What does it mean to be a feminist today in Africa? Senegalese scholar and writer Rama Salla Dieng tries to answer the question in the collection of interviews African feminisms, a decolonial history (African presence, 2021). His compatriot Mame-Fatou Ndiang, director of the documentary Black MarianneEgyptian human rights activist Yara Sallam, Amal Bint Nadia, moderator of the #EnaZeda movement (Tunisian Me Too), or Ghanaian Nana Darkoa, co-founder of the blog on sexuality “Adventures from the bedrooms of African women” present their commitments and talk about their ongoing struggles.
It took several round trips to definitely set an appointment with Rama Salla Dieng, herself an activist. Setbacks which illustrate, according to this lecturer in international development and African studies at the University of Edinburgh (Scotland), the mental burden which weighs more and more heavily on women since the arrival of Covid-19.
Jeune Afrique: Can we estimate the date of the emergence of feminism in Africa?
Rama Salla Dieng : African feminisms are as old as the continent itself, they existed even before the appearance of this term. There have always been women and men who wanted to move the lines, to work for women’s rights. The first university in the world, for example, was created by an African woman, the Moroccan Fatima al-Fihriya.
But often the focus has been on elite personalities with the ability to make their voices heard, and this other form of domination was at the expense of other women, who were not from noble rank, who were sometimes uneducated.
You emphasize the need to historicize African feminist movements. Is it this need that motivated your approach?
The objective was to reach out to African feminists and let them themselves create a feminist historiography of the continent and its diaspora. It’s not that women’s voices didn’t exist until now, it’s that they’ve been silenced by a way of telling the story that deliberately put men’s voices in the forefront – simply because that most historians were men.
African and Southern feminists reject white privilege and refuse the homogenization of women
It’s the same thing in politics: women have always been present in this field, but as men dominate the parties, they do not have priority to express themselves. It is often said that marginalized groups are silent, while society is not able to listen to them, to understand their political vision.
Your book denounces the domination of Western feminism over those of the South. What are their main points of difference?
The difference is mainly the recognition of a patriarchy which is the product of a triple heritage: indigenous, stemming from monotheistic religions and colonial. African and Southern feminists reject white privilege, highlight the racial question and the refusal of the homogenization of women.
Some of the new generation of African feminists are also daring to express their feminism creatively, away from this heavy legacy, to put issues of well-being and mental health, or sexual pleasure, first.
The great similarity of experiences between feminists from the South has an impact on their modes of action. They use morenetworking, there is more sisterhood, because these activists are aware that they belong to something bigger. However, there remain differences in the priority battles to be waged, in feminist ideologies too, both in Africa and in the West.
What are these differences?
Across Africa, feminists face common scourges: gender-based violence (GBV), unequal pay, and lack of access to productive resources like land. The differences that exist are daughters of their time and their society. For example, if inequalities at work and discrimination against LGBTQI people are a constant everywhere, activists in West Africa, Central Africa and some in North Africa are still fighting for the revision of the code. of the family and are interested in access to safe abortion and the criminalization of GBV. In other countries like South Africa, legal provisions exist constitutionally for queer people, but the fact remains that these people suffer daily violence.
Feminists are often harassed online and sometimes cut themselves off from those around them
Why, beyond their struggles, do you ask your interlocutors about their well-being routines?
This is a question that I ask in a very political way. Our radical social transformation projects – fighting patriarchal power, launching collective actions with the aim of transforming society in depth – are far-reaching. In addition, feminists are often insulted and harassed online because they have radically different points of view and some sometimes cut themselves off from their family or those around them because of these differences.
The majority of people I’ve spoken to have wellness rituals and prioritize their mental and physical health. They recognize that they need moments of silence, of disconnection to be able to carry out this long-term work.
You call on readers to embody a feminist policy in interpersonal, community, friendly, family and professional relationships. How to do it concretely?
Feminism is something that we must live on a daily basis. We must unlearn the part of sexism that we have been instilled in us from an early age, ask ourselves how we educate our daughters, how we prepare them to be future wives or mothers or how we limit their ambitions. We must also ask ourselves why a man who takes part in the education of his children is considered weak, why toxic masculinity prevents certain people from playing their roles.
We also need to look at the root causes of these social norms and imagine what potential might emerge if we challenge these ways of doing and thinking together.