Feminism in Africa seems to be a new interest in the West due to the popularising of its literature – but they have been fighting inequality for as long as we have, and it seems, like in many revolutionary movements, it is literature that is setting it in motion.
We have seen incredibly talented African women, like Lupita Nyongo in acting, politically and academically brilliant African women like Chimamanda Adichie, and now we finally see impactful and articulate African female writers take the stage. It is about time we include their culture in the history of feminism.
Sometimes, pain and suffering can result in the most beautiful thing, and Stay With Me by Ayóbámi Adébáyò is a thorough rundown of this very law of existence. Going through unimaginable pain, in not just problems that affect women in her culture, but all women, the protagonist comes out on the other side of life as she knew it with almost everything she wanted.
Having been married for four years by the time we are introduced into the timeline of their marriage, we follow the story from the time everything started going downhill, when the protagonist, Yejide, becomes a second wife, and her husband Akin does anything to protect his own image and pride – including causing his wife unimaginable suffering and shame.
Lies, betrayals, tragic deaths, and threats to her womanhood, mental, and physical health are all things that Yejide experiences at the hand of not just her husband, but by her female relatives. It is almost as if women have been tranced to accept this low quality of life, and here we see the theme of selfishness as a societal problem through all cultures.
At times, the misfortune of Yejide can seem so extreme that we start to drift from the book’s sense of reality, but must remember that this is a collection of misfortunes meant to illustrate women’s struggles, especially those in the African cultures, brought on by not only men, but unkind traditions enforced by women. The husband, Akin, gets only a few chapters, ultimately revealing the cumulated results of a horrible oppression that takes place because of an unkind culture which ruins sacred things like a woman’s sense of independence, and true love.
The literature we see emerging is mainly regarding cultural issues and problematics like in Stay With Me, and we see this just in time to watch change wash over Africa. Women are now more than ever realising the need to stand together to fight the injustices they have been faced with for far too long. New African Woman Magazine displays articles written by women, but not only women. They inform the internet and it’s surfers about a movement happening in Africa called #ThemToo, which is a spin on #MeToo, focusing on African women who have survived the typical forms of abuse.
Speaking to Nigerian native and Danish citizen, Angel Jemegbe, we learn that African women have accustomed themselves to abuse and oppression, making movements like this extremely necessary so that they feel that they have the support and power to get out of these culturally accepted situations. In many cases, even the most horrid abuse is considered a private affair due to laws surrounding marriage, including the objectifying of women as being owned by their husbands. She says that it is of utmost importance that the enlightened and educated women who want change badly do not feel alone and vulnerable, but that this has been the reality so far.
Gender stigmas towards women have been so harsh in African cultures, that rape is still a much bigger problem there than in the western world – and it is even considered a right of men in some cases. The problem is so epidemic, that one in four females in South Africa report rape. On a positive note, in some more rural places, young boys are being given consent classes to learn to respect women’s bodies and safety, and policemen in Nigeria amongst other countries are fighting harder to respect and defend women.
In Morocco, a girl whom the media calls Khadija was just found after a two month long abduction, where she was raped and tattooed by twelve men, three of whom still walk free. Laws in some African countries protect rapists by encouraging them to marry their victims. Jemegbe tells us that she herself has been harassed on the street by mature men since the age of twelve, having been called “sexy” and told to get in the cars of those random men, to which she learned to respond ‘F you’ and run as fast as she could. This kind of harassment and threat to the integrity and value of women has created strength, says Jemegbe, but now the women of Africa are fighting back, and a wave of feminism, or womanism, as Jemegbe calls it, is on the horizon.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is the author of We should all be Feminists. She is currently one of the most celebrated and frontline African feminists, and speaks up about and for change in gender roles in Africa. She has caught the internet by whirlwind with her articulate expression of inequalities and marital issues in Africa. In her TED Talks she sheds light on the situations and solutions that she writes about in her books, of which the most popular is ‘We Should all be Feminists’.
Adichie is a scholar, which she has said has proved to be against typical norms when the stigma of African women in the West is that they do not venture into western land, get degrees, nor even speak proper English. As she walks in the media’s bullseye as one of the first from her culture to represent modern feminism, she draws attention to a need for us to embrace Africa and join forces to fight inequality.
‘Resentment on repeat’, is an opinion about unhealthy and unequal relationships that Adichie shares with Cardi B. Cardi B, formally known as Belcalis Almanzar, raps about resentment in her trending track of the summer. Adichie said in her interview with Trevor Noah earlier this year, that ‘if there is unhappiness, and a problem because of gender roles, there is resentment’, and that in a world with equality there would be no resentment – but that is sadly what we face today.
As we clearly see in the rising popularity of African feminist activists / artists, there is resentment because of the gender roles from outdated and misconstrued traditions which are still being forced upon African women and women of all ethnicities and cultures, as we see in novels like Stay With Me. Women, in Africa as well as anywhere else in the world, are often in full time jobs, taking care of families, expected to embrace polygamy if they are not single mothers. According to Jemegbe, men are not being held to a golden standard – in fact, they are being held to no standards at all. The fact that this strange reality has not been changed in the bigger picture of society is mind-boggling, especially in the West where we brag about how modernised we are, when we lo and behold are not.
However, it is in the worst of situations that change can blossom, and become an opportunity for improvement if we have hope. We leave you with wise words from Adichie: ‘See yourself as an individual‘ – no limitations apply.