did not only happen in the war. We are here as feminists. … We are one, and we have to continue our fight.”

There can be no doubt that African feminists are on the leading edge of progressive activism in Africa. Indeed, the AFF membership continues to demonstrate how tenaciously African feminists hold the line on the human rights struggles of our times. The only question is why their political power is so often overlooked—except, it would seem, by those who attempt to silence them through violence or state regulation. If the revolution is a woman, then it is time to reinforce the work that African feminist movements are doing to transform the world and promote justice. 

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Akiiki proud to have you in the feminist kraal

It is with no regret to say that, in Zimbabwe women are still victims of patriarchal beliefs and such programs to be held in Zimbabwe its a blessing. Recently we have celebrated the constitutional court ruling against child marriages but still there is a big hindrance because of the laws that are still in existence that detire such noble idea. Unregistered Customary Law Union can be condemned in the globalised and feminist world and laws must be realigned. So for the advancement of women lives, Aluta Continua (the struggle continues)

Well written piece--how does this jive with the Arab Spring and what was learned? I am reminded of an old Cowboy "moral" in the spirit of Greek Philosophy--Jus old bull and young bull sitting on a grassy hill overlooking a herd of cows--the young bull sais, "hey Pop, let's run down and make it with one of those cows--the old bull sais, no Son, let's walk down and make it with all of them". In policy intent and the interest of equality and justice, more often than not young think tank and human rights advocates choose to run down the hill to free the individual without looking at the lessons of policies that created the herd. Fear comes to mind. What do men fear the most in how they treat women (some men) a loss of perceived patriarchal dominance--the role of the big cheese--the bull thus becometh the bully. My hope for a Hillary Clinton Administration is simply the intent of law and of social experimentation, running down a hill of Winthropian Decreed self illumination can often cause cattle to scatter or stampede. In such a case, the herd can trample its self as individuals as an unintended consequence. And so, my advice ladies of America...........walk cautiously and find empathy your friend, but wisdom your motive--if you run at a herd, it will stampede and run uncontrolled and scatter--individuals will die by their own excitement. Walk down and quietly work the herd to prevent unintended consequences. The light upon the Hill can be blinding to those who have lived in the dark their entire lives--for generations.

Good work has been done by Women "We as United Children Integrated Development Action Uganda (UNCIDA) Call them Mothers" Because as Children Community-cant exist where they are not. Only One emphasis recommended is to put child led Organizations also on Board to grow like as you Plan for such Event also engage we your children to actively Participate.

Nice time

The fundamental basic prinsiples on human and people's rights dose not discriminate race or sex, so why the discriminations against women?.

To achieved on the vision 2020 of the United Nation global achivments, we must of extra miles to respect and restore the lost dignities of women and children's, in respect of race color tribe religious believes or stators.

From the director of CNC Watch New Africa.

Great work we need to take theses bold steps to redeemed out beloved continent, I salute all those gallant women and men

fight for women and childrens rights when government can on longer guarantee health and medical care for all. All the doctors and nurses are private consultants ,recommending and ushering patients to patronize their private concerns , part time nurses, managing clinical hospitals/ owners practitioneers of other busineses while been in givernment employment.Always away from their job places.Where is hypocritic oath?

I take this opportunity of saluting your organization for the immense contribution that you have made in uplifting the status of woman and giving them recognition that is commendable.

Yes,from Cape to Cairo all women must stand and claim their space.The feminists in Mozambique strong support all other women the world over.

Good movement keep it up

This is wonderful. We absolutely support these women. How can we help?

I am a guy for the girl effect in Liberia. I hate the attitude of men who oppress our mothers, sisters, and partners in progress. This act is tantamount to the ancient act of slavery but not against a race anymore, only against a gender. This is not fair. I call on all men to love and embrace the work, development and progress of women, especially in Africa.

Thank you Jessica for this readout from the 4th AFF! I'm proud to share the Feminist title with such brave and intelligent women from all over Africa and indeed the world!

As Ghandi stated: “You must become the change you wish to see in the world.
“You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty. Then
“Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values
And your values become your destiny.
“The future depends on what you do today."
So women are rising unafraid of the light as Mandela taught us not to fear the light; appearing as we are and being as we appear, as Rumi would say. It is only our birth right to be free and claim our power.

I am a middle-aged white writer and filmmaker from far away Seattle, yet when I read of your struggle and accomplishments, my heart resonates and my spirit rises. We all face the same frailty and rage, the same sorrow in the heart of humanity. The song you are singing is carrying far. It lightens even the hearts of those as far away as this.

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood

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