2 minute read

Africa and African Diaspora Feminism

Postcolonial Feminism

The relationships between women's organizations and patriarchal states has continued to present ongoing challenges for feminist thinkers. The attainment of national independence during the 1960s saw the earlier traditions of organizing continue alongside the establishment of new and more modern manifestations of feminism, both within and outside government. At critical moments in the history of feminism in Africa, these different levels of mobilization have coalesced broader movements to pursue shared goals or platforms (see below).

Overall, post-independence feminism in Africa has been characterized by an emphasis on the state, as women have directed their demands for legal and policy reforms at their governments. While this has resulted in substantial legal and policy reforms in a great many countries, to the extent that formal exclusions have largely been removed from the statute books, feminist policy analysts have found cause to be critical of a lack of serious or concerted efforts to implement and sustain these reforms.

The state has often responded to feminist demands by creating a designated bureaucratic structure, in keeping with the United Nations call on member states to set up a government machinery for women and to include gender considerations in policies and projects.

Feminist analysts have found cause to remain critical of such government initiatives, especially where governments themselves have not been legitimate or democratic. In the context of the Nigerian military dictatorship, the high-profile gender activism on behalf of the regime has been characterized as "state feminism" (Mama, 1995), or "state pseudo-feminism" (Abdullah). More broadly, the deployment of women as functionaries in untransformed state bureaucracies has been characterized as "femocratic." While this has meant a significant increase in the number of women within government in South Africa, in less-than-democratic African contexts state-driven initiatives on women have often involved the wives of the ruling elite in a manner that lacks public legitimacy, a phenomenon referred to as "first-ladyism" (Mama, 1995). First ladies who are well known for their role in mobilizing women to support and legitimize despotic regimes include Mama Ngina of Kenya, Maryam Babangida and Mariam Abacha of Nigeria, and Nana Konadu-Rawlings of Ghana.

The national machinery has taken various institutional forms, ranging from small desks within mainstream organs to whole ministries or commissions with intersectoral mandates. However, there is evidence to suggest that while state structures may have sought to co-opt women into the task of nation-statehood, they have not been as effective in pursing feminist agendas and interests even when these have been clearly and, at times assertively, articulated.

The most elaborate of these is in South Africa, where there is a complex set of structures comprising an Office on the Status of Women within the president's office, a Commission for Gender Equality, a Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Quality of Life, and Status of Women and gender desks in all major national and provincial structures. The efficacy of these has been constrained by both resource and capacity limitations. These appear to have led to a persistent gap between gender policy commitments and their realization in practice, leaving most women marginalized and subordinated. Many of the gains that might have accrued to women as a result of policy commitments to more equitable service delivery and fairer representation in the public sphere have been undermined by global shifts away from public provision of services and cutbacks in public sector employment.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Adrenoceptor (adrenoreceptor; adrenergic receptor) to AmbientAfrica and African Diaspora Feminism - Continental Feminism, History, Postcolonial Feminism, Feminist Activism, Feminist Intellectuals, Feminism In The African Diaspora