Open main menu

African feminism is a type of feminism innovated by African women that specifically addresses the conditions and needs of continental African women (African women who reside on the African continent). African feminism includes many strains of its own, including Motherism, Femalism, Snail-sense Feminism, Womanism/women palavering, Nego-feminism, Satanism, and African Womanism.[1] Because Africa is not a monolith, these feminisms are not all reflective of the experiences African women have. Some of the feminisms are more specific to certain groups of African women. African feminism is sometimes aligned with, in dialogue, or in conflict with Black Feminism or African womanism (which is perceived as by and for African women in the diaspora, rather than African women on or recently from the continent) as well as other feminisms and feminist movements, including nationally based ones, such as feminism in Sweden, feminism in India, feminism in Mexico, feminism in Japan, feminism in Germany, feminism in South Africa, and so on.


Need for an African feminismEdit

Some argue that African women are the first feminists,[2] were already deeply engaged at the 1985 Womens' Conference,[3] and have long been recognizing each other's contributions.[4] Others feel African feminism became necessary in part due to white Western feminism's exclusion of the experiences of the black woman and the continental African woman. White Western feminisms does not take into account the particular issues black women face at the intersection of both their blackness and their womanhood. Currently, white feminism often classifies African women as "women of color," which groups and thereby represses the African woman's historical trajectory and specific experience.[1] Hazel Carby in "White Women Listen! Black Feminism and the Boundaries of Sisterhood" notes why white feminism is considered the normative experience of all women. She writes, "History has constructed our sexuality and our femininity as deviating from those qualities with which white women, as the prize of the Western world, have been endowed."[5] However, white feminism cannot continue to erase Africa or African women from feminist theory or feminist advocacy, because as the Mother Continent of humanity, the narratives and experiences of Africa's women will always be relevant.[6]

African feminism was not wholly a reaction to being excluded from white feminists' vision of feminism, but also from their own ingenuity and desire to create a feminism that embraced their backgrounds and experiences. African feminism voices the realities of women in varying African countries.[7] Women's needs, reality, oppression and empowerment are best addressed by having an inclusive and accommodating understanding of the generic and more general issues as well as the peculiarities and group attitude to self-definition as women.[8] Naomi Nkealah writes that African feminism "strives to create a new, liberal, productive and self-reliant African woman within the heterogeneous cultures of Africa. Feminisms in Africa, ultimately, aim at modifying culture as it affects women in different societies."[9]

At the same time, Africa is not a monolith and so some have critiqued any idea of "African feminism." There exist differences regionally, ethnically, politically, and in religion, which all work to impact how women conceptualize what feminism and freedom looks like for them.[8][10][11] While African women from, for example, Egypt, Kenya, South Africa and Senegal will have some commonalities, there will be variations in the way they understand gender and gender struggles.[8] Therefore, these varying cultures alter the way these African women experience the world. Thus, one cannot simply merge all woman under an unrealistic expectation of sisterhood, but instead to recognize and respect the differences that exist as a result of these diversities.[8] There is a commonality to the struggles women face across the world since the common factor is male privilege.[8] The modern African woman is strong, smart, and resilient and has woken up to the options she has. She is no longer satisfied with the options created for her, but seeks to create new options and choices for the generation of other African women that will come after her.[12]

Some scholars have called for more attention in African feminist theory to sex work,[13] the white savior complex and violence against African women,[14] women in the military,[15] fieldwork with African women,[16] same-sex intimacies,[17] contemporaneity, [18]and activists' thought.[19]

Principles of African feminismEdit

African feminisms address cultural issues that they feel pertain to the complex experiences faced by all women of all cultures on the African continent. In regards to feminist theorizing, many of the authors of such theories originate from West Africa and Nigeria in particular.[1]

In her article, "West African Feminisms and Their Challenges", Naomi Nkealah discusses the various forms of African feminisms.[20] First, she points to womanism, which she argues is not part of African feminism, as it pertains to African women of the diaspora and not continental African women.[1] Second, she looks at stiwanism, which, on the contrary, places African women at the center of the discourse because stiwanism is deeply rooted in the experiences and realities African women face.[1] Third, she looks at Motherism, a maternal form of feminism that sees rural women as performing the necessary task of nurturing society.[1] Fourth, she looks at femalism, which puts the woman's body at the center of feminist conversations.[1] Finally, she looks at nego-feminism and snail-sense feminism, which urge the inclusion of men in discussions and advocacy for feminism and both argue that the inclusion of men is necessary to the freedom of women.

