Student Panelists Paint Portraits of Feminism in Africa

The Women’s Studies Center hosted a brown bag on Tuesday, November 3 titled “Feminisms and the African Woman.” Three female students participated on the panel for the brown bag. Senior Salome Kiduko and sophomores Akosua Ofosuhene and Chinwendu E. Obi led a discussion about their personal experiences with feminism and their respective African nations of origin. Kiduko is from Tanzania, Ofosuhene is from Kenya and Obi is from Nigeria.

The speakers began the brown bag by emphasizing that their experiences did not speak for a broader collective of African women. However, they hoped that their understanding of feminism and its impact within their lived experiences would broaden the audience’s understanding of feminisms in a plural and varied sense.

“I think of my mother when I think of feminism,” Ofosuhene said. She made this connection because her mother does not embody traditional notions of a mother or wife. Ofosuhene explained that her parents did not rely upon traditional gender roles when deciding the household’s division of labor. Among her siblings, both boys and girls were assigned chores involving food and cleaning.

Kiduko also spoke of a woman in her life who demonstrated what feminism meant to her. She explained that her high school’s headmistress was a strong female who acted of her own accord. Kiduko noted that her headmistress never let her status as a woman silence her voice or affect her position of power within the school. Both Ofosuhene and Kiduko explained feminism through personal anecdotes, a useful method in attempting to reach their audience.

Obi spoke to the difference between the outsider’s perspective of Nigerian gender roles and that of her individual plans. She explained that men have historically been regarded as the head of the household and that they are often thought to possess all of the decision-making power. However, Obi argued that many Nigerian women push against this power dynamic, as exemplified by numerous women in Obi’s life who have led lives of independence. Obi also complicates the narrative of Nigerian traditional gender roles, for she said that she will not change her last name after marriage due to its immense significance to her. This signifies the importance in listening to individual voices as opposed to broadly constructed narratives, something demonstrated by the Women’s Studies brown bags that allow those voices to be heard.

The students’ stories were warmly received, as demonstrated by the highly engaged audience, who were consistently nodding and laughing along with the speakers.

Junior Michael James recognized that the panelists’ use of personal anecdotes helped him to relate to their lives in an individual way.

“I loved the purposeful statement that these are our stories and perspectives from the beginning that the students made. The way they shared personal anecdotes was awesome because it really brought the scenarios they were speaking about to life and allowed me to connect with their experiences,” James said. 

Senior Victoria Tarantino spoke to the students’ opening statements, emphasizing that their experiences are individual and are not demonstrative of the lives of all women throughout the African continent.

“I loved hearing all of their stories and I thought it was very important they mentioned that their views do not reflect the point of view of the entire African continent. I feel like the media tends to universalize Africa, although that is not the case,” Tarantino said.