As an African woman and as a feminist, I’ve always been wary of Pan-Africanists and the reason being that many times, I have been tackled by these male Pan-Africanists telling me countless times that feminism is a western culture and I should stop spreading feminist ideas to corrupt “our women”. (Like women are their properties with no minds of their own, it’s disgusting. Really).
According to these men, I am not a “real” African woman. I am not like “our mothers” in the past. This always makes me laugh because almost every other thing brought by the white people into Africa is accepted. Nobody raises eyebrows on the imported religions currently not only being practiced but elevated above African Traditional Religions. Nobody raises eyebrows on the white wedding gowns and suits that pervade wedding ceremonies in Africa. Nobody raises eyebrow on various other practices and cultures adopted by Africans from Western countries BUT when it comes to women’s rights, feminism suddenly becomes a western culture? When it comes to emancipation of women, it suddenly becomes “strange?” While suppressing women is an African thing?
Contrary to popular belief, feminism is NOT a Western culture. Patriarchy is. As documented in Bell Hooks‘ AIN’T I A WOMAN, patriarchy is an invention made by the white men to divide and rule the enslaved African men and women whilst making sure even white women were put in their place. Patriarchy is an invention of the white man and there’s no documentation suggesting patriarchy was rife in Africa before colonization. Instead, women could do everything that today, this so-called ‘western’ feminist culture fights for. Women could rule kingdoms, women could go to wars, women could marry other women, women could actively participate in politics, there were no “heads” and chants of “submission submission” into your ears as a woman until you nearly go deaf.
My first brush with Pan-Africanism was through these male Pan-Africanists as it is with most ideas. You get to know ideas through the people practicing and spreading them.
I had never met a woman practicing Pan-Africanism. Why would there be when Pan-Africanism seems to have patriarchy as one of its core ideas?
In continuance was my tug of war with these male Pan-Africanists on my social media pages and I would never have called myself a Pan-Africanist until I met a woman sometimes in 2021 through whom I started seeing Pan-Africanism from a different perspective. I challenged the woman on why Pan-Africanism is rife with patriarchy, on why famous figures who identified with Pan-Africanism in history (like Fela and Malcom X) and at present are openly misogynistic/patriarchal and nobody bats an eyelid about that and on why this idea seems to be obsessed with controlling women’s bodies. She said to (do) not judge an idea solely by the people practicing the idea, why not make researches about the idea in itself and then judge if it’s a good one or not? Being someone who practices the idea of feminism myself and understanding how feminism has so many misconceptions, I totally agreed with her. So off I went, reading about Pan-Africanism, about its inception and history, about what it represents, and the methods through which it operates and I said:
“If this is what Pan-Africanism is, then I am also a Pan-Africanist!”
I canvass for Africa being free from neo-colonialism. I want Africa to have political and economic autonomy. I want Africans to have power over their own lands. I want the racism against blacks to stop. I want the natural resources in Africa to be used to develop Africa and not stolen by expatriates. I am also a Pan-Africanist!
The lady and I never agreed on the patriarchal aspect of including policing women’s bodies in the idea of Pan-Africanism though.
If an African woman is ashamed of her dark skin and goes to bleach, she has every right to do that. It is HER body. The only thing we can do is to educate her on the harmful damage bleaching would do to her skin, she should not be shamed or forced into not bleaching her skin. It is ridiculous that the systemic problems affecting Africa, that make black people ashamed of their skin colors, are not addressed but instead, everyone wants to solely face black women like they bleaching their skins is the reason Africa is poverty-stricken. It is a very oppressive and lazy (intellectual) resistance that makes you ignore all the societal, structural and historical repressions that will make a whole race hate their skins and shine the blaming spotlight solely on women who bleach their skins. Beat it!
There is the constant economic nosedive that has relegated Africa to the background in the global world so much so that Africans are treated with disdain and generally regarded as fraudsters whereas it’s these Western countries that are the original bigger thieves who steal Africa’s resources in the first place!
There is the constant racism in white-dominated countries and EVEN right inside African countries that psychologically subdue black people all the time. Black people literally get killed for just being black!
There is the internalized racism in African countries like Nigeria where fair women are generally preferred over black women even in work spaces. Fair women are regarded as more beautiful than their black counterparts.
There is the political bondage that our political leaders have been thrown inside of, driving the rest of the masses to doom that makes it difficult to have autonomous political and economic policies.
ALL OF THESE are on ground and it’s the woman in the lowest rung of this whole patriarchal arrangement you want to shame and hold responsible for the problems of Africa? So much so that once she bleaches her skin, Africa has failed? ‘Pan-Africanists’ would turn a blind eye to all these systemic oppressions Africa is facing and just bite the woman who bleaches HER own skin? And sing Fela’s “you dey bleach o, you dey bleach” to shame her? How has a woman (not) bleaching her skin affected Africa’s economy? Is anyone addressing the systemic reasons why black people wouldn’t love their own skins? Are the roots of this black-hating culture being addressed? Why are Pan-Africanists putting the horse before the cart by focusing on women bleaching their skins (or not) when the systemic oppressions still reign supreme? Please note that black men are not constantly harassed to not bleach their skins. Nobody is obsessed with their bodies or trying to control what they do to their skins. It’s always women everyone tries to police. Kí ló dé! Qu’est-ce que c’est ?
As a dark-skinned African woman, I am tired of being stopped by random strangers on the streets telling me I’m beautiful just the way I am and I should not bleach my skin. No be you go tell me wetin I go do. In fact, it’s these random unsolicited comments that made me start being self-conscious of my dark skin.
Trying to control women’s bodies while hiding behind “Pan-Africanism” is sexism! Plain and simple! Leave women’s bodies the hell alone! Our bodies are not the problem!
Pan-Africanism is a beautiful idea, I won’t deny that. However, it has not done right by women! Or let me rephrase that, the people (notably mainly men) who practice Pan-Africanism have made it into some sort of male-dominated sphere where women are relegated to the background and obscured, where women’s matters do not matter! And where women’s achievements and involvements in Africa’s emancipation are either totally obliterated or watered down. Funmilayo Ransome Kuti was a force to reckon with in the liberation of Nigeria from the colonizers and by extension, the liberation of Africa. Her son has been celebrated more than this woman and they were both fierce activists in their own rights. Everyone knows Fela because he’s being constantly praised as a legend, rightly so. What do we know about Funmilayo? Oh, she’s the first woman in Nigeria to drive a car! This is infuriating.
It was not until 1994 that women’s matters were tabled in the seventh Pan-African Congress held in Uganda. 1994! And even at that, patriarchy still permeates the space of Pan-Africanism. There’s a glaring lack of representation of women in Pan-Africanism so much so that Clenora Hudson-Weems had to coin a separate term “Africana Womanism” in the 1980s to specifically focus on the plights and achievements of black women.
Women are very important in every liberation movement as we are literally half of every population, and our ‘revolutionary’ roles should not be limited to marrying or birthing male comrades, e dákun. There can be no emancipation of Africa without emancipation of women. Not only is it counter-productive to fight for Africa’s liberation while suppressing African women in the home fronts and beyond, it is gross hypocrisy. You want to be free but also want to oppress? You have to pick a struggle.
Oppressions are intersectional and must be fought concurrently or else, it will be a merry go round! Without gender equality, Africa is going nowhere! Africa will not develop! Without equality on ALL fronts; political, social, economic, gender and racial equality, the world will continue to burn.
For all our sakes, I hope we put out the fire soon enough.
Written by SISÍ AFRIKA.