M is for Maya Angelou

ImageWho stared down Jim Crow and shone across oceans piercing hearts with shards of light. Unfettered and luminescent in a world darkened by the fallacies of hatred. Who cradled the shattered dreams of brown girls and boys in graceful arms and bottomless heart. Who lived to protect and extol the wonders of the worlds and words obliterated from history. The caged bird sings forever in my heart. ❤ 


Amina Mama – some resources

The following resources are available online:

1. Mama, A. & Salo, E. Talking about Feminism in Africa


2. Where we must stand: African women in an age of war


3. Amina Mama on Gender, religion and militarism


4. What does it mean to do feminist research in Africa




A is for Amina Mama : 4 Lessons we can learn from her


Born in Kaduni, Nigeria in 1958 Professor Mama co-founded the African Gender Institute which ran one of South Africa’s foremost gender studies academic programs. At AGI she oversaw the establishment of the journal Feminist Africa. You can access, read and download ALL this insightful content here> http://agi.ac.za/journals Topics from e-politics, peace-building, livelihoods as well as sexual and reproductive rights are covered by authors who span the continent and Diaspora.

What can we learn from Prof. Mama?

1. Feminism is the politics of love

My early life, like most peoples’, was not consciously political and I did not grow up identifying as either ‘African’ or as ‘feminist’. However, I was made aware that I did not behave the way I was expected to as a young girl growing up in one of Nigeria’s northern states. I studied too much, played too hard, and was much more assertive and confident than most of my peers. I also had different ambitions, nurtured by the kind of family I grew up in.

A sense of justice cannot be taught or forced onto people, it is innate but it can either be destroyed or nurtured depending on the room we give our children to BE. Imagine how many Aminas are born daily but their ambitions are not validated?

2. Women and men need to fight militarism TOGETHER

War and the male domination of political and economic arenas are inseparable. The kidnapping of 234 school girls by Boko Haram is but one of the many instances that remind us how women and girls serve as collateral in these senseless wars and how violence is used to uphold systems that despise the diversity that makes our world so beautiful. 

Open conflict is only the surface eruption of much deeper-seated contradictions, vivid ulcers on the skin of an unhealthy body politic governed by a militarist mindset. The roots of these eruptions include complicated webs of economic, cultural and political malaise. Militarism is not just about men with guns, or wars, or the blistering legacies of the past. It lays out a future ordained by economic decisions that neglect social development and justice, and perpetuate the stark stratifications and gendered inequalities that militarism at once relies on and perpetuates..

African women and men need to stand side by side if we are to seen an end to the injustices we live with daily. This means acknowledging how militarism harms and imagining more constructive means of putting forward our ideas.

3. Own your femininity 

Women are weavers, we are very good and building links and making connections.

Women are socialized to be home-makers and social beings. This has often been used as a justification to exclude women from leadership positions as well as from the arenas of politics and the economy. However, the traits that are often laughed off as effeminate; being emotional, expressive etc contribute to the problem solving capabilities women have and our reserve of skills.

4. The persecution of women didn’t stop with the Crusades

Myths are often used to justify the subjugation of women, especially the opinionated  and talented ones. The witch is an archetype that is often used to marginalize women who don’t conform to social expectations. Professor Mama has co-produced The Witches of Gambaga which looks into the lives of women marginalized by myth. Please see the trailer here: http://www.witchesofgambaga.com/trailer/

Maternal healthcare in Africa history

Image from Kentake page
Image from Kentake page

The above image, seen on the Kentake Facebook page changed my perspective about maternal healthcare in Africa. Western medical practitioners often treat African health care as primitive and outdated when there is a long history of herbalists, surgeons and a range of healers that we can learn from. With such high maternal mortality rates on the continent we can surely learn from our forebears. The Ebbers Papyrus is an amazing resource in this regard. It contains information about how the Ancient Egyptians tested fertility, made childbirth comfortable for women. The resources in the links below discuss a number of practices linked to childbirth including symbolism, dietary suggestions, the use of hypnosis as anaesthetic and the cultural practices of the Shona, Ewe and Yoruba amongst others.




