Agbowo’s recently published women’s day anthology In Her Words: African Women’s Perspectives on Gender Equality is a mosaic of African feminism and gender activism continuing conversations on the fight for equality.
It’s the first African feminist essay collection I’ve ever read. Prior to this, I have never come across a feminist text that encapsulates the lived experiences of African women in the everyday struggle. Reading it was something like charting new waters for me.
The collection features creative fiction essays, as well as non-fiction essays, from young African women across the continent. It is as diverse as it’s cover art is beautiful. An original painting by visual artist, Helen Nzete, the cover serves it’s purpose in it’s eye-catching ability and appeal. But what’s more mesmerizing is the actual content of the book.
Each essay is a personal account, exploring what feminism means to the individual author and how they choose to live their truth regardless of what our patriarchal societies say. Although independent of each other, at the epicentre of the collective is a demand for the empowerment, respect and emancipation of African women everywhere.
The theme of religion and feminism is explored in Hauwa Shaffi Nuhu’s When We Talk of Freedom: Hijabs, Respectability and What it Actually Means To Be Free. Hauwa draws attention to the Islamophobia menacing Southern Nigeria and the misconceptions placed on the hijab, as well as the women who wear it. Islamophobia in the South is a topic too often overlooked and ignorance will have you believing that it ends in non-violent banter or gibes at government officials.
Through Hauwa’s lived experiences, we, the readers are exposed to the distressing experiences of Northern Nigerian Muslim women. Hauwa does a brilliant job of attacking the biases people take when it comes to freedom and what the hijab is representative of.
In Nana Sule’s Walking This Path, Islam and feminism are brought to the forefront again. Sule writes on the struggle that often comes with taking on liberal gender views when you are a person of Islamic faith; something she is very familiar with as she considers herself a Muslim woman.
Africa is at large a chronically religious continent. Religion is one thing that affects every facet of life here. For the longest time, it has been a tool for the oppression of women–even to some, an excuse for that oppression. In the essay, we see Nana find her foundations in the Quran, the wordings of her faith.
My knowledge allowed me the freedom to live without feeling like I needed to prove my righteousness to anyone. I didn’t need a man, father, brother, husbannd or son to serve as an intermediary between myself and my God. It helped me find purpose.Nana Sule in Walking This Path.
Gender and Identity, in the Words of Women From Mauritania to Senegal by Borso Tall is an autobiographical essay and a love note to the matriarch of Tall’s family–her grandmother, Rokhaya. Borso considers it a privilege to be born into a household with strong, opinionated women who did not not shy away from the controversial.
We spoke of feminism in our home before it was a topic people spoke about. As with other purported taboo topics, my mother demystified it and brought it to life.Borso Tall in Gender and Identity, in the Words of Women From Mauritania to Senegal.
The essay goes on to show other exemplary female figures in Tall’s life and the effects growing up in such a household had on her perspectives on gender relations.
I really enjoyed and related to Sokna Mbathio Thiaw’s Equality in Senegal: a dream or an eternal quest, which is the polar opposite of Tall’s essay. Here, we see a woman, the daughter of a housewife, grow up in the patriarchy surrounded by gender based violence.
To What We Are All Aspiring and Does it matter is another personal favorite of mine.
Victoria Malowa’s opinionated essay on Michelle Obama’s autobiographical novel Becoming stands out. Divergent from what we’d normally see in essays regarding the former first lady of the United States, essays filled with deep admiration and aspiration, Malowa questions the patriarchal and racist institutions that authenticate Michelle’s success, drawing similarities in Michelle’s story with that of Kenyan award-winning actress, Lupita Nyong’o and the late Novel Peace Prize Winner from Kenya, Professor Wangari Maathai.
Women of color across the globe deal with racism and misogyny in their professions and will often have more hurdles to cross than any other person of any other race. When women of color do eventually become successes, society praises and almost worships them–the Michelle Obamas and Kamala Harris’. In her essay, Malowa questions society’s absurd reaction to such successes, when the reality should be concern that such hurdles exist for black woman and girls in the first place.
I have since learned to challenge the narrative that we should all sit back and endure society’s abuse against the defiant women, so that we can celebrate them as champions and overlook the systemic change required to enable more women become successful.Victoria Malowa in To What We Are All Aspiring and Does It Matter.
All the essays, though lacking in some respects, are replete with knowledge and perspective. I can boldly assert that there’s an essay for every type of African woman in this anthology. There is something you can relate to, something you can learn from and something to reassure you.
The thing I love most about this book is that it tells our history right. Through these accounts, the reader sees that feminism is (and has always been) a part of our culture. It is our job as women, as members of society, to continue to push the barriers holding us back, as the women before us have done. For that is the sole reason we enjoy the privileges we have and benefit of today. And maybe reading about the journeys of these women will embolden this generation of African men and women to do just that.
If you would like to read In Her Words: African Women’s Perspectives of Gender Equality like I did, click this link here and download your very own copy.