These modes of feminisms share several commonalities. First, they all challenge the term "feminism," both its Western term and roots, because they bring to the forefront the experiences of the African woman.[1] Second, because they are dependent on indigenous blueprints, they take from the histories and cultures of African peoples in order to create the necessary tools needed to embolden women and educate men.[1] Third, they incorporate "gender inclusion, collaboration and accommodation to ensure that both women and men contribute (even if not equally) to improving the material conditions of women."[1]

The variety in feminisms displays the African woman's active engagement with gender relations.[1]

Examples of African feminismEdit

Feminism in NigeriaEdit

Although noteworthy feminist movements have sprouted across the African continent, the feminist movement in Nigeria serves as a prime example of African feminism. Following the 1982 national conference, the inauguration of the organization Women in Nigeria (WIN) presented feminism in its present form - consistent, organized, with clear objectives and ideology.[21] In spite of rough beginnings, many scholars pay tribute to WIN for acting as training grounds for the emergence of organized feminist struggles in Nigeria.

During its first ten years, WIN facilitated the development of many of the self-identified feminists in Nigeria today.[21] WIN adopted an open membership policy of ‘come one - come all’, where anyone, male or female, was accepted as long as such a person accepted the provisions of WIN’s Constitution.[21] WIN’s open membership policy allowed the entry of many persons who had no clue about the core values of feminism and principles of gender justice.[21]

From its inception, Women in Nigeria sponsored research projects while engaging in policy advocacy and activism that holistically aimed towards enhancing the socioeconomic conditions under which many women in Nigeria experienced.[21] Furthermore, the uniqueness of WIN derives from its consciousness of both class and gender in relation to the struggle for the emancipation of Nigerian women.[21] Therefore, WIN recognized the Nigerian female experience as essentially as “double jeopardy,” where exploitation and oppression of women marked as dual forms of injustices, both as members of the subordinate class and as women.[21]

WIN to NFFEdit

In January 2008, the Nigerian feminist movement inaugurated the Nigerian Feminist Forum (NFF) - which established a larger and more coherent coalition than WIN. In the early 2000s, the NFF was created after an incubation period that started with the launching of the African Feminist Forum (AFF) in Accra, Ghana. The AFF published the Charter of the Feminist Principles which serves as an informative guide for African Feminists that clearly states how African feminists define themselves, it delivers the understanding of Feminism and Patriarchy, and amplifies the identity, ethics and proper knowledge of feminist leadership across the continent of Africa.

After much success at the grassroots level, the NFF effectively expanded and replaced Women in Nigeria (WIN) as the official Nigerian Feminist Movement. Furthermore, these newly evolved Nigerian feminist movements took part of the continental (Pan African) feminist movement, where thousands of feminist activists from all over the region were brought together to fight against the Patriarchy.[21]


The socio-economic impacts of inequity and injustice towards African feminist movements serve as detrimental stressors that inhibit women’s rights, which tampers with their overall political movement. Overall, most women are unemployed, where in most cases even if they are employed, women are often employed as casuals, or temps.[22] This ultimately hampers women’s ability to organize, mobilize and collectively advocate.[22] Another difficulty is how strong the patriarchy is in both urban and rural African communities.[22] This influences domestic politics within the household and ultimately in every community, which sways women to act against their own beliefs and against other women as well.[22]

Prominent Nigerian feministsEdit

Olufunmilayo Ransome-Kuti (1900 - 1978)Edit

Serving as a teacher, an educationist, and a women’s rights activist, Frances Abigail Olufunmilayo Ransome-Kuti is widely well-known as one of Nigeria’s earliest and foremost champions of women’s rights during the colonial period. At a time where most girls were not granted access to Western education, Olufunmilayo had the distinction of being the first female student of St. John Primary School, Abeokuta, from 1906 to 1913.[23] Being one of the first set of girls to attend school in Nigeria, Olufunmilayo was then sent to study abroad in England to finish her higher education at Wincham Hall College in Yorkshire. She studied Music, Education, Domestic Science and French, where in 1923, she returned to Nigeria fully equipped for a teaching career.

