No African futures without the liberation of black women

File Picture: Oupa Mokoena/African News Agency(ANA)

File Picture: Oupa Mokoena/African News Agency(ANA)

Published Sep 29, 2022


Nhlanhla Mosele

The silence on oppression and decolonization of women in society which is meant to deconstruct the idea that patriarchy is the cause of women's oppression continues to haunt us and has delegitimized women’s struggle and placed them in a mental double-bind.

In a world that is slowly evolving, it is Black women who continue to be discriminated from participating in economic activities as equal as their male counterparts. Black women continue to be discriminated against in manifold ways. Many of the problems that black women encounter are lack of access to the labour market including wage gap. Black women are often paid less than men for the same work or work of equal value on average at least 15% less (up to 25 –30% less).

But also, Black women are not only discriminated against for economic reasons they are mainly discriminated against because of stereotyping and misguided preconceptions of women’s roles and abilities, commitment and leadership style.

These stereotypes lead to women often being offered employment that is precarious, ill-paid, without any possibility of career advancement and not gratifying as not allowing for the full development of their abilities. They are often excluded from informal networks and channels of communication (the “old boys network”). In addition, some of them suffer from an unfriendly corporate culture and can become victims of moral and sexual harassment, bullying and mobbing.

All of this continues to happen in democratic countries, when Black women are supposed to have a right to decide their own destiny, and they should further define their freedoms.

For instance, when you look at the continent of Africa which for centuries has been striving to emancipate itself from the state of irrelevance, poverty, underdevelopment, squalor, infrastructural decay and political and economic fiasco, which it has occupied for many centuries.

In this regard, colonization has been significant among the plethora of problems which are responsible for the pitiable condition which Africa has been since the continent’s colonial experience began. However, although an increased attention to women’s rights and gender decolonisation has led to practical gains for women in many newly independent states, life after formal political decolonisation continues to be shaped for many women by the perpetuation of imperialist structures in multiple forms.

For many decades women have been lived under patriarchal, oppressive and violent governments, which denied them access to higher education, career determination, and equal pay legislation that prohibited them to earn as equal as men, a right to quality healthcare and reproductive rights and similar cabinet positions in many governments.

Throughout history of decolonisation in the twentieth century is often told as a history of “Great Men”, of Franz Fanon, Kwame Nkrumah, Mohandas Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Steve Biko, Oliver Tambo and many other men. There is no shortage of male thinkers and leaders from which to draw inspiration as we explore the continuing relevance of anti-colonial critiques and movements to contemporary life. But if we fail to also recognise the historical contributions of women and of feminist thought, we miss an opportunity to take this discussion even further, to capture an even broader emancipatory vision from the past, for the future.

On the contrary, women have been everywhere involved in the anti-colonial movements that peaked across Africa, Asia and the Caribbean from the 70s. They led strikes, marched, engaged in armed combat, supported guerrilla armies, organised protests, maintained boycotts, reorganised their home lives to support nationalist causes. Some like Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, Bibi Titi Mohammed and Djamila Boupacha became well-known figures in their own right.

Many more laboured behind the scenes, doing the background organisational work that made the Great Men’s speeches and mobilisations successful. Their names may be lost to the historical record, but their contributions were foundational. As much as we are drawn to narratives of singular, charismatic leaders, it is this day-to-day labour that actually makes a movement successful even in the 21st century in all demicratisational states.

Equality should be the cornerstone of every democratic society which aspires to social justice and human rights. In virtually all societies and spheres of activity women are subject to inequalities in law and in fact. This situation is both caused and exacerbated by the existence of discrimination in the family, in the community and in the workplace. While causes and consequences may vary from country to country, discrimination against women is widespread. It is perpetuated by the survival of stereotypes and of traditional cultural and religious practices and beliefs detrimental to women.

Women in Africa work 13 hours a week more than men and are mostly unpaid. Worldwide, women earn 30 to 40 per cent less than men for doing equal work. Women hold between 10 and 20 per cent of managerial and administrative jobs worldwide and less than 20 per cent of jobs in manufacturing. They make up less than 5 per cent of the world's heads of State. The unpaid housework and family labour, if counted as productive output in national accounts, would increase measures of global output by 25 to 30 percent.

It is this broader view of equality which has become the underlying principle and the final goal in the struggle for recognition and acceptance of the human rights of women.

The emancipatory project of decolonialism of women oppression provides a way of understanding our history, deconstructing its legacies and refashioning a more just and liberating world for black women.

It is to these that we should be saying, without equivocation, that to be a true, caring and equal African society is to rededicate ourselves in the fight against women oppression, discrimination and patriarchal tendencies and by acting to expel the indignity of Black women.

For this reason, for the reason that we are the disembowelled we should change the system and its structures, which are essentially patriarchal, is the main mechanism that will bring about possible equal futures for women in Africa.

Nhlanhla Mosele is a Young African Leadership Initiative Network member.