West Africa’s feminist movements are vibrant and highly engaged in carrying the voice of women and fighting for gender equality. However, the movements are not homogeneous, although they have contributed to considerable progress: they are riddled with various internal debates that mirror West African women’s differing perspectives and experiences.
Intersectionality is one of these central debates. Indeed, many West African feminists agree on the need to consider the intersectionality of social identities (i.e., race, social status, religion, and sexual orientation) in the fight for gender equality. They argue that marginalized women, such as rural women, migrants, women with disabilities, or ethnic minorities, face distinctive discrimination and violence that require a specific response. Some activists talk about how important it is to address intersectional discrimination to achieve a more inclusive and effective feminist fight.
A CULTURAL APPROACH
Using a cultural approach is also an important area of debate. Some feminist movements in West Africa question the cultural norms and traditions that perpetuate gender inequality. They advocate a profound transformation of patriarchal standards and harmful practices such as female genital mutilation, child and forced marriage, and domestic violence. Meanwhile, other feminists argue that respecting cultural diversity while striving to eliminate discriminatory practices is essential. They contend that an inclusive approach that values the positive dimensions of culture while opposing oppressive norms can bring about sustainable change.
Representation is another topic of discussion among West African feminist movements. Some critics point out the need for a fair representation of women’s different voices and experiences in decision-making and leadership arenas, especially the voices of marginalized women. They speak on the need for inclusive spaces that raise the voices of those often excluded from mainstream discussions.
Others maintain that representation alone is not enough and that working to radically transform the underlying structures of power is of paramount importance. These movements also experience a sense of exclusion from decision-making bodies that engage with non-French-speaking movements.
MOBILIZATION AND ACTION STRATEGIES
The strategies for mobilization and action are a major difference amongst West African feminists. On one side, some feminists strongly focus on grassroots activism, community work, and women’s empowerment at the local level. They believe that the grassroots realities of marginalized women should be at the center of the movement to meet their needs effectively. Conversely, other feminists favor a more institutional approach, such as lobbying governments and international institutions for large-scale legal and political change.
SEXUALITY AND REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS
The West African feminist movement faces highly complex debates on sexuality and reproductive rights. Some feminists focus on combating traditional practices that limit women’s autonomy (such as early marriage and unwanted pregnancy). But for others, the focus is on discussing controversial issues like abortion and sexual orientation in a way that promotes respect for women’s rights and choices.
EDUCATION AND ECONOMIC EMPOWERMENT
Women’s education and economic empowerment are controversial issues. Some feminist movements advocate for girls and women’s equal access to education and the importance of comprehensive sex education. Meanwhile, others promote women’s economic empowerment by focusing on promoting women’s access to resources and economic opportunities.
PARTNERSHIPS AND SOLIDARITY
Some West African feminist movements promote an intersectional approach by collaborating with other marginalized groups, such as the LGBTQ+ and environmental movements. Others prefer to preserve the autonomy of feminist movements by maintaining a women-centered perspective.
These debates indicate the vibrant and diverse character of West African feminism. The differences of opinion reflect the crucial need to embrace West African women’s different realities and perspectives and work together to achieve gender equality and social justice for all women. But in the end, these movements share a common goal: to create a more egalitarian and inclusive future for women in West Africa.
This article was written by the Pananetugri Initiative for the Well-Being of Women (IPBF).