Plural feminism across continents – View of movements in Europe and Africa


There is not one feminist movement, but a range of variations… How can we reconcile the differences, sometimes blatant, between the different European and African struggles? Today it seems essential to look for common denominators and see how these feminisms can inspire and reinforce each other.

The existence of various feminist currents in the West and the cultural differences within feminist movements, depending on their continent, do not allow us to grasp a single definition of feminism. While it is true that feminism cannot be considered a homogeneous social movement [1]Degavre, “Diversity of feminisms”, Feminist Thoughts, 2008., would it not nevertheless be possible to establish common objectives for the different feminist movements? And what would be the specific characteristics of struggles for women's empowerment in different places around the world? Through this analysis, we wish to show the struggles and issues that differentiate feminists in Europe and Africa, but also their base of common values. Western feminisms Since the first feminist demands during the Age of Enlightenment regarding equality of men and women before the law , feminist movements in the West have declined into a wide range of currents. “Equality through neutrality” of the universalists, demanding a modification of the laws in favor of parity in public life, is opposed to an “equality which admits difference”, taking into account the specific characteristics of women . According to certain theorists of the universalist movement, the social roles which relegate women to the domestic sphere, under the domination of men, are culturally and artificially constructed. According to the most radical of them, the very categorization of humans into male and female is contested, in a vision of a continuum of sexes. A second divide opposes liberal feminism to social feminism. The first affirms the right of women to dispose of their bodies, the second denounces the exploitation and commodification of women's bodies, thus giving life to a divide on issues such as prostitution or pornography. [2]Ibid.. And so on… In the Western world, many feminisms coexist, each with its own, sometimes contrasting, ideas and demands. Is there an African feminism? Before attempting to define what would or could be African feminism, it seems important to ask the question of its relevance. Indeed, many points of view differ on the subject. Several sources agree that feminism is not African : “on the African continent, the term “feminism” takes on a pejorative character for some. […] [On the one hand, feminism would be contrary to traditional African values and …] on the other hand, it would only be yet another instrument of Western neocolonialism » . It is important to emphasize that the women's movements established in Africa have a history linked to colonization and the independence that followed. These movements obtained official recognition from postcolonial regimes. These new regimes all established a single or dominant party women's movement. We are talking about political movements of colonization. However, alongside these, women's associations, unrecognized, but just as important, were present on the continent before the colonial era. These are multifaceted popular organizations [3]Ibid.. In 1960-1970, these women's organizations in rural areas were associations which aimed more at promoting "women's living standards" than at fighting against gender inequalities. These women's organizations, to be distinguished from feminist organizations, had a more moderate discourse which allowed them to be listened to by state authorities. Since the 1990s, African women's movements have strengthened their institutionalization. Intellectual, professional and activist, they develop political analyzes of gender relations, the patriarchal system, the needs of women in terms of human rights and the impact of neoliberal policies and economies on their living conditions. [4]Ibid.. It is difficult to find a single definition of African feminism (or feminism in Africa) due to a lack of data on the conditions of African women in relation to cultural contexts. However, we can still identify characteristics common to the different movements. The vision of both sexes is complementary and not opposed and they are "in search of balance and harmony". Within what could be described as African feminism, there are many currents which reflect the diversity of the realities of women on the continent. It is for this reason that we could speak of African feminisms – in the plural – because of the “diversity of socio-cultural contexts and the plurality of African cultures” . In the 21st century, we find both women's movements committed to peace [5]Examples are: Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace by Liberian activist Leymah Gbowee (2003), the Peace and Security Network for Women in the ECOWAS Area (REPSFECO). , empowerment institutes dedicated to women (and girls) [6]Such AKILI DADA in Kenya, the African Women's Development Fund (AWDF) or Women in Africa., but also institutes/research centers around women [7]Such CODESRIA (Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa) in Senegal and the Gender Research and Documentation Center in Sierra Leone. and organizations that work for respect and the inclusion of women in policies [8]Such ABANTU for Development in Nigeria and the ECOWAS Center for Gender Development (CCDG).. Like the African Feminist Forum (AFF) which brings together the national forums of East, West, Central and South Africa, the women of the continent are organizing themselves at the national, regional or international level. Women's struggles in Europe and Africa Beyond their specificities, feminists in Europe and Africa sometimes face common issues and challenges. Today's mobilizations At the international level, UN Women launched the campaign “Translating promises into action: gender equality in the 2030 sustainable development agenda » . This echoes the action of FEMNET (The African Women's Development and Communication Network [9]The African Women's Development and Communication Network (FEMNET).) which pursues regional and international agendas in particular so that the voices of women and girls living in rural areas are recognized and heard. Elsewhere, the NFF (Nigerian Feminist Forum) tries to create a space for discussion around sexual predators. The participation of women in the political sphere represents an issue common to both women in Europe and Africa. This is one of the priority objectives of the African Development Bank which launched an action plan in 2015 [10]“Empowering African Women – Africa Gender Equality Index 2015.. Likewise, European feminists are looking for a parity democracy which, beyond the establishment of quotas to promote the presence of women in institutions, allows the emergence of a “female political ruling class which alone is capable of guaranteeing the continuity of progress”. However, the socio-economic context in which African women live raises economic challenges that are specific to feminist movements in Africa: access to land ownership, credit and connection to infrastructure. (such as water, electricity, access to information and communication technologies). While European women debate the abolition of prostitution, the ethics of surrogacy (GPA) or medically assisted procreation (MAP), the human development of women alone is a challenge in Africa. And yet a common struggle The differences between feminists in Africa and Europe do not seem to discourage the new generations of activists in the West who, grouped in networks or associations, support an “intersectional” feminism [11]According to the concept of intersectionality, first formulated in 1989 by African-American feminist Kimberlé Crenshaw, different forms of oppression must be… Continue reading, based on a base of common values and on listening to the issues experienced by African feminists, in a conception of interconnected struggles. Rather than dwelling on their differences, feminists in Europe focus on the opportunities for meetings between women from the North and those from the South, in order to explore past experiences and current challenges. Shared subjects then emerge: “violence against women, measures to improve the representation of women in politics, the evolution of gender relations in changing societies, The image of women in the media ". In order for the feminist struggle to strengthen over time, it is therefore vital to understand the specificities of each movement, but also to promote a dialogue between feminists from Africa and Europe so that they move forward together towards advocacy. of a genre that transcends continents. Veronica Lari & Esi Darko



1 Degavre, “Diversity of feminisms”, Feminist Thoughts, 2008.
2 Ibid.
3 Ibid.
4 Ibid.
5 Examples are: Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace by Liberian activist Leymah Gbowee (2003), the Peace and Security Network for Women in the ECOWAS Area (REPSFECO).
6 Such AKILI DADA in Kenya, the African Women's Development Fund (AWDF) or Women in Africa.
7 Such CODESRIA (Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa) in Senegal and the Gender Research and Documentation Center in Sierra Leone.
8 Such ABANTU for Development in Nigeria and the ECOWAS Center for Gender Development (CCDG).
9 The African Women's Development and Communication Network (FEMNET).
10 “Empowering African Women – Africa Gender Equality Index 2015.
11 According to the concept of intersectionality, formulated for the first time in 1989 by the African-American feminist Kimberlé Crenshaw, the different forms of oppression must be considered jointly, establishing a link between discrimination on racial and gender grounds. “Black feminism and intersectionality”, International Socialist Review, 2013.

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