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.