Kenyan teenage Maasai girls attend an alternative right of passage at Kilgoris, Trans Mara district, at a ceremony organised by an anti-female genital mutilation, campaign, Cherish Others Organisation. (Pic: AFP)

Africa needs a new feminism

Africa needs a new feminism. A feminism that rises from the throats of ungovernable women, rolls down the backs of intellectually curious young men, and trickles down from every corner of government to reinvigorate the cultures of our continent, cultures that were greyed out by years of colonialism and the subsequent years of preoccupied capitalism. The feminism of Africa cannot be the same as the feminism of the West.

The cries of western feminists, seemingly weighed down by the apparent woes of suburban housewifery and the very troubling issue of beauty in the mainstream media, are swallowed up by the Atlantic Ocean before the old African woman even has time to tie a hungry grandchild to her back, or the new African woman can use her entry-level salary to take care of a mismatch of relatives who Did Not Have Her Opportunities.

My feminism cannot be the same as that of my western counterpart. As tempting as it may be to sidle up next to a fellow soft-breasted twenty-year-old and talk heatedly about what Beyonce’s ‘suggestive’ gyrating means for ‘respectability politics’, I am not yet there. As fun as it appears to be to park onto a social network and turn my woes into a trending topic, I must remember my place. For my place is not the same as that of a woman in a first-world country – no matter how identical our birthdays are, no matter how “universal” female suffering is. We are not the same.

So why should my feminism be the same?

I am an Africanist. A third generation independent African, my father and mother were born just a couple of years shy of their respective countries’ heated dash from the clutches of a tired Britain. My task is not a simple task – my debt to the continent has not been paid. But I am only one of the few that realises that we owe the continent more than it does us. And I will be damned if Africa loses another young, energetic, liberated mind to the lazy glamour of participating in western feminism’s weak assault on society.

Delegations of women coming from various Malian regions attend a rally against femal genital mutilations as they sit under a banner asking for the end of excision and forced marrriage, on February 6 2014 in Bamako. (Pic: AFP)
Delegations of women from various Malian regions attend a rally against femal genital mutilations as they sit under a banner asking for the end of excision and forced marriage, on February 6 2014 in Bamako. (Pic: AFP)

African feminism has bigger fish to fry. Tasked with the burden of taking the blame for decades of societal degrade – alleged to be picking up where colonialism left off; the crumbs of African traditions are swept to the feet of the African feminist and she is expected not to accidentally crush them. When feminism or any allusion to gender equality is mentioned in a room full of traditionalists, self-proclaimed and otherwise, the voices shouting about the “un-Africanness” of a notion as simple as women’s rights are often all one can hear over the murmurs of those only beginning to find comfort in the idea.

But this cannot go on.

For all the other movements (like the pure socialism of African freedom fighters of the past)  are dead and capitalism has swept up my generation of Africans into a sea of perpetual desire, too busy copying American consumerism to actively participate in the reshaping of the African political landscape. Many more are too busy simply trying to stay afloat with western debt-collectors chopping away at their sodden feet. They cannot express interest in feminism thought processes – especially if said thought processes seem to be limited to concerns common to first-world women only.

So Africa needs a new feminism, one that recognises that the young men of this continent, though allegedly protected by the warm veil of patriarchy, are as much at risk for poverty, disease and hunger as women are; one that recognises that after two or three generations of single-parent homes, young men have little to no idea of what it means to be a man and are left to grab blindly at caricatures of sexist male figures for guidance. Africa needs a feminism that sees that it is the last original attempt to take our cultures into our own hands and shape young men and women that can lead this place away from the greedy claws of ‘foreign investors’; away from the cement-like clutches of heads of state too old to care; away from the exploitative ideologies of fly-by-night politicians.

Africa needs a new feminism, because it’s our last hope.

Siyanda Mohutsiwa is a 20-year-old Mathematics major at the University of Botswana. She blogs at Follow her on Twitter: @SiyandaWrites


  1. MattL says:

    Am I the only one supporting Cath here ?

    This whole article has been about criticising western feminism, there is very little describing what this new African feminism is actually about.

    I came across me to as rather anti-women more than anything else.

  2. Jackie says:

    Hello Siyanda
    I completely hear you. I think I would just like to see, rather than dichotomising western and African feminism, we acknowledge similarities as well as differences. Or not. Should ‘the west’ really be given so much weight? Surely there is an understanding that each person contributes to the dynamic discourse perspectives that are unique and culturally specific.

  3. Al Wright says:

    Wonderful article, Siyanda. Thank you for contributing this really considered view of feminism! It was a pleasure to read! 🙂

  4. tinashe says:

    I respect the notion but generalising young african men like that is a bit far fetched, wasnt feminism about women anyway?

  5. Cath says:

    By the way, a few questions:

    Where does the Western single mother earning minimum wage while campaigning for abortion rights fit into your idea of ‘Western feminism’?

    Where do the thousands of Western lesbian activists who have suffered corrective rape and still fight for LGBT rights fit into your idea of ‘Western feminism’?

    Where does the Western feminist with a severe impairment who works to increase the legal protection available to disabled women fit into your idea of ‘Western feminism’?

    I understand that it’s in your interests to paint Western feminism as being run by rich women who spend their time talking about Beyonce, because it makes the frankly dismal state of African feminism look better by comparison. But the fact is that, historically, the battles of Western feminism have been fought by women who were poorer and more vulnerable than you.

    Western feminism was not built by ‘soft-breasted’ undergrads.

    Western feminist was built by rape victims.

    • Siyanda says:

      Modern-day, western feminism has been weakened by its dismissal of those very demographics of feminists you have just mentioned. This is the source of my disillusionment with the movement. The centering of privileged white women as the face/voice of the movement is what has lead to its loss of depth and thus I discourage any young African women to follow too closely, the messages of commercial, contemporary western feminism and instead focus on firming and forwarding the “dismal” African feminism that I am discussing.

  6. Heinrich says:

    “-ists” and “-isms” again.

    Tell you what. As far as gender is concerned, let’s just do NOTHING. Lets say, let’s write – NOTHING.

    No genital mutilation, no dress code, no arranged marriages, no gender tick boxes on forms, no sermons, no rituals, no stereotypes, no traditions, no etiquette, no equality – no nothing.

    Let us just all be humans.

    Each one will find his / her place in society. Why force the issues?

  7. Cath says:

    ‘one that recognises that after two or three generations of single-parent homes, young men have little to no idea of what it means to be a man’

    Your attempts to disguise your lazy, bigoted heterosexism and your desperate desire to revive gender essentialist ideas of ‘what it means to be a man’ as *radical* and *uniquely African* are really transparent.

    Also, your characterisation of ‘Western’ feminists as Beyonce-obsessed tweenagers and ‘suburban housewives’ is staggeringly ignorant and insulting to generations of Western women who have been raped and beaten and socially ostracised so that you can sit back on your smug, spoiled little backside and lecture them about not caring enough about poor African women.

    Grow up and read a book.

    • Kev says:

      Cath, U just need to deal with your anger….
      Seems your approach towards Siyanda’s point of view was in itself skew…

      Its unfortunate that reality is clear but we least want it be told back to us. It will sound horrible.
      We need it told back to us in order to seriously address it.

    • Nic says:

      Cath, why are you so angry?

      Siyanda, I thought it was beautifully written, and speaks to the black consciousness movement. We should all define our own nations, instead of relying on the influence of those with loud voices and little understanding of the unique challenges of the region or people.

    • Ida says:

      Cath, this is one of those “check your privilege” situations… as a white woman, you can’t fully understand the double bind oppression of black women in Africa. I agree that we need more African feminists to share their discourses, so that we can tackle patriarchal issues that are unique to African women.

      I don’t think the author “attacks” white feminism, but merely pointing out a massive gap in literature and activism.

      You shouldn’t be angry, get on board and support this movement as you’ve been supporting Western Feminism.

    • missy says:

      Cath, I really feel you missed the point here. Siyanda is expressing a reality of what many of us fell about present-day feminism and you went ahead to rubbish it. This could have been an opportunity to learn something or perhaps try to understand a divergent view but I guess you missed that too. Too bad.

    • You do realise the writer here is a 20 year old girl who still has a lot of time to learn, unlike you with your wealth of experience. how about some gentle correction that will not make her dislike the western feminist movement further. You do have a point and so does she. the reality is that women are not homogeneous and we tend to treat them as such. there are some cross cutting issues yes, but the African reality is not the same as the western one.

  8. Lesley Blake says:

    Dear Siyanda,
    Bell Hooks wrote a book called “Aint I a woman”. Wonderful book. All about the same themes as the above, from the perspective of African-American women. No-one in the Western world is going to stop African women developing feminism their own way. No-one except yourselves. So I am thrilled to see you becoming a feminist – for every woman in the world Feminism is different. We each have to know, understand and explore what feminism is and what our rights mean to us. Please go ahead and take your sisters with you. Its never been the job of western feminism to forge an African feminism, its your job. Do it.

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