Panel 9

African women's movements designing visions for change

Panel organisers: Antje Daniel, University of Bayreuth and Rirhandu Mageza-Barthel, University of Frankfurt, Germany

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African women have, over long stretches of time, been controversially depicted as victims of their environment and simultaneously inhabited the role of powerful agents of change. During the 1970s, although the development nexus postulated that development without the empowerment of women is impossible, images of African women as “poor, powerless and pregnant” and in need of assistance still circulated widely. With a different reading of gender justice, women from the South critiqued feminism for being exclusive (i.e. upper-class, white and enmeshed in imperialist power relations). Instead, African feminist scholars and activists brought “Other” forms of feminisms to the fore that promised to speak to their realities, such as womanism or Islamic feminism. Transnational feminism, mostly around the UN World Conferences on Women, proved to be a fruitful site of negotiation for North-South difference and South-South mobilization. In short, women’s movements from the South contested the normativity espoused by their “sisters”.

Today, these different topics and alliances have become relevant once more – in a field of changed global relations. In this dynamic field, women’s movements oppose, adopt, appropriate and reinterpret images, gender roles as well as gender norms. Apart from the dialogue within women’s movements, external actors such as local churches, media or policymakers influence gender politics. Looking at these contradictions, we ask how women’s movements develop their visions of change? How do women’s movements relate and position their own visions to the norms, laws or discourses held by their communities, societies and states? To which extent can they change the widely shared stereotyped image of African women? In  particular, contributions should  seek to  highlight agent/structure relations and tie them to ideational/discursive practices.

Approved abstracts Panel 9

1. Challenges and prospects of Women’s Movement in contemporary Africa: Insights from Ethiopian women

Author: Girmay Abraha (Samara University and Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia)

It is a truism that several forms of women’s movements have happened throughout African history to change the fabrics of the society in which they operated. However, they are still experiencing unfavorable socio-political, economic and cultural environments which are responsible for their failure in Africa. The purpose of this paper is therefore to analyze the challenges that women’s movement faces while organizing themselves and struggling for collective concerns and rights in Ethiopia, as a particular subject of analysis. To this end, numerous scholarly literatures, international and national documents on women’s related rights and movements are critically reviewed and analyzed. Thus, the paper reveals that there have been internal and external challenges in which women’s movement faces in Ethiopia. The internal challenges include ideological inconsistency in their belligerent strategies; limited women’s knowledge and commitment; and unfavorable bureaucracies within their established structures. Externally, an exclusive politico-legal policies; token electoral principles; persistent socioeconomic hardships and uncivilized cultural practices are among the pressing situations discouraged women’s movements in contemporary Ethiopia. Lastly, participatory education is recommended to reduce the challenges to and in return encourage women’s movements. To this effect, the existing educational policies, curriculums and programs need policy reforms in a manner to accommodate women’s concerns and thereby encourage their collective movements. The incumbent political party is also suggested to uphold the culture of public dialogue to deal with women and opposition parties to establish a comprehensive framework pragmatically authorizes women’s political representation in critical positions and decision making processes.

2. Claiming rights beyond the local-global divide: The Women’s Land Rights Movement in Morocco

Author: Yasmine Berriane (University of Zurich, Switzerland)

Studies analysing the making of women’s alliances across social divides in North-Africa are still rare. This is all the more surprising as coalitions between organisations and actors are a recurrent feature of advocacy movements in the region. In my contribution I aim therefore at analysing coalition formations by focusing on the processes that led to the making of a women’s land-use rights’ movement and by highlighting the role played by intermediate organisations and actors in connecting and merging together local, national and international norms, goals and practices. In looking at ‘the active social life’ (Abu-Lughod, 2010) of this land-use rights’ movement, it sheds light on the inequalities and fluid power hierarchies that are constitutive of it. It therefore goes beyond interpretations that read women’s grassroots activism as the sole result of international and elite-led gender empowerment projects and norms; highlighting processes of cross-fertilization and hybridisation instead.

This women’s land use rights movement emerged in Morocco in 2007 as the result of an atypical collaboration between women living in rural and peri-urban areas and a major and mainly urban and elite based feminist organisation. This partnership is based on a division of tasks: the symbolic power of the women from different local communities is completed through the expertise that the members of the feminist organisation have gained after several decades of contestation. Among these many tasks, the development of a strategy aimed at linking the issue of land-use rights to that of gender equality and at transforming a multiplicity of local claims into a common movement using national and international norms and standards had the most important impact on the making of the mobilisation. However, this transfer of terminologies and norms is not a unilateral process. It entails a process of hybridisation that merges together global and local frames of reference, thus producing a powerful discourse that enables the movement to reach a variety of different actors.

