Feminist development in Africa

Susan Asio | Nov 13, 2016
Strengthening Africa feminist development alternatives - credit to WoMin

The National Association of Women’s Organisations in Uganda (NAWOU) focuses on training women and other women’s rights organisations in areas such as gender and human rights, economic rights, health, women and the environment, and leadership. Their main goal is to bring together the women right’s movement to encourage women’s rights and improve women’s economic and social status.

Here, Susan Asio, NAWOU’s Programme Manager for Economic Empowerment, blogs about strengthening African feminist development alternatives after a WoMin and UAF-Africa workshop in Uganda.

The concept of Feminism

Society has attached a misconception to feminism as hatred towards men, discrimination against men, a movement to discourage men, a movement plotting to pull all men out of power and a movement to promote women superiority. Because of such societal misconceptions, many women’s rights activists and women’s organisations don’t identify themselves as feminist, but prefer to label themselves women’s rights activists.

At the WoMin and UAF-Africa workshop I recently attended, to clarify the misconception on feminism and help participants identify with feminism and the workshop theme - Strengthening African Feminist Development Alternatives Beyond Extractives - the ideology of feminism was unpacked. Participants defined feminism as;

• Advancing the development for women
• Being sensitive to the needs of women
• Placing women at the centre of development initiatives
• Changing structures in society that perpetrate marginalisation
• Promoting feminist perspectives that allow women the choice to decide and accommodate diversity
• Challenging power and systems of oppression towards women
• Advancing interests of women in different spheres
• Challenging different forms of power, questioning ideas and philosophy
• Making decisions in the best interest of humanity

We finally came to the consensus that feminism is not about any of the misconceptions but rather an ideology and set of ideas. There is no one feminism, there are many feminisms. We may not all be feminist but we must understand what the feminist principles are and adhere to them. These include; shared leadership, equality, respect for diversity, dignity, inclusiveness, solidarity, action oriented, non-violence, create spaces for women, autonomy, voice, sisterhood, women-led, equity, adaptability, protection.

Climate change and feminism

During the workshop, we explored the link between climate change and food insecurity, how these impact on women and the ways to mitigate the challenges of the intersection. One key challenge is food insecurity which is a lack of storage and food conservation facilities. Other challenges include changes in seasons with floods and droughts and poor land tenure systems that discriminate against women so they can’t own and control land.

Women are also not involved in the value chain of production for agricultural products and this is compounded by limited information on agriculture, negative attitude towards local foods, lack of water for production, governments feeling threatened by cooperatives, government programs not being people-centred, labour intensity on women and a rise in GMO products, which is a threat to indigenous seeds and variety of plants.

One of the suggested alternatives was to establish an agricultural information sharing platform or system that trickles down to the grassroot women.

Another thing to consider is that resource extraction or extractivism goes beyond minerals, oil and gas. It’s every resource around us such as agriculture, fishery, ecology, information. Extractivism also affects climate change. Building a feminist perspective to extractivism is an alternative to global development.

Women Human Rights Defenders

At the workshop, we also talked about the shared experiences of the challenges Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRDs) face (a case from Honduras was presented).

Challenges discussed were: the resistance from the state on women’s activism; sexual harassment; arrests and killings. Participants demanded for state protection of WHRDs and establishment of a global popular court against crime. We also talked about the importance of channels like community radios – when WHRDs link to each other, they form a strong collective voice and power, building political trust and collective advocacy.

Resource mobilisation

Another key highlight of the feminist development workshop was the opportunity to interface with women funding organizations such as Urgent Action Fund and Mama Cash who presented funding opportunities within their institutions, eligibility for application and their areas of interest.

Ideas for future feminist development

The things I took away from this event and intend to apply to my own work include the need to:
• create an information sharing system or platform that trickles down to the grass root women.
• build a strong global movement and change our focus from scrambling over resources to collective activism.
• advocate for an international law that protects WHRDs.
• developing new ways of organising and strategising and mobilising resources from donors including the Urgent Action Fund and Mama Cash.

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