Feminism/s in Africa


Feminism/s in Africa: Theoretical and Methodological Contributions to Knowledge

“What is feminism?” was starting point of the presentation. The term tends to be used as if we all know what it means. But actually there are different schools of thought and the term is still controversial in Africa. While the reference point of feminism is often located in the West with for instance images of women burning bras it has been taken up and developed outside the West as well. In many African countries it grew out of nationalist struggles against colonialism. So what is understood by the term ‘feminism’ strongly depends on differences in focus and strategy. Apart from this Plurality of Feminism in the “Third World” (Chandra Mohanty) we find some commonalities in the different approaches. By addressing questions like “How do we characterize the relationships between men and women?” or challenging what is considered “normal” feminism is not just a set of ideas but aims to change relations between men and women for greater social justice. Looking at feminism in Africa it is important to recognize the diversity of the 54 countries and be more nuanced about using the term Africa. As every other social theory Feminism is an expression of the context out of which it is arisen and is shaped by what has been there before. Another big common issue are feminist research ethics. The pivotal questions here are how we can do research in a way that doesn’t do harm to marginalized groups, how can we engage in politics of solidarity and can feminist research (or any research really) be objective. In this context the reflexivity of the researcher’s own positionality is especially important. A problem feminist research is facing today almost everywhere but especially in Africa is scarce funding. So how can you maintain a critical perspective while working on consultancy funded research? Spaces for this kind of research has to be actively created, and networks supporting have to be built. Key theoretical and methodological contributions of feminism are for example theorizing Gender itself, showing the significance of intersectionality (e.g. class, race, gender, religion). Feminist research also contributes to theories on the politics of knowledge or linking land, labor and gendered livelihoods as well as deepening analysis of gendered subjectivity, such as masculinities. One open question we were left with after the session: If we consider Africa not a homogenous space, does it make sense to talk about an African Feminism? Or will this serve a reproduction of the famous notion of “the West and the rest”. And would we maybe find more similarities between Indian and Congolese Feminism that between Senegalese and Egyptian Feminism?

The following day, we continued with clarifying the differences between feminist theory, gender and women’s studies and discussed the questions:

  • If you are using feminist approaches, what difference has it made for your research?
  • If you are not already using feminist approaches, what differences do you think it might make for your research if you were drawing on feminist theory?

Photo Gallery on session

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