AfricaFocus Bulletin
April 10, 2017 (170410)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor’s Note

“On February 18th I lost my grand aunt – my grandmother really …
This incredible woman, May Kyomugasho Katebaka left us at the age of
97. We last met in 2014 when I visited her. She’s a fierce woman.
Fierce in her religion but also fierce in her knowledge of what she
wanted from the world. And that is what moves me. Moves me every time
one claims feminism is foreign and for the educated, un-african. She
always came to mind when I met such arguments. I would tell myself
that if only they could hear half her life story, then they would
understand why I am such a rebellion.” – Rosebell Kagumire


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“Today as ever, African female activists are reshaping not just
African feminist agendas but global ones as well,” wrote scholar
Aili Mari Tripp in a March 8 article published in African Arguments.
But this was only a small sample of articles and web features that
have recently appeared highlighting different aspects of “African
feminism(s),” as well as a host of new books by both famous and
relatively unknown authors.

Among sources that have come to my attention in the last month, this
AfricaFocus Bulletin features the overview article by Aili Mari
Tripp, a reflection by Ugandan journalist and activist Rosebell
Kagumire, several additional links to web features from the African
Feminist Forum and OkayAfrica, and a listing of a selection of
recent related books, from 2017, 2016, and 2015.

The article from March 8, International Women’s Day, was the initial
impetus for this Bulletin. But it is appropriate that the Bulletin
comes only a few days after April 7 (Mozambican Women’s Day),
commemorated to honor the example of Josina Muthemba Machel (, who I was privileged
to work with in Dar es Salaam in 1966-1967, a few years before her
death at the age of 25 on April 7, 1971. [I don’t know who wrote the
Wikipedia article, but it is substantive and, to my knowledge,

Additional recent web references

African Feminist Forum, “Know Your African Feminists” and “African
Feminist Ancestors” Accessed March 2017 – direct URLs: and

“Talking African Feminisms with Dr. Sylvia Tamale,”
Rosebell Kagumire blog, August 19, 2016

“OkayAfrica’s 100 Women” Accessed March 2017

“Ghana: Women are the new face of telecommunications’ players,”
Balancing Act Africa, March 17, 2017

“Malawi: Rural Women, Empowerment and Mining,” Publish What You Pay,
December 19, 2016

Eunice Onwona, “Karen Attiah Is the ‘Warrior of Diversity’
Channeling Journalism Into Activism,” OkayAfrica, March 17, 2017

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor’s note+++++++++++++++++

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Those who Defied the Odds, Those Who Stood True to their Beliefs
Till the End

by Rosebell Kagumire

African Feminism, March 22, 2017 – direct URL:

On February 18th I lost my grand aunt – my grandmother really
(English limitations) because in my culture a sister of my
grandmother is my grandmother. Both have almost equal roles and
space in your life.

This incredible woman, May Kyomugasho Katebaka left us at the age of
97. We last met in 2014 when I visited her. She’s a fierce woman.
Fierce in her religion but also fierce in her knowledge of what she
wanted from the world. And that is what moves me. Moves me every time
one claims feminism is foreign and for the educated, un-african. She
always came to mind when I met such arguments. I would tell myself
that if only they could hear half her life story, then they would
understand why I am such a rebellion.

Grandma May, always made it a point to tell us she got ‘saved/born
again’ in 1949. Religion was at the centre of her life. She always
told us had it not been for her selfless service in the church, she
would have ended up like most women of her time.  She was one of the
few among millions of women at the time who could read. And that
came through the colonial state where knowledge of the bible
accorded one certain privileges.

Her life is an inspiration. She was married, briefly, and quickly
figured out that married life wasn’t for her so she dedicated
herself to serving the church. Where she was married and even when
she didn’t have children of her own, she is known to have treated
the kids she found in the home like her own. Of course this is
something many women are required of by society and the conditions
are often not on their side – women should have choices – but the
love between her and her step children remained even when she was
longer part of their family. That love was demonstrated till the

In my culture and many in Uganda still, unmarried and childless
women are scorned upon but Grandmother May commanded a certain
respect above all these. She managed to weave her life story, with a
church as her shelter, to be who she wanted to be. Of course many
would say she should ‘have had a child at least’ and god knows what
other pressures she faced. All these little narrow definitions of
what a woman’s life should be according to society wouldn’t dwindle

I loved her and she lived an exceptional life and didn’t matter who
accepted it. She was beautiful too and a deep deep soul. In many
ways she was still traditional like I remember her asking me to
always wear long t-shirts over my jeans – you know – not to show
‘secret body parts’ like we call it in my Runyankole. I usually
laughed these off.

She is inspiration and the fact that her life in itself – some
aspects probably weren’t intentional – but she never followed the
crowd. And that’s enough to get me through this life. I thought in
the spirit of women’s history month, Grandma May fully represents
the people in my life that shattered those expectations. To
understand where we are going we must always look back for a lesson,
inspiration and sometimes caution.


