An unusual question you might think but perhaps one that is worth asking if only to advance the debate on African feminism. I ask this question following the recent signing into law by the Kenyan government the right for a man to take as many wives as he wishes.
What does this have to do with feminism?
Minna Salami argues in this post that feminism is misunderstood a point picked up by Doreen Gaura in her essay Brown Afrikan women’s Agency for Africa On The Blog. I agree with both Minna and Doreen to the extent that making sweeping statements about feminism shuts down the discussion from the point of world politics and the contribution that feminism makes to political discourse.
Feminists argue that men and women experience of world politics has a gender dimension to it that has nothing to do with their sex and point to issues that impact women more than men such as, human trafficking, the incidence of HIV being higher amongst women than men, the impact of the porn industry on women, high numbers of female refugees as compared to men, women being more likely to be victims of rape during armed conflict, access to development aid etc. This is not to say that these issues impact women only rather that these issues impact women disproportionately.
Feminists have argued for the presence of and increased opportunities for women in seats of power in the same way men are. The argument here is that participation in public life is the key to advancing the status of women and as such women should not be confined to the home.
Whilst we still have situations such as that experienced by Senate Masupha of Lesotho who was denied the right to become a tribal Chief because of her gender, change has come and with that change we’ve seen female Heads of States such as Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, Malawi’s Joyce Banda, the late Margaret Thatcher as well as an increase in female parliamentarians across the world
But has this brought about real change or increased equity for women?
The recent events in the Kenyan parliament tell us that not necessary.
It is for this reason that some feminists disagree with this this notion of equal participation in public life as in their view it doesn’t change the world for women. In their view, equal participation has for example not brought about fairer wages for women nor led to an end to women being raped during conflicts.
A much better way they argue is to change the very nature of institutions and the way society views women as opposed to merely giving them a role in a society that has already been constructed and shaped for them. To do otherwise is to search for equality in masculine institutions run by men, created by men and run on men’s own terms.
From this perspective of feminism, we are unlikely to get to a situation where for instance female legislators could pass laws giving women the right to take as many husbands as they wish nor female legislators being able to breast feed in parliament because society would not find this acceptable. As such female Heads of state and legislators have simply been incorporated in a man’s world or institutions where women are not able to institute real change. If this were not so, women MPs in Kenya would have had the right throw out proposals such as a man’s right to take as many wives as he wishes, but it was instead reported that in the face of defeat most of the female legislators walked out of parliament
I think we should not dismiss the feminist perspective to world politics but instead pay attention to the structural inequalities within society and how we can address these.
Some of these inequalities run deep and are life and death situations as we have witnessed in the abduction of over 200 Nigerian school girls. A question that springs to mind here is why gun wielding men are scared of girls accessing education and not boys?
Beyond that are what I would like to call systemic questions;
Was the Nigerian government’s response to the girls’ disappearance appropriate under the circumstances?
What about the reaction of the international community and world press? Why did it take so long for this incident to gain traction internationally?
My take away from all this is a central message that is normally attributed to liberal feminism “societies are made up of individuals and that those individuals have rights, however that women have not enjoyed these rights to the extent that men have”
Have you got a view on this?
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