Find the Ebbers Papyrus here:


In 1879 R. W. Felkin’s article “Notes on Labour in Central Africa” published in the Edinburgh Medical Journal, volume 20, April 1884, pages 922-930 illustrated men  performing a C-section. 


Women, Muslim Laws and Human Rights in Nigeria | Ayesha Imam

Women, Muslim Laws and Human Rights in Nigeria | Wilson Center.

Living in a post 9/11 world where media is replete with Islamophobia we are led to assume that there is a singular Islam which is repressive and embodied by the Shekaus of this world. Apart from helping us to demystify Islam and its variations Prof. Imam discusses the rise of the religious right in a number of religions (conservative outlooks) and the implications for women. This keynote address delivered at the Wilson Centre unpacks Sharia law.

These laws are commonly held to be divine laws. However, they are not divine but merely religious, being based on human – mostly male – interpretations of divine revelation.



‘For Bessie Head’ by Ama Ata Aidoo

A is for Ama Ata Aidoo, Ghanaian poet. Her other major works include hanaian professor, author, playwright and poet. Her major works include Anowa (1970) which is attached, No Sweetness Here (1970), Our Sister’s Killjoy (1977), and Reflections from a Black-Eyed Squint (1977

Kinna Reads

The following was written by Ama Ata Aidoo in 1988.

For Bessie Head

To begin with
there’s the small problem of address:

calling you
by the only name some of us
knew you by,

hailing you by titles
you could not possibly
have cared for,

referring you to
strange and clouded
origins that eat into
our past our pain
like prize-winning cassava tubers in
abandoned harvest fields…

Some of us never ever met you.

And who would believe
that but those who know
the tragedies of our land
visions unopening and other such
abortions are
every day reality?

To continue a
confession of sorts,

‘Miss Head’ will just not do
‘Bessie’ too familiar
Bessie Head,

your face swims into focus
through soft clouds of
cigarette smoke and from behind the
much much harder barriers erected by some
quite unbelievable
20th. century philosophy,

saying more of
your strength

View original post 222 more words

Lessons in race and African feminism – Sunday Independent | IOL.co.za

The idea to start the African Feminist Encyclopedia came about after Prof. Elaine Salo wrote this piece, published by the Sunday Independent. She wrote in response to a disgusting and incredibly denigrating article written by then University of Pretoria philosophy lecturer Louise Mabille who wrote a paper entitled “The puzzling feminist betrayal”, Mabille argues that feminists should be grateful for the arrival of Western (read white) civilisation, European feminism and Christianity of the Calvinist variety.”

See the article below:

Comment on this story

IOL SI Elaine Salo08ETCH

Independent Newspapers.

Elaine Salo.

“I say!” murmured Horton. “I’ve never heard tell

Of a small speck of dust that is able to yell.

So you know what I think?…Why, I think that there must

Be someone on top of that small speck of dust!

Some sort of a creature of very small size, too small to be seen by an elephant’s eyes…

“…some poor little person who’s shaking with fear

That she’ll get hurt by the blacks! She has no thought to steer!

I’ll just have to educate her and set her straight…. Because, after all,

A person’s a person, no matter how small.”

 With apologies to Dr Seuss and Horton Hears a Who

The most striking aspect of the race furore that erupted about Dr Louise Mabille’s article, posted on the website Praag, was not so much the extent of her racism but the muted nature of the storm and the time it took for many of us to read and comprehend the original article she had posted on the right-wing Afrikaans website.

The time lag, and the limited extent of Mabille’s engagement with feminisms, are reminiscent of the small world of the Whos, which Horton the elephant becomes aware of only when he “heard a very small noise”.

The noises Mabille makes would have gone unnoticed, just like the Whos’, except we should be concerned that her woeful scholarly parochialism, paraded with such arrogant aplomb, is the work of an intellectual with a doctorate in political philosophy who claims to be a feminist.

More worrying is that she taught humanities students in a university setting until her recent resignation.

The intellectual paucity of her argument is surreal given the expectation that she would, like any reasonable scholar, keep abreast of developments in her field.