Although she participated in numerous domestic improvements in Nigeria, Olufunmilayo manifested remarkable contributions to the African women’s movement that credited her the most fame. In 1944, Olufunmilayo, along with a few peers, founded the Abeokuta Ladies Club (ALC), essentially “designed as a social club made up of educated women like her who felt compelled to help other less privileged women.”[23] In this club, these women would learn some vocational skills, where the ALC would encourage them to read and write. With other feminist organizations gradually merging with the Abeokuta Women’s Union (AWU) in 1946, Mrs. Olufunmilayo was chosen as president of a coalition that became a formidable instrument for combating against all forms of discrimination towards African women.

During the colonial era, the Sole Native Authority (SNA), the system of government introduced by the colonial administration in Abeokuta, were the main proponents behind all oppression towards African women. All power resided at the hands of the traditional ruler and local elites. Where women were entirely excluded from Nigerian governance, which meant no female participation in communal affairs or Nigerian politics. Under colonialism, the women of Abeokuta naturally believed that their economic and communal roles were declining, while their taxes were steadily increasing.[24] In 1949, Olufunmilayo Ransome-Kuti led a protest against the Sole Native Authority in Abeokuta, where the AWU argued for representation in local government and advocated for the abolition of the separate tax rate for women. As a result, the Egba Interim Council was formed, which included four (4) women representing the four sections of Abeokuta town.[23]

Lady Kofoworola Aina Ademola (1913 - 2002)Edit

An active volunteer and energetic social worker, Lady Kofoworola Aina Ademola has notebly been recognized as a distinguished women’s rights activist and remarkable educationist. Coming from a rather privileged background, Lady Kofoworola traveled to England and completed her secondary school education at Portway College. Soon after, she was granted admission to University of Oxford, where she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English. Lady Kofoworola has the honor of being the first African woman to be admitted to the University of Oxford, in 1933.[25]

The most educated, elite women coming from Lagos were members of prominent Christian families of nineteenth and twentieth-century Nigeria.[26] Nigerian pioneers like Charlotte Olajumoke Obasa, Oyinkan Abayomi, and Kofoworola Ademola, among others, completed a Western education in an array of subjects ranging from music, law, social science, to education, nursing and journalism in both Nigeria and abroad.[26] Collectively, these women broke notable barriers and certain taboos that were social norms within the Victorian and post-Victorian era.[26]

With a Western education from Oxford, Lady Kofoworola returned to Nigeria and briefly taught at Queen’s College, Lagos.[25] As a teacher, Kofoworola encouraged many of the girls to work hard in order to become achievers; her famous slogan was “brains have no gender”.[25] With her passion towards girls’ education, Lady Kofoworola encouraged her communities to establish non-governmental organizations that stimulate the education of women.[25] With gradual pace, she became one of the founding members of the Nigerian Association of University Women, whose sole aim was the ultimate encouragement of girls’ education in Nigeria.[25]

In order to increase the rather limited opportunities for Nigerian girls in secondary education, Lady Kofoworola was heavily involved in founding new secondary schools for girls. An example could be the New Era Girls’ College, a secondary school where she served as the Headmistress.[25] Lady Kofoworola was a prominent volunteer for the Red Cross Society where she served as the first Nigerian Director of the Western Region branch.[25] In recognition of her contribution in several respected fields, Lady Kofoworola was bestowed with many honors. In 1959, she became a Member of the British Empire (MBE), where she was later granted, Officer of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (OFR).[25]

