Look out for Kinyarwanda version of the feminist charter

We now boast the Kinyarwanda version of the Charter of Feminist Principles for African Feminists. The fight for gender equality has just got stronger, particularly at the grassroots where almost every woman is literate in the language.

A friend has likened the African Feminist Charter to fertiliser in a garden; once administered it enhances quality and increases output.

Equipped with principles in the charter, we can expect a louder voice in the rural communities where patriarchy is more entrenched in the country.

Where there should hitches, the charter affirms that the fight is relentless and that it will never cease until the last woman is accorded her dignity and her due rights as a human being.

Unveiled a week ago, the Kinyarwanda version is courtesy of Rwanda Women’s Network (RWN), widely known for its award-winning work with grassroots women and their communities around the country.

RWN furthered an important aim of the charter to disseminate and popularise the charter through local languages. Kinyarwanda now joins Kiswahili, Wolof, Portuguese (spoken in Angola and Mozambique) and Arabic.

Another aim is to recognise efforts by African feminist ‘ancestors’ whose legacies not only laid the foundation, but continue to inform and give impetus to the movement.

One such ‘ancestor’ who will be remembered for a long time is the renowned Nigerian feminist and activist, Professor Molara Ogundipe-Leslie.

She passed on last week, just two days before the launch of the Kinyarwanda version of the charter.

She will be remembered as one of the foremost intellectuals of the African feminist movement. Her work as a writer on African feminism, gender studies and literary theory has had great influence.

Her most cited theoretic work is the 1994 title, Recreating Ourselves: African Women and Critical Transformations.

Her theory of Stiwanism (Social Transformation in Africa Including Women), which emphasises understanding the woman in her specific socio-cultural and economic context, is viewed in critical circles as one of the most original works on understanding feminism.

The thrust of her argument is that a blanket definition of the African woman is in error, the reason being that context to allow for such a definition does not exist.

Thus, she is emphatic that there is no such thing as ‘African woman’. Rather, the woman has to be considered, analysed and studied in the complexity of her existential realities, her culture, class, ethnicity, among other variables.

This to say, women’s tribulations in Rwanda are unique to them. Their problems are not the same as those of women in Kenya or Tanzania and elsewhere in Africa.

Other researchers agree with this, asserting the broad diversity that is Africa. Because of this, they charge that the naming of ‘African Feminists’ is essentialist; meaning that the blanket term suggests that all women on the continent face the same problems, which they don’t.

Women from the Maghreb, for instance, in the countries of Morocco, Libya, Algeria, Tunisia and Mauritania tend to face different challenges from women south of the Sahara.

Even between countries as in the example of Rwanda and other countries, it is different for women depending on specific factors or a mix of them that may include culture, war, poverty, illness, illiteracy, among others.

However, the notion that there is no such thing as an African woman may seem to contradict the brand of African feminists who originated the charter.

Their claim to being African feminists, they insist, is not just due to their African-ness, but includes those living in and outside the continent who fight for women’s rights in Africa.

In the charter, they acknowledge their “multiple and varied identities as African Feminists”, and that whether they live in Africa or elsewhere, focus is on the lives of African women on the continent.

They are unequivocal in their affirmation that “Our feminist identity is not qualified with ‘Ifs’, ‘Buts’, or ‘Howevers’. We are Feminists. Full stop.”

The affirmation allows for little argument. It also does not detract the varied identities of African Feminists, of which there are several shades.

In addition to Stawinism other strands include “womanism”, which acknowledges women’s contributions to their societies as the African answer to white women’s feminism in the West.

Another is “African motherism”, which is described as an embrace of motherhood ‘in cooperation with mother nature at all levels of human endeavour.’

Others include femalism and nego-feminist. Femalism places the female body is the centre of discussion.

Nego-feminism, is perhaps worth of note. It urges the inclusion of men in advocacy for feminism. The inclusion of men is argued as necessary to the freedom of women.

The views expressed in this  article are of the author.