Mabille is not alone – the intellectual underdevelopment displayed here is so disappointingly commonplace and reflects exposure to a narrow genealogy of scholarly traditions.

In a paper entitled “The puzzling feminist betrayal”, Mabille argues that feminists should be grateful for the arrival of Western (read white) civilisation, European feminism and Christianity of the Calvinist variety.

Feminists should know, she continues, that women’s rights originated in European contexts where the gallantry of knights was commonplace, because these men respected women.

European Christian Calvinist intellectual traditions provide us with freedoms from the excesses of African polygamists, and African cultures where baby rape is normal, as well as freedom from misogynistic Muslims.

The Calvinist Afrikaner tradition even allowed women to own property!

She is left confused that contemporary feminists would throw their lot in with the left, the Third World, criminals and Muslims, when the Afrikaner, Calvinist and white traditions have provided women with so many freedoms.

The spuriousness of the argument presented in Mabille’s article and the paucity of intellectual sources informs the racism expressed here.

The scholarly sources sparsely cited here are marshalled in ramshackle logic that stacks up tropes of whiteness recursively without any effort to explain the relationship between them.

My concern is that Mabille presents a number of tropes for whiteness and for white fears that she knows will resonate profoundly with a sizeable homogeneous audience.

Mabille’s arguments resonate powerfully with the hoary old South African fears about the rooi gevaar (the communists), ongelowiges (unbelievers) and the swart gevaar (the black danger). It seems that like Horton and the Whos, Mabille lives in a parallel temporal universe unrelated to my own, despite our physical proximity, located as we were on the same floor, separated by three offices.

The feminist tradition I was introduced to drew on the works of European feminists such as Simone De Beauvoir, Emma Goldman, Alexandra Kollontai, Virginia Wolfe and contemporary North American Cynthia Enloe, Catherine McKinnon and Mary Daly. None of these women, however, engaged with race or the intersectional identities of women of colour.

African-American feminists such as Sojourner Truth, Audre Lorde, bell hooks and Elizabeth Spelman resonated more profoundly with my own experiences as they insisted upon the recognition of racism in shaping black femininities and black women’s struggles.

However, it was both personal experience in the anti-apartheid women’s struggle and through reading South African women such as Olive Schreiner, Charlotte Maxeke, Fatima Meer, Emma Mashinini, Jacky Cock, Isobel Hofmeyer, Jenny Schreiner, Phyllis Ntantala, Ellen Kuzwayo, Zoe Wicomb and more recently, Mmatshilo Motsei, that I knew I had come home.

I was enriched by the doyennes of a homegrown South African feminist tradition that takes account of women’s race, social statuses, geographies, sexualities and personal histories.

In the anti-apartheid women’s struggle I was inspired by the pragmatic maternal feminism of women such as Albertina Sisulu, the women in the Black Sash and the more radical activist feminist tradition of Elizabeth van der Westhuizen and Emma Mashinini in the educational sector and trade union tradition. I continue to draw inspiration from a veritable continent of African feminist thinkers living and writing on a continent that many South African scholars located exclusively within the Eurocentric tradition barely know of, or whom they often dismiss. They are poorer for imagining this intellectual tradition as being so shallow as to dismiss it or so primitive and backward that it had no history before the arrival of the Europeans.

The canon of African male intellectuals in the social sciences such as Franz Fanon, Amilcar Cabral, Samir Amin, Archie Mafeje, Ben Magubane, Paulin Hontoundji, Thandika Mkandiwire, Mahmoud Mamdani, Ebrima Sall, Adebayo Olukushi and Paul Zaleza would barely get a mention in many curricula, while African feminists would receive the merest whisper.

Those scholars who ignore these intellectual traditions from the continent are deserving of pity because they deny themselves the joy of discovering other humanistic traditions. The scary part is that they are let loose to teach young people.

The quality of the Mabille article presents an excellent case why humanities students must gain access to other intellectual traditions in South African universities. This can be accomplished only through the promotion of multilingualism, and curriculum transformation which emphasises the multi-sited diverse character of humanist traditions beyond an exclusive Eurocentric focus.