How African feminism changed the world

Aili Mari Tripp

African Arguments, March 8, 2017 – direct URL:

[Aili Mari Tripp is Professor of Political Science and Evjue Bascom
Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of
Wisconsin-Madison. She is the co-editor, with Balghis Badri, of
Women’s Activism in Africa (2017).]

Today as ever, African female activists are reshaping not just
African feminist agendas but global ones as well.

One of the great fallacies one still hears today is that feminism
started in the Global North and found its way to the Global South.
Another is that universal understandings of women’s rights as
embodied in UN treaties and conventions were formulated by activists
in the North.

International Women’s Day, however, provides an opportunity to
highlight the reality: that not only do feminisms in the Global
South have their own trajectories, inspirations, and demands, but
they have contributed significantly to today’s global understandings
of women’s rights. Nowhere is this clearer than in Africa, where
women are increasingly exerting leadership from politics to business
and have helped shape global norms regarding women’s rights in
multiple arenas.

For decades, African activists have rejected the notion that one can
subsume all feminist agendas under a Western one. As far back as the
1976 international conference on Women and Development at Wellesley
College, Egyptian novelist Nawal El-Saadawi and Moroccan sociologist
Fatema Mernissi challenged efforts by Western feminists to define
global feminism. In the drafting of the 1979 Convention on the
Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the All African
Women’s Conference was one of six organisations and the only
regional body involved.

African women have also been influencing national gender policies
for over half a century. In 1960, for example, Mail’s Jacqueline Ki-
zerbo had already developed the idea of considering the gender
impacts of policies. It was only decades later that this idea – now
commonly known as “gender mainstreaming” – gained international
currency, particularly in national budgetary processes.

In key UN conferences, African women activists have been visible
from the outset. Egypt’s Aida Gindy held the first international
meeting on Women in Economic Development in 1972. The Kenya Women’s
Group helped organise the 1985 UN Conference on Women in which
African women brought issues of apartheid and national liberation to
the fore. And Egypt’s Aziza Husayn helped organise the 1994 Cairo
International Conference on Population and Development, which
shifted the debate around population control away from a traditional
family planning emphasis on quotas and targets to one focused on
women’s rights and health.

Additionally, Sierra Leone’s Filomena Steady was one of the key
conveners of the Earth Summit in 1992. Tanzania’s Gertrude Mongella
was General Secretary of the pivotal 1995 UN Beijing Conference. And
African women peace-builders played a crucial role in the 2000
Windhoek conference, which paved the way for a UN Security Council
Resolution encouraging the inclusion of women in peace negotiations
and peacekeeping missions around the world.

Leading the world

Women in Africa have also set new standards for women’s political
leadership globally. The likes of Guinea’s Jeanne Martin Cissé,
Liberia’s Angie Brooks and Tanzania’s Anna Tibaijuka and Asha-Rose
Migiro have all held top positions at the UN. Meanwhile at a
national level, many African countries have made important gains in
women’s representation.

Rwandan women today hold 62% of the country’s legislative seats, the
highest in the world. In Senegal, South Africa, Namibia, and
Mozambique, more than 40% of parliamentary seats are held by women.
There are female speakers of the house in one fifth of African
parliaments, higher than the world average of 14%. Women have
claimed positions in key ministries throughout Africa. And women
have increasingly run for executive positions, with Liberia, the
Central African Republic, Malawi and Mauritius all having had female
heads of state. Moreover, these increases in female representation
are taking place across the continent, including predominantly
Muslim countries such as Senegal, where women hold 43% of
legislative seats.

These new patterns are found at the regional level too, with women
holding 50% of the positions at in African Union Commission,
compared to just one-third at the European Commission. South
Africa’s Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma meanwhile chaired the AU Commission
from 2012 to 2017.

Women’s strong presence in African parliaments has resulted in new
discussions about strategies to enhance female political
representation worldwide. Scandinavian scholars such as Drude
Dahlerup and Lenita Freidenvall even argue that the incremental
model that led to high rates of female representation in Nordic
countries in the 1970s has now been replaced by the “fast track”
African model in which dramatic jumps in representation are brought
about by electoral quotas.

Shaping the world

African women have also been pioneering in business. Aspiring young
female entrepreneurs today have several role models they can follow
such as Ghana’s Esther Ocloo, who pursued the idea of formalising
local women’s credit associations and became a founding member of
one of the first microcredit banks, Women’s Worlds Banking, in 1979.

According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, African countries
have almost equal numbers of men and women either actively involved
in business start-ups or in the phase of starting a new firm. And in
countries such as Ghana, Nigeria and Zambia, women are reportedly
more likely to be entrepreneurs than men.

These changes are evident not only at the grassroots but, to an
extent, at the highest levels. Female representation in boardrooms
worldwide is very poor, but Africa’s rate of 14.4% is only slightly
behind Europe (18%) and the US (17%), and ahead of Asia, Latin
America and the Middle East.

