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Saturday, March 8, 2014

Feminism and Sisterhood Matters: Does African Sisterhood Exist?

She stared at me, with her lips pouted into a soft smile,  pulled her glasses down her in front of face as if she was about to make a strong point, her red colored warm earrings and her afro puff on her head and she says  " What inspires you? What motivates you as an African Feminist? Whatever it is do just that!" I was so taken aback by the question, it was  supposed to be a happy moment, but I was sad, sad because I could not articulate an answer to her questions.  This was the first time I had been asked this working on the continent. What i had experienced a long time within this particular work space was women staring me down whenever I walked into a meeting not nicely, being asked how I got the position and what my qualifications were, or older women treating me as if I was too young to understand anything, and some even doing everything in their authority to stop me from speaking when in public spaces. The same women would later befriend me or talk to me after "studying" me. This wasn't just something I experienced many of my young woman friends experienced similar.  I was always confused by this, wasn't this supposed to be about us as women working together to make things happen for other women?  It wasn't until I met this woman that my hope reignited again and I realized that  there were women, real feminists still out there who believed in uplifting women, and fighting for the cause. At the end of the meeting she later thanked me for sharing my ideas, and expressed to everyone in a later meeting about how wonderful my ideas were.

As feminists and women activists sometimes we think what we are fighting for women is out there somewhere in some village, but at times what we are fighting against is right next to us. We are fighting jealousy, bad mindedness, intimidation, lack of sisterhood all which gets in the way of doing the real work.  We fail to realize that the feminism, the real sense of feminism is the relationships that we encounter everyday and what we bring to them. If we can't embrace those everyday female relationships in a positive manner, what makes us think that what we are trying to do out int he world is making any impact? The change begins with that woman you sat next to on the poda poda, tro-tro, the woman  you work with and your little sisters etc. In the obvious situations, feminism and activism become more "needed" when we meet that young girl whose close friend committed suicide to avoid marriage at an early age,  or the young girl who gets sexually harassed by her teacher everyday, or the widow who after losing her husband losses all his property to his brothers family. I would argue that feminism is needed where women are fighting against each other, and tearing each other down.

I have always seen a common thread between feminism and sisterhood. Even when one looks historically, at women's movements most mass protests and policy changes happened because women worked together and believed in the feminist ideologies.  Therefore it is my  belief that women should do more to work together to tackle the various issues we are fighting for or bringing to life. Some of the toughest forms of discrimination I have experienced in my life have come from other women; surprising but true. As sisters we should be aware of what some of these values of feminism and sisterhood are and what we are advocating for. It is not about competition, or stepping on top of other women's shoulders to advance ourselves.

Since that encounter with this woman, I looked towards more women who would continue mentoring me, and extended that mentorship and sisterhood out to my peers,  and young girls.  lf I were to see her again, I would say what motivates me as an African feminist are women like her who cultivate sisterhood, and encourage women to speak up, and join forces to work towards the greater good for all women. I will forever cherish her and the moment and what it taught me along with the many other women who I know who exemplify what it means to be true feminists and sisters. So to the question does African Sisterhood exist I would say yes but we need more of it, and we need to develop more authentic synergies and structures to work together to advance our goals.

 For this month we will showcase the voices and perspectives of different women on their take on feminism and sisterhood. We hope you enjoy our Feminism and Sisterhood Series! 

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