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African Feminist Thought  

Amina Mama

African feminist thought refers to the dynamic ideas, reflections, theories and other expressions of intellectual practices by politically radical African women concerned with liberating Africa by focusing women’s liberation, and as such cannot be easily defined or captured. However, the conditions out of which Africa’s feminist movements form, and the intellectual labor that they carry out in the pursuit of women’s rights and freedoms can be explored and discussed. African feminist thought is the potentially limitless product of movements that are themselves constantly in the making, succeeding in changing the conditions of their formation by their very existence. African feminist political thought can be traced to the world’s women’s movements that formed in the context of transnational liberal and emancipatory political discourses of the late 19th and 20th centuries of European empire. Out of these liberal emancipatory reformist, international labor, communist, socialist revolutionary, and Pan-African Diasporic and African nationalist movements were all formed. However, following the flag independence of over fifty nation-states, women who joined the anti-colonial freedom movements have had to pursue further struggles in independent nation-states, because Africa’s new states often hesitated or reverted to conservative patriarchal views when it came to extending freedom and equality to African women. It is as citizens of new nations that 20th century African women have formed independent feminist movements that continue to demand freedom, equality and rights, for example, by seeking freedom of movement, political representation, educational and economic equality, and perhaps most commonly of all, freedom from sex and gender-based violence. Contemporary publications and writings by African feminists are the primary sources consulted here, because of the need to correct the spurious mis-representation of African feminism as “un-African,” a position that hinges on the definition of feminism as exclusively Western. This view is advanced by conservative African men and women who seek the restoration of pre-colonial cultures, as well as in some of the early scholarly literature on the subject. African feminism is a radical proposition: it refers to the liberatory political philosophies, theories, writings, research and cultural production, as well as the organizing work of the transnational community of feminists from Africa. These respond to objective conditions of global systemic inequality that have led African women to resume the struggle for freedom and liberation. African feminists in 2019 identify with earlier generations of women freedom fighters but enunciate visions of a future in which the women of Africa will be afforded human rights and freedoms, on a continent liberated from a global neoliberal capitalist system that continues to marginalize the vast majority of the world’s peoples and exploits natural and human resources to a degree that now threatens planetary survival.

Article

Ba, Mariama  

Souad T. Ali

Mariama Ba was a renowned feminist, author, and advocate for women’s rights in her home country of Senegal, Africa, and globally. After attending and thriving at the French École Normale postsecondary school for girls, Ba became a teacher and education inspector for many years. Ba went on to write two novels: So Long a Letter, originally published in 1979, and Scarlet Song, published in 1981. Both novels are critical of polygamy in African life and examine the various ways in which women deal with similar situations, celebrate sisterhood, and demonstrate that there is no right or wrong way to be a feminist. Mariama Ba’s texts demonstrate clear criticism of the polygamous society she grew up in and the abuse of religion by some men to further their agenda. Ba’s essay, “The Political Functions of Written African Literatures,” describes her belief that a writer should be political and serve as a critic of surrounding society and misogynist practices. Mariama Ba’s personal life clearly influenced her written works, a topic that has been thoroughly examined in much of the scholarly literature that has been written about her. Ba did not try to define feminism. Rather, she understood that it is different for every woman and is a reflection of background, culture, history, and religion. Ba believed it was her mission as a writer to be a voice for the most vulnerable members of society. Ba was a leader in emerging global feminism and created written works that discussed topics that cross cultural barriers and demonstrate the unity of humanity.

Article

Tsitsi Dangarembga  

Anne Gulick

Tsitsi Dangarembga is Zimbabwe’s first Black female novelist and is now one of the most well-known writers in the canons of Zimbabwean, anglophone African, and postcolonial women’s literature. Her 1988 Nervous Conditions has become one of the most widely read and widely taught novels in the African literary canon. Dangarembga’s published literary works include one play (She No Longer Weeps, 1987), three novels (Nervous Conditions, 1988; The Book of Not, 2006; and This Mournable Body, 2018), two short stories (“The Letter,” 1985; and “Jana Dives,” 2022), and one essay collection (Black and Female: Essays, 2022). Nervous Conditions won the 1989 Commonwealth Writers Prize (Africa Region); This Mournable Body was short-listed for the Booker Prize in 2020, and since then Dangarembga has won the 2021 German Publishers and Booksellers Association’s Peace Prize, the 2021 PEN Pinter Prize, and the 2022 Windham Campbell Literature Prize for fiction. Dangarembga is also one of Zimbabwe’s most prominent filmmakers. The owner of her own production company, Nyerai Films, she has written, directed, or produced over twenty films, including Everyone’s Child (1996), On the Border (2000), Hard Earth: Land Rights in Zimbabwe (2001), Kare Kare Zvako: Mother’s Day (2004), High Hopes (2010), and I Want a Wedding Dress (2010). While all of Dangarembga’s published work casts a critical eye on postindependence Zimbabwean nationalism and government policy, she gained international visibility as a political activist in July 2020, when she was arrested for participating in a demonstration against the government’s persecution and arrest of journalist Hopewell Chin’ono. Dangarembga was convicted of inciting public violence in 2022; in 2023, that conviction was overturned. In 2021, she received the PEN International award for Freedom of Expression. In 2022–2023, she served as a Radcliffe Fellow at the Harvard Radcliffe Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts.