FEMINISM should strive to fight for gender equality but at the same time aim at portraying the rightful values of women.
This was said by a group of women activists during an event dubbed ‘Unpacking Feminism Dialogue’ that was held on Wednesday.
Organised by Rwanda Women’s Network, the event was held with the aim of promoting, strengthening and understanding the feminism concept and principles in the African and Rwandan context.
Marie-Immaculée Ingabire, the chairperson of Transparency International Rwanda, said that promoting feminism is a necessary step but there is need to mind the conduct and values women depict.
“To be a woman is not a calculation at all, you have to earn it. If you want respect, you need to mind how you carry yourself and not do whatever you wish all in the name of feminism,” she cautioned.
Feminism is the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes.
She said that in the Rwandan context, there is need to consider if the term feminism is well understood and not a misguided term.
Some people still relate feminism to men exclusion, which is not the case, she said.
“What we are doing is to fight the system that discriminates or doesn’t give equality to women, a system that doesn’t want a woman to be the mayor saying that she can’t manage.”
Ingabire, however, called onto activists in this perspective saying that for any battle there ought to be a strategy.
“Let us fight for the rights but let us go step by step. Let us understand the law, support each other and also groom the young ones on what it means to strive for gender equality, teach them self-awareness, protection and to love themselves. This is the kind of feminism I want us to impart in young girls.”
Clement Kirenga, the programme manager, human rights and democracy and the embassy focal point for gender at the Swedish Embassy in Rwanda, said that there is need to strategise and contextualise feminism in the Rwandan framework.
One of the reasons why feminism is misunderstood is that there is little information about it. It is neither written about nor documented, Kirenga said. He went on to suggest that to overcome this there is need to encourage Rwandans to write more about it.
“We have an African charter of feminist principles for African feminists, for us to understand this concept in the Rwandan way it would be important if we thought about having a Rwandan charter,” he suggested.
Annette Mukiga, Director of Programmes at Rwanda Women’s Network, explained that the need for the Rwandan conceptualisation of feminism will help define and affirm commitment to feminist principles, guide feminist analysis and practice.
She also said that this will help reaffirm feminist commitment to dismantle patriarchy in all its manifestations in Africa.
“Defining and naming ourselves publicly as feminists is a celebration of our feminist identities and politics. We recognise that the work of fighting for women’s rights is deeply political and the process of naming is political too,” Mukiga said.
Feminism and patriarchy
Patriarchy is a system of male authority which legitimises the oppression of women through political, social, economic, legal, cultural, religious and military institutions.
Mukiga explained that feminism places patriarchal social relation structures and systems at the centre of women’s struggle.
The understanding of patriarchy is crucial because it provides for feminists a framework within which to express the totality of oppressive and exploitative relations which affect African women, she said.
“Feminism celebrates diversity because we are not homogenous but as feminists we are committed to a transformative agenda which gives us a common identity.”