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.
Souad T. Ali
The intersecting histories of African women artists are often found in three historical categories: traditional/classical, modern, and contemporary. As historical categories they mark the transitions in conceptualizations of gender, race, and class. Treated as a linear progression of history, these categories may, on the one hand, be useful in understanding the radical impact of imperialism and colonialism on African societies and specifically African women and their creative practices. On the other hand, however, they obscure the intricacies of intertwined creative practice, separating urban and cosmopolitan art forms from rural, localized ones, drawing more attention to art that circulates in market-driven international exhibitions, making it harder to comprehend and account for nuanced historical narratives of African women artists. Furthermore, the hangover of hypermasculine colonial bureaucratic structures not only displaced African histories but more specifically silenced gendered perspectives on art and creative practice in general. The modern African nation, though liberated, confined women to colonially constructed gendered spaces. However, through nationalist ideologies the figure of the woman—or at least as male artists generally portrayed her—came to symbolize rebirth and the rising nation. This artistic rendition of women did not materialize into the formal recognition of the work of women artists, making it possible to declare that “African women artists remain unknown to the Western world,” as art historian Freida Tesfagiorgis states. This is affirmed by the sparse literature on African women artists and analyses of their work. There are more resources about internationally recognized contemporary women artists than there are about modern women artists or women whose work has been foundational in the so-defined traditional category. These categories, then, are indicative not only of the gaps in art history but also of the incongruent methodological approaches to how that gendered history is constructed. In this article, these categories are used loosely to reflect on gender and creative practice in Africa.
Robtel Neajai Pailey
Though deeply contested, citizenship has come to be defined in gender-inclusive terms both as a status anchored in law, with attendant rights and resources, and as agency manifested in active political participation and representation. Scholars have argued that gender often determines how citizenship rights are distributed at household, community, national, and institutional levels, thereby leaving women with many responsibilities but few resources and little representation. Citizenship laws in different parts of Africa explicitly discriminate based on ethnicity, race, gender and religion, with women bearing the brunt of these inequities. In particular, African women have faced structural, institutional, and cultural barriers to ensuring full citizenship in policy and praxis, with contestations in the post-independence era centering around the fulfillment of citizenship rights embedded in law, practice, and lived experience. While African women’s concerns about their subjective roles as equal citizens were often sidelined during nationalist liberation movements, the post-independence era has presented more meaningful opportunities for women in the continent to demand equality of access to citizenship rights, resources, and representation. In contemporary times, a number of local, national, continental, and transnational developments have shaped the contours of the battle for women’s citizenship equality, including the prominence of domestic women’s movements; national constitutional reviews and revisions processes; electoral quotas; female labor force participation; and feminism as a unifying principle of gender justice. African women have had to overcome constraints imposed on them not only by patriarchy, but also by histories of slavery, colonialism, structural adjustment, land dispossession, militarism, and neoliberalism. They have often been subordinated in the domestic or private sphere, with gendered values and norms then undermining their agency in the public sphere. Although African women have managed to secure some political, socio-economic, and cultural rights, resources, and representation, this has certainly not been the panacea for achieving full equality of citizenship or gender justice.
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.
Curriculum studies is a field that addresses the sociopolitical, historical, and cultural norms and values that impact the classrooms and corridors of schools and their interrelated systems of schooling. Questions of curricula, the formal (what is meant to be taught), the null (what is not taught), the enacted (what is learned through interactions), and the hidden (what is learned through cultural norms) are significant to curriculum studies and are entangled with local and less local histories, politics, and cultures. Sociocultural precepts such as race, gender, and sexual orientation are therefore enmeshed with these forms of curriculum. The study of how race, gender, and sexual orientation are related is therefore at once historical and contemporary in its significance. To understand the relationship between these ideas is to follow lines from Title IX, the Meriam Report, the exclusion of certain terms from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, redlining, and other significant national policies and practices that impact schools and the curriculum. Finally, while it may be easy to falsely split questions of race from questions of gender or sexual orientation, an attention to how intersectional identities impact the curriculum becomes especially significant to disrupting colonial, sexist, racist, homophobic, and transphobic norms and values that often render the fe-male body as property of the cis-hetero patriarchy. Within these intersectional dialogues, curriculum studies scholars often find the important tools for dismantling and discussing normalized marginalization in schools and across systems of schooling as they touch and are touched by local and less local communities.
What in contemporary parlance we would call African American feminisms has been a politics and activism communal in its orientation, addressing the rights and material conditions of women, men, and children since the first Dutch slaver brought captive Africans to Jamestown, Virginia in 1619. Although Black women would not have used the terms “feminist” or “feminism,” which did not enter into use until what is recognized now as the first wave of feminism, scholars have been using those terms for the past two decades to refer to Black women’s activism in the United States stretching at least as far back as the 1830s with the oratory and publications of Maria Stewart and the work of African American women in abolition and church reform. Alongside and in many ways enabled by crucial forms of resistance to slavery, Black women developed forms of feminist activism and a political culture that advanced claims for freedom and rights in a number of arenas. Yet our historical knowledge of 19th-century Black feminist activism has been limited by historiographical tendencies. Histories of American feminism have tended to marginalize Black feminisms by positioning these activists as contributing to a white-dominant narrative, focused on woman’s rights and suffrage. The literature on African American feminism has tended to hail the Black women’s club movement of the late 19th century as the emergence of that politics. Though many people may recognize only a handful of 19th-century African American feminists by name and reputation, early Black feminism was multiply located and extensive in its work. African American women continued the voluntary work that benevolent and mutual aid societies had begun in the late 18th century and established literary societies during the early 19th century; they entered Black nationalist debates over emigration and advocated for the self-sufficiency and education of their communities, including women; and they fought to end slavery and the repressive racialized violence that accompanied it in free states and continued through the nadir. Throughout the century, African American feminists negotiated competing and often conflicting demands within interracial reform movements like abolition, woman’s rights, and temperance, and worked to open the pulpit, platform, press, and politics to Black women’s voices.
Catherine R. Squires
Angela Yvonne Davis is an American-born, internationally acclaimed intellectual, activist, and icon. Davis’s groundbreaking work and generative theorizing synthesizes Marxist, feminist, critical race, and cultural studies to illuminate workings of power. Her many books, articles, and essays pose crucial questions that have inspired the work of generations of scholars, cultural workers, and activists. Spanning from the late 1960s to the early 21st century, her writings and speeches have provided rich understandings of history, justice, representation, identity, and resistance.