A POPULAR characteristic among ladies of the 21st century is solidarity; they take ‘having each other’s backs’ very seriously.
One way of doing this is by grouping and then regrouping into smaller fractions in the community with the borderlines of these groups drawn by what they have in common. The first qualification to be a member of these groups is, of course, to be a woman.
The approach to have women look out for women to address solutions at some point comes off as extreme feminism.
Feminism could easily be one of the most misinterpreted words in recent times, while most dictionaries describe it as the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities; some take it to be women competing against men for equality.
This line of thought at times earns pro-feminism women labels such as ‘man haters’ or even lesbians.
Though no formal groups or organisations have come out to challenge the idea of women, there are hushed tones, mostly by men, in disapproval of women-only groupings.
Criticism to the extreme feminism
Hassan Umuhuza, 53, is an educated man, religious and loves and respects his three daughters just as much as he does his son, so he says.
But the idea of women-only movements in an attempt to have equal rights, to him, doesn’t add up.
“See when members of one sex come together claiming to be looking out for each other and looking for solutions to common challenges, it doesn’t get them far. We are all part of a society and we cannot get what we want by sticking with only our own and hoping to achieve much,” Umuhuza explained.
“After a while, the other party begins to look like an enemy and efforts are then drawn to bring down the other. I may not have proof but to a large extent that is what these groupings are breeding, a force against men”.
The genesis of the feminism ideology
Shamsi Kazimbaya’s business card reads “Executive Secretary of Rwanda Men’s resource centre,” a male organisation whose efforts are drawn towards promoting male engagement approaches and initiatives in ending men’s violence against women and gender-based violence. She heads a men’s organisation that looks out for women.
She traces the idea of women’s groupings as a way to achieve gender equality to efforts by a section of women to claim their rights.
“The idea of movements and organisations of this nature is becoming common in Africa and Rwanda; in particular, it was first seen as a group of women who are out to claim their rights, who are out to compete with men, which was the idea during its introduction.”
But Kazimbaya says that some of those who were fronting the idea seem to have had a change of heart, they have come to see that there are better approaches that do not necessarily seclude women. Women’s groups that are increasingly coming up, they are not really out to balance gender. Most rarely achieve the desired outcomes; gender equality and women empowerment.
“The best approaches are general approaches, those that include men and women, to be effective in achieving gender equality; you should bring everyone on the table and have all contributions and gain support to have equitable gender relations,” Kazimbaya says.
She blames the idea of segregated efforts to the misinterpretation and misunderstanding of what feminism really is.
“There might be a misinterpretation of what feminism is, it doesn’t necessarily mean a competition of the sexes or women only trying to achieve equality. It is a search for equality. It also concerns men, in a global manner it is a commitment to achieve equality of the sexes, it doesn’t concern only women, and men have a role to play too,” Kazimbaya says.
According to her, men too can be feminists, if we use the right meaning of the word; men too can promote women’s rights and well being. She also admits that there is still a long way to go for society to understand feminism and gender equality and they need to also understand that you cannot be effective when you do not include men, be it in women empowerment or ending gender based violence.
The impact on future generations
There is also the question of what influence it has on young girls who watch women activism from the sidelines as they grow up.
She may be in university and a not yet a member of a women’s association or group, but 22-year-old Hope Uwineza plans to be part when she starts her career.
Her reason for this is because she figures she will be in the company of people who can see things her way and understand what she goes through.
“I think the reason these groups and associations come up is because it is difficult for women to have a voice individually, but as a group with common interests, they can look out for each other and encourage each other. At times it is the only way women can be heard,”
Comprehensive to be effective
The Minister of Gender and Family Promotion, Oda Gasinzigwa, sees no problem with a group of women taking the ownership of specific problems and trying to jointly seek solutions to them.
According to her, when women come together, it shouldn’t have to be that they are not willing to take on a member from the opposite sex.
“The ownership of specific groups to tackle specific issues doesn’t necessarily mean feminism. If feminism is defined positively, it is anything that promotes women’s rights. Having associations for women shouldn’t be seen as a problem,” the minister said.
“Women can come together and own the challenges that they face and commonly work together to identify a way forward. It doesn’t mean that men have no place in trying to identify solutions”.
Gasinzigwa urge people to look less at the membership of organisations and more at the challenges they are tackling and their development agenda.