The ongoing debate that looms large is what type of humanities curriculum we want for our students so that they are able to understand the histories of diverse intellectual traditions, and become acquainted with the history of African intellectual thought in the humanities.

Our students need to be introduced to these diverse traditions if they are to resolve seemingly intractable problems such as unequal development and inequality; social conflict and weak states; environmental degradation; climate change; the material effects of hate speech; and so on.

They need to know about the contribution of civilisations in the south to human development and belief systems, the meanings of environment and ecology in society, the tolerance of difference and the importance of the social contract.

Louise Mabille’s impoverished view on the world and on feminists is the sad consequence of our Humanities curricula’s failure to diversify and introduce students to the wealth of intellectual traditions available beyond the European canon.

In the meantime, in the interest of public education on African feminist intellectual traditions, here is an introductory ABC on African feminisms beyond South Africa:

A is for Ama Ata Aidoo, Amina Mama, Ayesha Imam, Akosua Ampofu

B is for Bessie Head, Bolanle Awe, Bisi Fayemi

C is for Charmaine Pereira, Calyxthe Beyela, Cynthia Mugo, Chimananda Ngozi Adichie

D is for Dzodzi Tsikata, Doria Shafik

E is for Eleanor Sisulu, Embet Mulugeta

F is for Fatima Mernissi, Filomena Steady, Flora Makwa, Fenella Mukungara

G is for Gertrude Fester (based in Rwanda)

H is for Huda Sharawi, Hamza, Amal

I is for Isabel Casimiro, Ibitola Tolu Pierce

J is for Josephine Akhire, Jessica Horn, Jessie Kabwila Kapasula

K is for Khaxas, Elizabeth

L is for Liz Frank

M is for Molara Ogundipe, Margaret Munalula, Mariama Ba, Marjorie Mbilinyi

N is for Nawal el Sadaawi, Nabuwiyya Musa, Nobantu Ratsebotsa

O is for Obioma Nnaemeka, Onalenna Selolwane, Oyeronke Oyewumi

P is for Pat McFadden

R is for Rudo Gaidzanwa, Ruth Meena, Ruth Ochieng

S is for Sheila Bunwaree, Shailja Patel, Sylvia Tamale, Sara Longwe, Sandra Manuel

T is for Tsitsi Dangarembga, Therese Cruz e Silva, Takiywaa Manuh

U is for Unity Dow

V is for Veronica de Klerk

W is for Wangaari Mathaai, Winnie Binyanyima

Y is for Yvonne Vera, Yasmina Faull

Z is for Zenebeworke Tadesse, Zo Rriandriamaro, Zubeida Tumbo Masabo.

– Salo is the director of the Institute for Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Pretoria.

Lessons in race and African feminism – Sunday Independent | IOL.co.za.

What is Ufeministi?

Ufeministi means feminism in Kiswahili. A Bantu language, Swahili inflections are found in many tongues South of the Sahara. This blog takes its name from the Swahili translation. Nadharia ya ufeministi means feminist theory is Kiswahili, this platform (an extension of the African Feminist Encyclopedia https://www.facebook.com/groups/542572595796023/?ref=br_tf ) seeks to explore and hopefully expand this body of work inspired by unlikely sources.



Not another ism: who needs African Feminism?

Feminism is

Who needs feminism? Why complicate this ism further by categorizing it as African / Asian / Third World, etc Feminism?

The answer to these questions is simple; in the words of bell hooks, Feminism is for everybody. Irrespective of sex, gender, race, class, geography, sexuality or any imaginable way human beings have been classified through the ages, feminism is FOR you. Feminism is not simply about women. It is not about women versus men, it is not about quotas. It is not another boring rehashing of the perceived differences between men and women. Feminism is not about women trying to be men, dominate them or vying for their obsolescence.  It is especially not evil.

