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Every woman and every man should be a feminist – especially if they believe that Africans should take charge of our land, its wealth, our lives and the burden of our own development” Ama Ata Aidoo

 

I was a feminist probably by the age of 10; I just didn’t know the F word.

In 2008 my colleague Sarah Mukasa told us about an inspiring meeting she attended in Freetown, Sierra Leone, with women from local communities living positively, and working on issues of HIV and AIDS. At that meeting the facilitators brought up the subject of feminism.

“Are you a feminist?” the facilitators asked.

We are the women answered. “If you are working to support women, you are a feminist. What’s the fuss?”

There were some that didn’t know what the meaning of feminism was, and so they asked, and their response was, “This is ‘boku gramma’. This is what we do and who we are – feminists.”

‘Boku gramma’ translates as ‘Big English’, ‘fancy words’, and sometimes I think the word ‘feminism’ itself is ‘boku gramma’. But then I think again, and I remember the power of words.

Words such as:

Feminist

Feminism

Feminists

Feminisms

 

I was always one of those children who asked 101 questions. Questions like:

“Mummy why do you have to cook Daddy’s food?”

In secondary school I was the student who would get into trouble for questioning a teacher in front of the whole assembly.

In my 6th form college I was the compound prefect and extremely tough (in hindsight a tad too firm) with the junior boys because I knew I needed to act extra tough to get them to obey me. In the very early days of my prefectship I had seen them gravitate to my male deputy and recognized that I needed to put a stop to it quickly.

But up until the age of 19 I hadn’t really reflected on why I had always resisted certain things – helping in the kitchen when I would rather read, obeying a teacher without questioning, allowing the junior boys to ignore my leadership.

 

And then I turned 19 and enrolled to study ‘Communications and Cultural Studies’. At the time I had no real interest in Cultural Studies. I even had no idea what that meant. You could say it was boku gramma to me. One of the modules I studied was ‘Feminist Theory’, and on our reading list was bell hook’s ‘Ain’t I a Woman’. The book blew me away, here was bell hooks explaining in very simple language things I instinctively knew. The unfairness of being asked to cook only because I was a girl, and a growing understanding of why my Mum was worried that I showed no interest in cooking. Even more mind blowing for me was how bell hooks explained the connections between different types of oppression. I had just moved to the U.K. and I had no real conception of race. I was struggling to deal with comments like “Why am I speaking to a bloody African?” when I would ask the customers who had called into the Pizza Hut delivery where I worked to spell their address because I simply couldn’t understand their accent. At the same time I was recognizing that I wasn’t oppressed on every level and in every space in exactly the same way. These issues of race and being part of an underclass that I was now grappling with in the U.K. had not been issues for me at all in my home country Ghana. I then began to think of the class issues in my home country. About the fact that growing up we had always had house helps, and so I could get away with not cooking or cleaning and hide myself away in my room to read. I began to feel a sense of responsibility. That I couldn’t have this new knowledge and do nothing about it. I could see that the world is not fair. The world is not fair on so many levels. The issues you grapple with will depend on where you are (your geographical location) and who you are (your economic and social status, sexual orientation, able bodied or physically challenged).

I began to read more. Not just academic texts by the likes of Michelle Wallace but also fiction by African women writers such as Ama Ata Aidoo and Buchi Emecheta which showed me in a language I could understand the unique challenges that African women face.

 

In this digital day and age it has become even easier for me to continue learning about feminisms. I check out the African Feminist Forum’s website. I go to OurSpaceIsLove for inspiration. I read Ms Afropolitan’s blog, and of course I encourage open and honest conversations about sexualities on my own blog inspired by my own feminist politics.

I identify as an African feminist, which simply means the issues I primarily concern myself with are those that affect my continent. I seek to address these issues holistically – to recognize that individuals do not live single-issue lives, and that all forms of discrimination must be dismantled. This in my view is what feminism is about.  I am hoping that, if you’re not already a feminist, your own ‘Aha, this is why everybody should be a feminist’ moment is fast approaching. And yes I said EVERYBODY. Men can be feminists too.

 

A selection of staff from the African Women's Development Fund at the 3rd African Feminist Forum in Dakar, Senegal. From left to right are: Rose, Sophia, Rissi, Zeytuna, Mavis and Gertrude. Photography by Nyani Quarmyne

A selection of staff from the African Women’s Development Fund at the 3rd African Feminist Forum in Dakar, Senegal. From left to right are: Rose, Sophia, Rissi, Zeytuna, Mavis and Gertrude.
Photography by Nyani Quarmyne

Professor Ama Ata Aidoo speaking at an event 'outdooring' Nneka as AWDF's Ambassador for the Arts. Photography by Bob Pixel

Professor Ama Ata Aidoo speaking at an event ‘outdooring’ Nneka as AWDF’s Ambassador for the Arts.
Photography by Bob Pixel

 

This post is part of Blu’s BelieveUme Forum, a social commentary on work-life balance in Ghana. Join the discussion at: http://blughana.wordpress.com/  #BeLieveUme or sign up here to try turbo-charged internet powered by Blu.

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