Role of men in African feminismEdit

The goal of feminism is to empower women so as to ensure equality to men. For some people, the term feminism incorrectly came to mean a movement that was anti-male, anti-culture and anti-religion.[9] For purposes of inclusion, some women prefer to engage themselves in gender theory and activism by including men into the discussion because it promotes the idea that feminism is about equality among all genders and it is important to note that they also face hardships as males.[8] Because the majority of policy-makers in many African countries are men, some believe that inclusivity is important if women are to gain ground in policy changes that impact them.[8] The importance that many women place on communalism and family results in their desire to work with men to develop an inclusive approach to solving gender issues. In order to eradicate the oppression women face because of their gender, working with men has become a necessity.[8] The role of African men in feminism is nuanced and depends on location, environment, and personal ideology.

Variants of African feminismEdit


Catherine Acholonu notes that feminism is useful. "Feminism, has as its ultimate goal the triumphal emancipation of the woman as a unique, distinct individual with a mind uncluttered by patriarchal beliefs and abusive submission to tradition."[9] However, though the general notion of feminism aims to provide women with political, social, and economical freedoms, it has been criticized as excluding the narratives and experiences of women of color, especially black women. Because of this exclusion in feminism, womanism has emerged as the African-American and African variant.[27] African Womanism addresses feminism from (1) an African perspective; (2) an African geopolitical location; (3) and an African ideological viewpoint.[1] Womanism is important because it places the feminist vision within black women’s experiences with culture, colonialism and many other forms of domination and subjugation that impact African women’s lives.[28] Womanism "aims at identifying the problems relating to male dominance in society while seeking solutions to women’s marginalization by looking inward and outward."[8]

A variant of Womanism put forth by Clenora Hudson-Weems is Africana Womanism, terminology which she coined in the mid-1980s. Her use of the term "Africana" indicates that women-focused activism should be inclusive of women on the African continent and women in the African Diaspora. She argues a complete break from white feminism, a movement which was created by and for white women without any incorporation of the African experience. She also argues that Africana men and women have more in common than Africana women do with white women, further reason to develop a new kind of activism.[29]


Founded by Omolara Ogundipe-Leslie, Stiwanism focuses more on the structures that oppress women and the way women react to these institutionalized structures.[30] Ogundipe-Leslie argues that the struggle for African women is a result of colonial and neo-colonial structure that often place African males at the apex of social stratification.[30] Furthermore, the struggle African women face are also impart to the way they have internalized the patriarchy and have come to endorse the system themselves.[30]


African feminist, writer, and scholar Obioma Nnaemeka discusses and defines the term "Nego-feminism" in her article Nego-Feminism: Theorizing, Practicing, and Pruning Africa's Way." She writes, "Nego-feminism is the feminism of negotiation; second, nego-feminism stands for 'no ego' feminism and is structured by cultural imperatives and modulated by evershifting local and global exigencies."[31] Most African cultures have a culture of negotiation and compromise when it comes to reaching agreements.[31] In Nego-feminism, negotiations play the role of giving and taking.[31] For African feminism, in order to win challenges, feminists must negotiate and sometimes compromise enough in order to gain freedoms. Nnaemeka writes that African feminism works by knowing "when, where, and how to detonate and go around patriarchal land mines."[31] This means that nego-feminism knows how to utilize the culture of negotiation in order to deconstruct the patriarchy for the woman's benefit.


In her book, Motherism: The Afrocentric Alternative to Feminism, Catherine Obianuju Acholonu writes that Africa's alternative to Western feminism is Motherism and Motherism is composed of motherhood, nature, and nurture.[6] When defined, Motherism is a multidimensional theory that involves the "dynamics of ordering, reordering, creating structures, building and rebuilding in cooperation with mother nature at all levels of human endeavor."[6] A motherist is someone who is committed to the survival and maintenance of Mother Earth and someone who embraces the human struggle.[6] Acholonu makes it clear, though, that a motherist can be a woman or a man. Motherism has no sex barriers because at the core of motherism is partnership, cooperation, tolerance, love, understanding, and patience.[6] In order for motherism to work, there must be a male-female complementarity that ensures the wholeness of human existence in a balanced ecosystem.[6]


