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“No one had ever questioned my feminism. If anything, they felt sorry for my partner. Perhaps they felt he was getting the short end of some masculinity stick, or they thought that on the basis of my feminism, I would treat my partner (who has come to mean the world to me, who continues to prove me right that women can have and enjoy a reasonable union where they never have to feel less of themselves) in a way that would diminish him or attempt to emasculate him.”– Nana Sule, In Her Words
When was the last time you peered into the soul of a young African woman and listened to everything she had to say? Flipping through the pages of In Her Words – African Women’s Perspectives on Gender Equality, I was led on a journey into the hearts and souls of 15 women from 7 different countries ranging from entrepreneurs, activists, academics, journalists, writers and more. The book opens up conversations on what it means to be an African woman in today’s world, each opinion offering a new and refreshing perspective while simultaneously opening our minds to accommodate broader opinions on Issues affecting African women around the continent.
These essays amplify the voices, struggles and stories of African women, cutting across borders, religion, culture and ethnicity. It reveals how African women connect with the intersection of their identities, leveraging on their similarities to confront the narratives created about African women. I find it incredibly important that there is a diverse range of voices because contrary to the most widely-held but ignorant opinion, Africa is not a country and monolithic voices cannot define us. Within these 15 essays, any woman, irrespective of her identity, is bound to find something that speaks directly to her. For me, I found myself in all the essays, crying out an emphatic “Yes!” on almost every page in the book. ‘In Her Words’ not only made me feel seen and heard but also caused me to reflect upon the various layers of my identity and the similarities of our experiences, despite our differences.
Honest, Passionate and completely persuasive, the women in this anthology spoke for themselves without a filter. Against the backdrop of a conventional narrative that has frequently marginalised African women, essays from Hauwa Shafii Nuhu, Linda Tusiime, Tawakalit Kareem, Sule Nana, Borso Tall, Chineme Ezekwanna, Victoria Malowa, Amanda Marufu, Nneamaka Nwadei, Makalay Saidiatu Sonda, Zainab Haruna, Ujenju Joy Sani, Sokhna Mbathio Thiaw, Priscilla Sena Bretuo and Ojonwa Miachi helped to challenge faulty ideologies that feminism is a radically eurocentric construction that seeks to overturn the values of traditional African societies.
“When you ask me a question about the basis of my personal choice and religious decisions, when you ask me to explain the ideology behind my belief, or my dressing, you are asking – whether consciously or not, whether you admit it or not – that I make a case for myself on why you should respect those choices. But to do that will be to first agree that you have the right to think lowly of me, and are, therefore, entitled to an explanation for why you shouldn’t. You certainly do not have the right.“– Hauwa Shafii Huhu
In one essay, Makalay Saidiatu Sonda talks about the intersection of Pan-Africanism and Feminism, challenging the false attribution of feminism to the west and taking us back to the history of feminism in Africa with specific examples from the Dahomey Warriors from present-day Benin-Republic to Queen Amina of Zaria. In another essay, Nneamaka Nwadei talks about self-worth, body positivity and identity as precursors to asserting equality anywhere in the world
From Hauwa Shafii Nuhu’s angry voice on gendered-Islamophobia and what it means to be a free woman to Sule Nana’s thought-provoking and articulate analysis of what feminism looks like, for African Muslim women and Tawakalit Kareem’s poignant narrative on gender-based violence, this un-put-downable collection has successfully dismantled the prevalent narrative.
“In Her Words” is a big conversation starter. African women have come a long way but there is so much further to go. Books like this are vital for Africans, non-Africans and those seeking to understand feminism in Africa. It will also add to an already rigorous body of writing about this topic. While these essays promote a courageous and bird’s eye view of African women on the African continent, most of the writers agree that collective acceptance and solidarity is best achieved by promoting diversity even while fighting for the same cause. As Priscilla Sena Bretuo opines, there isn’t and shouldn’t be a singular or hegemonic conception of feminism but feminisms that capture, contextualise and address the oppression faced by specific and diverse categories of women and men in society.
“I was a feminist before I knew what the word meant. Perhaps it was because I was a child who was most at home by herself, in her own space. Perhaps it was the many journeys I took through the pages of books where the woman was often in desperate need of a saviour. Perhaps it was in the conversations in places that passed quickly but left pieces of their essence in my consciousness, lying in wait for when those pieces would be needed. Or perhaps it was the innate confidence of a child who always knew, somehow, that she belonged here.”– Tawakalit Kareem
In Her Words: African Women’s Perspectives on Gender Equality, compiled and edited by Zainab Haruna, Tawakalit Kareem, Omolayo Nkem-Ojo, Ujenju Joy Sani and Isatou Jallow is published by Agbowo. To order a copy, click here
Wardah Abbas is the Founding Editor of The Muslim Women Times. She is a Lawyer, Writer and Social Justice activist.