Feminism is about dismantling systems of oppression in all their forms and whatever their bases. ‘Locating’ this dismantling in identity constructs (African / Muslim/ Queer etc) is a means of ensuring that the oppressed (including those who aren’t aware of their oppression) are instrumental in attaining their freedom, that they understand and assume their role as agents, not passive recipients. Paolo Freire once said, “The oppressed must be their own example in the struggle for their redemption.”  It is thus necessary to affirm all people, to affirm their essence and the worlds they weave

Unfortunately, human history is not a long sequence of positive affirmations. Instead, it is filled with instances of dominant groups mistreating, maiming, mutilating, objectifying, lynching and dehumanizing groups they deem inferior. This is largely justified on the basis of the way people look with those deemed superior inflicting force and imposing their ideas. After all, they sit at the top end of the scales of codification. Throughout history, physical difference was so magnified in popular imagination and entrenched in psyches that it became instrumental in the curtailing of freedom, a tendency that has characterized ‘modernity’ and colonialism. The emphasis of difference and its supposed value ripens social relations for racist, sexist, imperialist and totalitarian orders’ picking.

Biological sex, a key aspect of our appearance tends to be the primary basis upon which human beings are ‘classified’ from birth. It largely determines what you will be named; expectations of your dress code, how you are treated and the spaces you can and cannot access, to name a few. This largely has to do with perceived strengths and weaknesses which place men and women on opposite ends of a false dichotomy.  Archaic myths persist to this day such as: “Men are rational, women are emotional,” “Men are providers and women are home-makers,” “Instead of being goal oriented, women are relationship oriented”, “cowboys don’t cry,” “you throw like a girl,” “a wo/man can’t do that” “African women are submissive,” “African women are very fertile” “Black men are abusive” etc etc.

Why even harp on about feminism (let alone a geographically specific hybrid) when there’s racist and class-based oppression to deal with, you may ask. Because it is absurd that in 2014 we are still talking about quotas, that rape is more likely than unlikely and that we are still protesting the illogical dehumanization of people on the basis of physical traits. The systems we are trying to untangle are founded on institutional chauvinism, the support for one’s group, cause or sex at the expense of others. An African Feminist outlook can help us to discredit this chauvinism, unpack our hurt and do some much needed healing. This is necessary in a political-economy that was built on emasculation and infantilization, where men are called boys even when they have fathered, where brute force has long been a means of governance and asserting power. Our violent past, marked by brute hyper-masculinity, echoes in the misdeeds we daily commit to each other.

I have tried on numerous occasions to explain to friends and family why feminism is the lens though which I assess the world and my experiences on various levels; inter-personally, with family, community, politics, economics and geography. I like to think of feminism as a toolbox with the spanners, screws, hammers, nuts, bolts and spanners I need to take a system or situation apart and put it back together. Each situation needs to be tackled by the right tool; this is not to imply that feminism is simply a reactionary mechanism.  Similarly, there is no singular feminism; it is a fluid system of ideas and ideals which cannot be imposed but lived.

African feminism is an effort to transcend the myths which are compounded by racial, geographic, religious and other stereotypes. It is about the pursuit and use of spaces to construct and live limitless archetypes. It is an ode to the validity of dreams of boys and girls of every hue and strand to live, to subvert, to decide, to protest, to love, to BE. Feminism is for black boys rendered bulls-eyes, criminalized and marked by melanin, for cultures deemed inferior and silenced by gun-claps, for philosophies skimmed over at the end of courses.

Feminism is about the preservation and respect for human autonomy. It is about the need many bodies and body-politics share to escape the brutal history where victor defines vanquished, where everything and everyone is classed by appearance and equivalent value given.   This aspiration, this desire to transcend phenotype, is why I need to locate my feminism in Africa. To trace it in the steps of women and men who practiced trades so numerous and so advanced history cowered in their shadow and sought to silence them. My feminism is not bound to continent, it straddles lands, swims oceans and ascends peaks. My feminism is transcendental, catching ripples from Mayan priestesses and Salam witch trialists. My feminism is mine, it is at the intersection of the dimensions that make me, in the words of Elaine Salo it is “enriched by the doyennes of a homegrown South African feminist tradition that takes account of women’s race, social statuses, geographies, sexualities and personal histories.”

Feminism is for every body.

Find bell hooks here>>: http://checkprivilege.tumblr.com/post/64670035226/newwavefeminism-readabookson-aint-i-a-woman