The femalist model was developed by Chioma Opara.[30] Opara describes femalism as "A hue of African feminism, is a softer tone than liberal feminism and highly polarized from radical feminism."[30] At its core, femalism is African and it accentuates the African woman's body.[30]

Snail-sense feminismEdit

Snail-sense feminism is a theory proposed by Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo.[30] This feminism encourages Nigerian woman to work slowly like a snail's movement in her dealings with men in the "tough and very difficult patriarchal [Nigerian] society they live in."[30] Ezeigbo proposes that women "must learn survival strategies to be able to overcome the impediments placed before her and live a good life."[30]

Notable African feminist criticsEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Nkealah, Naomi (2016). "(West) African Feminisms and Their Challenges". Journal of Literary Studies. 32 (2): 61–74. doi:10.1080/02564718.2016.1198156.
  2. ^ Baderoon, Gabeba; Decker, Alicia C. (2018-11-01). "African FeminismsCartographies for the Twenty-First Century". Meridians. 17 (2): 219–231. doi:10.1215/15366936-7176384. ISSN 1536-6936.
  3. ^ Swaim-Fox, Callan (2018-11-01). "Decade for Women Information Resources #5Images of Nairobi, Reflections and Follow-Up, International Women's Tribune Center". Meridians. 17 (2): 296–308. doi:10.1215/15366936-7176450. ISSN 1536-6936.
  4. ^ Busia, Abena P. A. (2018-11-01). "Creating the Archive of African Women's WritingReflecting on Feminism, Epistemology, and the Women Writing Africa Project". Meridians. 17 (2): 233–245. doi:10.1215/15366936-7176406. ISSN 1536-6936.
  5. ^ Carby, Hazel (1996). "White Women Listen! Black Feminism and the Boundaries of sisterhood". In Houston A. Baker, Jr., Manthia Diawara, Ruth H. Lindeborg (eds.). Black British Cultural Studies: A Reader. University of Chicago Press.CS1 maint: Uses editors parameter (link)
  6. ^ a b c d e f Acholonu Obianuju, Catherine (1995). Motherism: The Afrocentric Alternative to Feminism. Afa Publications.
  7. ^ Ahikire, Josephine. "African feminism in context: Reflections on the legitimation battles, victories and reversals" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-08-02.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i Kolawole, Mary Modupe (January 2002). "Transcending incongruities: Rethinking feminism and the dynamics of identity in Africa". Agenda. 17 (54): 92–98. doi:10.1080/10130950.2002.9676183 (inactive 2019-08-18).
  9. ^ a b c Nkealah, Naomi (2006). Conceptualizing Feminism(s) in Africa: The Challenges Facing African Women Writers and Critics. English Academy Review. pp. 133–141.
  10. ^ Pereira, Charmaine (2018-11-01). "Beyond the SpectacularContextualizing Gender Relations in the Wake of the Boko Haram Insurgency". Meridians. 17 (2): 246–268. doi:10.1215/15366936-7176417. ISSN 1536-6936.
  11. ^ Ouguir, Aziza; Sadiqi, Fatima (2018-11-01). "Reflecting on Feminisms in AfricaA Conversation from Morocco". Meridians. 17 (2): 269–278. doi:10.1215/15366936-7176428. ISSN 1536-6936.
  12. ^ Orakwue, Amaka (19 March 2018). "What is African Feminism?". Urban Woman Magazine. Retrieved 21 March 2018.
  13. ^ Yingwana, Ntokozo (2018-11-01). ""We Fit in the Society by Force"Sex Work and Feminism in Africa". Meridians. 17 (2): 279–295. doi:10.1215/15366936-7176439. ISSN 1536-6936.