Finally, a younger generation of activists is emerging throughout
Africa today and redefining feminism from an African perspective.
One sees this not only in the work of the African Feminist Forum,
which first met in 2006, but also in the work of figures such as
novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie who issued a clarion call to women
in her video We Should All be Feminist, adapted from her 2013 Ted
Talk, in which she explores what it means to be an African feminist.
Her book length essay by the same title is found on bookshelves in
major cities around the world, and the Swedish Women’s Lobby has
given it to every 16-year-old in Sweden to help them think about
gender equality.

Feminist discourse meanwhile has become commonplace throughout the
continent on websites, blogs, journals, and social media. New
feminist novels like Dust by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor (Kenya), Kintu by
Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi (Uganda), and Americanah by Adichie
(Nigeria) have offered new ways of imagining women.

There are clearly still enormous hurdles for African feminists to
overcome in fighting for gender equality. But as they have over the
past half a century, Africa’s women activists of today are reshaping
not only African feminist agendas in tackling these challenges, but
global ones as well.


Books, 2017

[Thanks to Kathleen Sheldon for most of these suggested books.
Short quotes after each book are from the publishers’ descriptions
unless source is otherwise cited.]

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in
Fifteen Suggestions, 2017. “Adichie has partly written Dear Ijeawele
to reclaim the word feminism from its abusers and misusers. Her
advice is not only to provide children with alternatives—to empower
boys and girls to understand there is no single way to be—but also
to understand that the only universal in this world is difference.”
– Emma Brockes, The Guardian (UK)

Balghis Badri and Aili Mari Tripp, eds. Women’s Activism in Africa:
Struggles for Rights and Representation, 2017. “Drawing on case
studies and fresh empirical material from across the continent, the
authors challenge the prevailing assumption that notions of women’s
rights have trickled down from the global north to the south,
showing instead that these movements have been shaped by above all
the unique experiences and concerns of the local women involved.”

Helene Cooper. Madame President: The Extraordinary Journey of Ellen
Johnson Sirleaf, 2017. “Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and
bestselling author Helene Cooper deftly weaves Sirleaf’s personal
story into the larger narrative of the coming of age of Liberian

Linda M. Heywood. Njinga of Angola: Africa’s Warrior Queen
Hardcover, 2017. “Though largely unknown in the Western world, the
seventeenth-century African queen Njinga was one of the most
multifaceted rulers in history, a woman who rivaled Elizabeth I and
Catherine the Great in political cunning and military prowess.”

Kathleen Sheldon. African Women: Early History to the 21st Century.
2017. “The rich case studies and biographies in this thorough survey
establish a grand narrative about women’s roles in the history of

Books, 2016

Berger, Iris. Women in Twentieth-Century Africa, 2016. “This book
introduces students to many remarkable women, who organized
religious and political movements, fought in anti-colonial wars, ran
away to escape arranged marriages, and during the 1990s began
successful campaigns for gender parity in national legislatures.”

Feldman-Savelsberg, Pamela. Mothers on the Move: Reproducing
Belonging Between Africa and Europe, 2016. “[The author”takes
readers back and forth between Cameroon and Germany to explore how
migrant mothers—through the careful and at times difficult
management of relationships—juggle belonging in multiple places at
once: their new country, their old country, and the diasporic
community that bridges them.”

Hunt, Swanee. Rwandan Women Rising. Durham, N.C.: Duke University
Press, 2017. “[The author] shares the stories of some seventy
women—heralded activists and unsung heroes alike—who overcame
unfathomable brutality, unrecoverable loss, and unending challenges
to rebuild Rwandan society.”

Mgbako, Chi Adanna. To Live Freely in This World: Sex Worker
Activism in Africa, 2016. “Well-written and elegant, Mgbako’s
research reveals the rise of African sex work activism and the
ongoing trials and tribulations of organizing in the face of
economic, social, and political adversity.” – Aziza
Ahmed,Northeastern University

Rhine, Kathryn A. The Unseen Things: Women, Secrecy, and HIV in
Northern Nigeria, 2016. “The book is especially innovative in its
rich detail about desire, pleasure and love, and the strategies men
and women use to reconstitute relationships after testing positive
for HIV.” – Carolyn Sargent, Washington University in St. Louis

Scully, Pamela. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (Ohio Short Histories of
Africa), 2016. “A clear and concise introduction to the woman and to
the domestic and international politics that have shaped her
personally and professionally.” —Peace A. Medie, University of Ghana

Sylvanus, Nina. Patterns in Circulation: Cloth, Gender, and
Materiality in West Africa, 2016. “[The author] tells a captivating
story of global trade and cross-cultural aesthetics in West Africa,
showing how a group of Togolese women—through the making and
circulation of wax cloth—became influential agents of taste and

Books, 2015

Galawdewos, Wendy Laura Belcher, and Michael Kleiner. The Life and
Struggles of Our Mother Walatta Petros: A Seventeenth-Century
African Biography of an Ethiopian Woman, 2015.
“This is the first English translation of the earliest-known book-
length biography of an African woman, and one of the few lives of an
African woman written by Africans before the nineteenth century.”


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