Taking her turn on GrandmotherAfrica, a popular intellectual platform for Africa’s most discerning minds, Amara Jali, a Malian scholar and essayist, provoked a heated debate on women equality in Africa, issuing a definitive warning: “Feminism is simply un-African,” clarifying that “Feminism is a western idea and a western terminology. It has no kin in Africa. Much like cooking French Fries in Africa and calling it an African French Fries. No, it is just French Fries cooked in Africa.”
Amara continues: “African women are nowhere in Africa oppressed, chained and forced to labor…,” sharply contrasting the feminist position of Chimamanda Adichie, whom she accuses of creating “her own version of the word [feminism] for herself.” Amara asserts, rather forcefully, that “African women do not need to be pitted against African men to incite some gender civil war that only benefits the west….” She asks: “Who should build the bridge over the river? Young women? Soft men?”
It is not clear whether Amara will revise her position on account of President Buhari’s recent comments about his wife, whom he says “belongs to my kitchen, the living room and the other room.” The Nigerian President was reacting to a BBC interview in which his wife, Aisha Buhari, is reported to have said that Buhari had lost grip on his government, alleging that “The president does not know 45 out of 50 of the people he appointed and I don’t know them either, despite being his wife of 27 years.”
On Twitter, the hashtag #TheOtherRoom is trending and gathering astonishing reviews about the President’s Stone Age assessment of the role of women in politics, gender equality in Nigeria and Africa’s place in the global intellectual community. A shocked Nigerian lady remarked: “Buhari is not alone in this; many African men do not respect women. They beat us, stamp on our rights and boot away our dignity.”
An embarrassed Nigerian attempted to unravel the riddle of “The Other Room,” suggesting that it is a hencoop or dog pen in the President’s large mansion. She adds, rather sarcastically, “The coop is the lovely place we have reserved for our women–in terms of human rights, political appointments and social recognition. Buhari is very right, we belong to his other room, not the main room.”
Guts, Grit and Gumption
Aisha Buhari has guts. She has grit. She has gumption. She says it like it is. Is this what Feminism is about? I don’t know whether I am a feminist or not, but I believe and support any movement or idea that promotes women’s rights and liberties. I am not offended by attempts and campaigns that seek to push the frontiers of our human rights a little further, to give women more space. I even support affirmative action policies that advocate a 40% quota for women in all decision-making structures.
Well, I guess I am a feminist–assuming Ama Ata Aidoo’s definition of feminism is our standard. The award-winning novelist and playwright describes a feminist as anybody who believes that women are thinkers and doers, and can do just as good as men. That would include Barack Obama and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, both of whom proclaim they are feminist. Obama recently said: If you want to know what a feminist looks like, look at me. Ban wanted a woman to succeed him as Secretary General.
Feminism, therefore, is not a weird idea that better suits some metropolitan elites in homosexual-friendly societies, than Africans. Here is a workable definition: “The belief that women are and should be treated as potential intellectual equals and social equals to men. These people can be either male or female human beings, although the ideology is commonly (and perhaps falsely) associated mainly with women.”
Chimamanda offers a simpler definition: “A feminist is a man or a woman who says, Yes, there’s problem with gender, as there is today, and we must fix it. We must do better.” So what are the problems? Well, Buhari just gave us one. Let’s look for examples–from patriarchal societies where women are counted as economic units and inherited as property when their husbands pass away. Her in-laws would sack her from the house she and her husband toiled to build. She is dispossessed of her land. When she resists, she is accused of witchcraft. She must have killed her husband.
While there are systemic abuses of the rights of women in the African traditional set up, Amara insists that we may be confusing womanhood with feminism. The former, she says, is “within the African embrace” while the latter is “a foreign ideological machination that is formulated” to weaken our idea of manhood and womanhood. If sex is demanded before a woman gets a job, is it a gender rights issue? Is it ammunition for feminist action, or a problem that comes with being a woman?
Every man should be a feminist
Remember, men have their problems too, and their agitations are not spinned off as Masculism, or what Nicholas Davidson calls ‘Virism’ in his book ‘The Failure of Feminism.’ ‘Sometimes, I feel quite stupid when I sit in the living room foraging through newspapers while my wife cooks in the kitchen. She had just finished bathing Randall, our second son. Reagan, our first, is shouting for a second bowl of cereal. I am served dinner and the plates are cleared. My wife is a manager in a bank.
That is typically African, you might say. My white partner in Canada did the cooking and the laundry, and cleaned more. I shoveled the snow and usually walked the dog but I knew I was toast at home keeping. I associate with Chimamanda’s worry that even when the lady pays the bill at the restaurant, the waitress says thank you to the man. I didn’t see this in Canada but I get it in Ghana every day.
It is Stone Age thinking for a man to think himself superior to a woman. Not when Hillary will be president of the world’s most powerful country. It is perhaps most redeeming for all feminists that Donald Trump lost the American presidency to his careless attacks on women. Well, it seems Buhari just trumped Donald on insults. Only God knows who lives in Buhari’s other room. Aisha’s is the kitchen.