An Awakening of African Women

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Every morning, an African woman somewhere wakes up to the realization of her potential. She realizes that she has a story that needs to be told. Maybe she is driven by passion. Or perhaps a purpose. Or simply knowing that you have the power to change something around you.

Over the last decade or so, there has been a lot more involvement of women in the political and socio-economic affairs in our country. From being at the helm of some major government bodies to advocating for social change within their various communities.

Today’s African women are awakening to this realization.


A Truly Feminist Perspective

Let’s take a famous role model, like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Chimamanda has given people a clearer understanding of the idea of feminism.

She defines a feminist as ‘a person who believes in the political, social and economic equality of the sexes.’

So many people are dragging a philosophy that was created to facilitate gender equality and twisting it into “trendy feminism.” Sadly, many of these are going against the very purpose of feminism’s conception. Feminism isn’t about making women stronger. Women are already strong. It’s about changing the way that the world sees that strength.

Through her work and her characters, Chimamanda has been able to tell the African woman’s story from the African woman’s perspective. She is an amazing novelist and fiction writer, and her work has actually inspired a certain project of mine.


Celebrated African women - Nigerian writer Chimamanda Adichie gestures in Lagos, Nigeria

Celebrated African women – Nigerian writer Chimamanda Adichie gestures in Lagos, Nigeria

African Women on the Rise?

Being African means having a full weight of stereotypes against your favor. Let me start with the fact that our skin has been admonished for centuries (and still is). Today, we’ve got beautiful ebony beauties like Lupita Nyong’o slaying the silver screen and glowing on red carpets in Hollywood. We have Stacie Aamito and Alek Wek walking runways in high-end fashion for names like J. Mendel and Marc Jacobs. But those doesn’t mean things are already where they should be.

African women have very frequently been stereotyped to be lazy and very often been referred to as “perpetual gold diggers”. There’re loads of exceptional women who are getting their own as entrepreneurs. Some of them are even doing so while simultaneously tackling social issues.

Bernice Dapah, for instance, founded the Ghana Bamboo Bikes Initiative that addresses climate change, poverty, rural-urban migration and youth unemployment. The initiative creates jobs for young people, especially women, through the building of high-quality bamboo bicycles.

And then we’ve got women like Uganda’s Esther Kalenzi who woke up one morning and said underprivileged children can have a life as good as any other person. She started the 40 Days under 40 Smiles Foundation.

But another crucial factor to remember is that right now, only two out of 54 African countries are being led by women. We do have two female African heads-of- state. This pathetically imbalanced proportion is being read by some as women being on the rise. This is laughable, particularly when one remembers that women constitute over half of the population in most countries in Africa. Imagine if after the independence struggles only two out of the 54 countries were being led by Africans. I do not think that would be read as Africans being on the rise.


The Need for Social Transformation

For women to be on the rise, whatever the woman leader does must trickle down to other women. This means we have to change and transform the colonial structures imposed on the African social landscape. We need to transform the modern state, organized religion, and global capitalism. We need to reinvent male-privileging institutions that oppress women at personal and communal levels.

When we say African women are on the rise, we need to be sure if we are talking about leadership or structure. It is good that the number of women in positions of authority in Africa is increasing. But for this to constitute a rise in the definition and lives of women in Africa, the structure that produces what is called a person, man, woman, and power has to change. After that, you can begin to ask if the emergence of women like Ellen Sirleaf-Johnson and Joyce Banda means a rise for women of Africa.

All in all, African women need to know their self-worth before they can let anybody else tell them who they are or what they are capable of. They need to learn against their own stereotypes, against the structures that disempower them.

It’s not an overnight process. There are no shortcuts. It requires a lot of hard work. But it’s all worthwhile, because when a woman’s self-esteem changes for the better, the rest of her life does too.


Celebrated African Women - President of Malawi, Joyce Banda

Celebrated African Women – President of Malawi, Joyce Banda