  14. ^ George, Abosede (2018-11-01). "Saving Nigerian GirlsA Critical Reflection on Girl-Saving Campaigns in the Colonial and Neoliberal Eras". Meridians. 17 (2): 309–324. doi:10.1215/15366936-7176461. ISSN 1536-6936.
  15. ^ Mougoué, Jacqueline-Bethel Tchouta (2018-11-01). "Gender and (Militarized) Secessionist Movements in AfricaAn African Feminist's Reflections". Meridians. 17 (2): 338–358. doi:10.1215/15366936-7176483. ISSN 1536-6936.
  16. ^ Makana, Selina (2018-11-01). "Contested EncountersToward a Twenty-First-Century African Feminist Ethnography". Meridians. 17 (2): 361–375. doi:10.1215/15366936-7176516. ISSN 1536-6936.
  17. ^ Musangi, Neo Sinoxolo (2018-11-01). "Homing with My Mother / How Women in My Family Married Women". Meridians. 17 (2): 401–414. doi:10.1215/15366936-7176549. ISSN 1536-6936.
  18. ^ McFadden, Patricia (2018-11-01). "ContemporaritySufficiency in a Radical African Feminist Life". Meridians. 17 (2): 415–431. doi:10.1215/15366936-7176560. ISSN 1536-6936.
  19. ^ Moraa, Anne (2018-11-01). "Smoke Is Everywhere, but No One Is RunningA Kenyan Activist Speaks Out". Meridians. 17 (2): 325–330. doi:10.1215/15366936-7176472. ISSN 1536-6936.
  20. ^ Nkealah, Naomi (2016). "(West) African Feminisms and Their Challenges". Journal of Literary Studies. 32 (2): 61–74. doi:10.1080/02564718.2016.1198156.
  21. ^ a b c d e f g h Madunagu, Bene E. (2010), "The Nigerian Feminist Movement: Lessons from Women in Nigeria (WIN)", African Women, Palgrave Macmillan US, pp. 155–165, doi:10.1057/9780230114326_11, ISBN 9781349290345
  22. ^ a b c d My Dream is to be Bold: Our Work to End Patriarchy. Cape Town, South Africa: Pambazuka Press. 2011.
  23. ^ a b Awe, Bolanle (1991), "Writing Women into History: The Nigerian Experience", Writing Women's History, Palgrave Macmillan UK, pp. 211–220, doi:10.1007/978-1-349-21512-6_11, ISBN 9780333541616
  24. ^ Byfield, Judith A. (2018), "African Women in Colonial Economies", The Palgrave Handbook of African Colonial and Postcolonial History, Palgrave Macmillan US, pp. 145–170, doi:10.1057/978-1-137-59426-6_6, ISBN 9781137594259
  25. ^ a b c d e f g h Awe, Bolanle (2016). Nigerian Women Pioneers & Icons. Oyo State, Nigeria: Childsplay Books Limited. ISBN 978-978-35455-6-4.
  26. ^ a b c Aderinto, Saheed (2012). "Of Gender, Race, and Class: The Politics of Prostitution in Lagos, Nigeria, 1923–1954". JSTOR. 33 (3): 71–92. doi:10.5250/fronjwomestud.33.3.0071. JSTOR 10.5250/fronjwomestud.33.3.0071.
  27. ^ Ebunoluwa, Sotunsa Mobolanle (2009). "The Quest for an African Variant". The Journal of Pan African Studies: 227–234.
  28. ^ Ogunyemi, Chikwenye Okonjo (1985). "Womanism: The Dynamics of the Contemporary Black Female Novel in English". Signs. 11 (1): 63–80. doi:10.1086/494200. JSTOR 3174287.
  29. ^ Hudson-Weems, Clenora (1994). Africana Womanism: Reclaiming Ourselves. Bedford Publishers.
  30. ^ a b c d e f g h i Ezenwa-Ohaeto, Ngozi (2015). "Fighting Patriarchy in Nigerian Cultures Through Children's Literature". CSCanada. 10.
  31. ^ a b c d Nnaemeka, Obioma (2004). "Nego‐Feminism: Theorizing, Practicing, and Pruning Africa's Way". Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society. 29 (2): 357–385. doi:10.1086/378553. JSTOR 10.1086/378553.