“On the government part, we are interested in finding an end to the challenges, solutions should not be restricted to a particular group affected by a certain plight,” said Gasinzigwa.
“We have been encouraging general approaches that go beyond women-only solutions. We are going beyond the thought that women’s problems can only be solved by women”.
Under the Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion is the National Women Council whose mandate includes bringing girls and women to pool their ideas in order to solve their problems.
The Executive Secretary of the organisation, Christine Tuyisenge, said there was a time when in their efforts to promote women, various gender promotion players and actors focused on feminism.
“It is then that they realised that it doesn’t achieve much, it was better when they considered women in a society or family framework. Currently Rwanda doesn’t use a feminism approach; it is a gender equality approach,” Tuyisenge says.
The difference is that in the latter they conduct a gender situation analysis showing the gaps existing and use affirmative action to address gaps rather than the former which has an activist approach.
The way forward
In her 2013 TEDx speech, “We should all be feminists,” celebrated Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, didn’t hide her anger and disappointment towards the idea of gender as a classification.
“The problem with gender is that it prescribes how we should be rather than recognise how we are,” the writer said and invited others to share in her anger.
Famous women on what feminism means to them
“ARE YOU a feminist?” might be the toughest question a female celebrity has to answer in 2014. Taylor Swift stays clear of the word. Beyonce grew into it. Let’s just say it’s complicated. Here’s a look at what some famous women have said about the other “f” word.
“I feel like I’m one of the biggest feminists in the world because I tell women to not be scared of anything,” the 21-year-old “Wrecking Ball” singer told the BBC last November. “I’m a feminist in the way that I’m really empowering to women,” she said to Cosmopolitan in December 2013. “I’m loud and funny and not typically beautiful.”
Beyoncé was hesitant to describe herself as a feminist to British Vogue in April 2013. “That word can be very extreme,” the 32-year-old said. “But I guess I am a modern-day feminist. I do believe in equality. Why do you have to choose what type of woman you are? Why do you have to label yourself anything? I’m just a woman and I love being a woman.”
“Women saying ‘I’m not a feminist’ is my greatest pet peeve,” said the 28-year-old Girls star and writer in 2013 during an interview with Metro. “Do you believe that women should be paid the same for doing the same jobs? Do you believe that women should be allowed to leave the house? Do you think that women and men both deserve equal rights? Great, then you’re a feminist.”
“Feminism means being proud of being a woman, and having love, respect and admiration and the belief in our strong capacities,” the 47-year-old actress told Stylist in 2012. “I don’t think we are the same, women and men. We’re different. But I don’t think we are less than men. There are more women than men in the world – ask any single woman! So it is shocking that men are in more positions of power.”
“I don’t really think about things as guys versus girls. I never have,” the 24-year-old pop star told the Daily Beast in 2012. “I was raised by parents who brought me up to think if you work as hard as guys, you can go far in life.”
“I would say on some levels I am a feminist. Angela Davis is one of my heroes,” the 47-year-old Oscar winner told Ebony in April, referring to the political activist known for her feminist views. “And Gloria Steinem—these are people who, as I was growing, I was moved by and impacted by and thought very deeply about.”
“I wouldn’t say I’m a feminist, that’s too strong. I think when people hear feminist it’s just like, ‘Get out of my way I don’t need anyone,’” the 32-year-old American Idol winner told TIME last year. “I love that I’m being taken care of, and I have a man that’s an actual leader. I’m not a feminist in that sense … but I’ve worked really hard since I was 19, when I first auditioned for American Idol.”
“I’m not a feminist. I hail men, I love men, I celebrate American male culture — beer, bars, and muscle cars,” the 28-year-old pop star told a Norwegian journalist in 2009.
“I am not a feminist, but I do believe in the power of women,” the 29-year-old “Roar” singer told Billboard magazine in 2012. However, since then, the young celeb has changed her tune on the topic. “A feminist? Um, yeah, actually,” she told an Australian radio host in Marchwhen asked if she considered herself one. “I used to not really understand what that word meant, and now that I do, it just means that I love myself as a female and I also love men.”
The 28-year-old Gossip Girl star surprised some fans in February when she told OOTD magazine who her role model was. “The American writer Betty Friedan — she fought for gender equality and wrote the great book The Feminine Mystique which sparked the beginning of a second-wave feminism,” Meester said. “I believe in equal rights for men and women.”