The self-doubt started with the social networks I was visiting before the ALAMAU conference. Each time a new article that vocally addressed gender inequality was published on blogs and screenshots of it were taken to be posted on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, I would hurriedly skim the article and then head for the comments’ section to read the backlash that the writer of the article would receive from aggrieved Nigerians. The responses varied from indignant and submissive to aggressive and nonchalant. Whatever the situation, one thing was clear: That the derogatory comments about gender and specifically about feminists from both Nigerian men and women surprisingly threatened to break the safe walls I had built for myself as a feminist. Thankfully that did not happen.
As I write now, I find it to be a situational irony that in preparing for the African Leadership Academy Model African Union conference, I had to engage in deep research about the maternal health situation in the Islamic Republic of Mauritania. That was something which shook me out of my comfort zone and made me realize that truly, backlash or no backlash, my being a feminist was born out of the desperation to see my dear country and continent move forward and so, it would be ridiculous on my part to have doubts about the very thing that defined my purpose in life which is to see women empowered. I still cannot describe the horror I felt discovering that child marriages, force feeding, girl-child trafficking, female infanticide, honor killings amongst others are so common that they have been woven into the fabric of daily Mauritanian life especially in the rural areas. But Mauritania’s story isn’t peculiar.
Arriving at the African Leadership Academy in South Africa was a shock of experience. From the keynote address at the opening ceremony to the various presentations on African history, one thing was evident in the gathering: We were teenagers who were passionate about Africa and neither race, ethnicity nor gender could stop us and indeed that is the beauty of the conference.
I thought that the on goings in Mauritania were peculiar to her or that at worse, my research had being biased but at the first committee session of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, I was wrong. As my committee members shared stories of honor killings, force feeding and child marriages with an absurd casualty, I realized that even if there was no mention of feminism explicitly, if we are to tackle the issue of maternal health in the African continent, gender equality is not to be a contested issue and so as youths passionate about the development of the African girl child, we had the task of redefining feminism and conventional beliefs about gender roles to the general African public.
While I’m passionate and proud about being a Nigerian and most especially an African, I can’t help but notice that feminism as a whole has been given a bad name in Africa. The mere mention of the word often brings annoying questions like, “Are you a lesbian?”, or “Do you hate to cook?”, or “Are you one of those women who hates bras?”, or “Don’t you know that you are black and that this is Africa?” or the most annoying “Do you hate men?”. As an African feminist, I personally believe that until we tackle the problem of gender inequality, the African continent can just kiss development goodbye and be comfortable being pitied by the rest of the world because it has the majority of the “Third World” countries. It is necessary that Africans from the arid regions in the North to the tropical regions south of the Sahara begin to raise a crop of daughters who though believe in the basic family unit, do not see their greatest achievements in life as being only wives and mothers. We need to raise girls to see themselves as essential to Africa’s development.
In Nigeria, where I come from, I often notice that most girls are not aspiring to be the CEOs and big time corporate entrepreneurs. Rather they aspire mainly to be the wives of the CEOs and big time corporate entrepreneurs. What the ALAMAU conference helped me realize is that African females are not being educated on how to effectively balance both careers’ and the maintenance of families. Instead we are unconsciously made to either totally go for one or to see both suffer. This has in turn, placed a glass ceiling psychologically in the minds of girls whenever they aspire to careers.