On Monday, June 9, I attended a workshop entitled “Mainstreaming Women’s Rights Issues in the Human Rights Community” at the University of Ibadan. Mrs. Olateru-Olagbegi presented a paper on the imperatives of a gender balance in the human rights movement. Speakers revealed how the seemingly commonsensical slogan “women’s rights are human rights” is not easily understood within a male-dominated human rights movement that often marginalizes women’s issues as irrelevant and unimportant. They emphasized the need to stop “converting the converted” by reaching beyond women’s NGOs in advertising for women’s human rights conferences, to educating men and women who haven’t already incorporated gender into their politics and activism.
The workshop provided an excellent opportunity to hear the problems and issues facing Nigerian women from the mouths of Nigerian women. All too often, Western feminism and women’s studies talks about African women, to African women, and for African women, without ever providing a space for African women to talk for themselves. I once took a course on African Women that consisted of only two works by African women authors, one of which was the only novel in the course!
Since my early exposure to Black Feminism, I’ve often wondered what an African feminism rooted in African women’s experiences and cultures would look like. Interestingly, the participants in the workshop never once used the word “feminism” in their discussions. This made me wonder if Nigerian women activists, professionals, and academics who place gender at the center of their analyses consider themselves feminists. Have they shunned feminist ideology, theory, and practice as a Western women’s thing — as something that is foreign and alien to their cultures? Or have they created their own unique version of feminism and christened it with a different name, just as women of color feminists have done in the U.S. and Europe?
On the other hand, I realize that naming oneself a feminist may not be as important as simply doing the work, as many of the participants in this conference were doing. There were NGO representatives, journalists and newspaper editors, scholars, lawyers, and grassroots activists working on issues ranging from trafficking, HIV/AIDS, violence prevention, domestic violence, youth leadership training, and civil society. The workshop was an inspiration, a learning experience, a great place for networking, and a superb way to begin the trafficking work and research with WOCON in earnest.
Posted By Erica Williams
Posted Jun 11th, 2003