3. Appropriation or resistance? Female activists navigate in-between different visions about gender roles and relations in Kenya

Author: Antje Daniel (University of Bayreuth, Germany)

Persisting images of African women are controversial and depict women both as victims of their environment and/or as powerful agents of change. For instance, the 1970s development nexus postulated that development without the empowerment of women is impossible, while at the same time designing an image of African women as “poor and powerless” and in need of assistance to access gender justice. Almost simultaneously women from the South opposed the allegedly exclusive white feminism that dominated the UN Conferences on Women and thereby the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination (CEDAW), conceiving it as upper-class and ethnocentric. African female scholars thus reacted by condemning feminism as western, imperialist and not suitable to local realities. In this contradicting field women’s movements oppose, adopt, appropriate and reinterpret gender roles and relations circulated within the development nexus.

Based on an empirical research on the Kenyan women’s movement I will illustrate one the one hand to what extent activists refer to CEDAW as international norm. The convention is an important source for defining gender inequalities and relations in order to legitimize the claims of the movement in opposition to the state. On the other hand CEDAW exacerbates solidarity between women’s activists because some deny the Convention as western concept. Likewise contradicting are donor resources, because the women’s movement is highly depending on donor funding. In order to get access to donor funding activists navigate between gender policies of donor agencies and their local realities. This becomes particular obvious in the debates about the role of women within the welfare state, contents such as polygamy or abortion. Thus, the paper draws attention to contradicting edges of norms and development policies circulated within the development nexus and shows how female activists navigate in-between different visions about gender roles and relations.

4. Just add women and stir? Education, gender and peacebuilding in Uganda

Authors: Simone Datzberger (Ulster University, University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands)
Marielle Le Mat (University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands)

There is widespread consensus in the literature that peacebuilding can be more effective if built on an understanding of how gendered identities are constructed through societal power relations between and among women, men, girls, boys and members of sexual/gender minorities. In this endeavour, international donors just recently started to point to the role of education as an entry point to understand how women and men jointly reproduce gendered structures in conflict-affected environments. By drawing on the case study of Uganda, this paper critically reflects upon several programmes and initiatives that are currently put in place by the Government of Uganda, aid agencies, CSOs and local activists to promote positive models and norms of femininity and masculinity through peacebuilding and education. It highlights how gender-responsive approaches have traditionally been based on the assumption that women face greater levels of vulnerability and marginalization. In practice, little attention is paid to the multiple conflict roles and experiences of men and women as both survivors and perpetrators of violence, or as change agents, and how their gender intersects with other sociocultural identities. Besides, most education interventions hardly take into account the socio-historical evolution of gendered norms that inform present gender relations and power dynamics in Uganda’s peacebuilding process. There is a tendency to approach gender equality by means of a “just add women and stir approach” with the risk of side-lining history, cultural sensitivity and context. The potential of educational institutions and programmes to act as unique and safe spaces in order to develop and re-negotiate gendered identities and representation in the country’s peacebuilding process remains frequently overlooked.

5. Words to express visions for change - is there a franco-anglo gap in Cameroon’s womens’ movement ?

Author: Elisabeth Hofmann, (University Bordeaux, France)

There are many actors fighting for womens’ rights in Africa, but can they be considered a pan-African “women’s movement”? This term refers to collective action by women organized explicitly as women presenting claims in public life based on gendered identities as women (GOERTZ, MAZUR, 2008). Discourse and actors are the two fundamental and interconnected characteristics all women’s movements share, being necessary and sufficient for defining them. In order to identify with a shared discourse, based on a common vision, it is important to have a common terminology.

This paper focuses on the interaction of Francophone and Anglophone African actors and the existence of still significant linguistic barriers. The study focuses on Cameroon, a bilingual African country, as a case study for interaction between different linguistic spheres in Africa.

Data collection took place during several stays in Yaoundé, the francophone capital, through different channels (participatory observation, bibliographical interviews, online survey, interview with the Minister of Women’s Empowerment, etc.).

The results highlight that the choice of terminology to express visions and claims is guided by a very pragmatic stance. This communication will concentrate on the use of the term « empowerment » in Cameroon and the vision that is conveyed by this word. Very popular since the Beijing conference, there is still no French translation that has been unanimously accepted, leading to a variety of translations. Francophone women’s association in Cameroon use the term in certain circumstances and avoid it in others, juggling between different types of terminology.

This terminological flexibility influences the ways visions are perceived and conveyed, not only inside Cameroon, but also in a pan-african setting. How do these choices of the « right » words influence the design of the African women’s movements visions for change?

6. UN Resolution 1325 – A tool for women’s empowerment in Rwanda?

Author: Diana Højlund Madsen (Aalborg University, Denmark)

Much work on Resolution 1325 (Res 1325) and the agenda of ‘women, peace and security’ has its focus on how (or to which extent) Res 1325 has ‘trickled down’ from the global to the local level in a specific context. However, this article will reverse the gaze through its bottom-up-perspectives highlighting women’s local perspectives asking not just what can women do for the ‘peace and security agenda’ but rather what the ‘peace and security agenda’ can do for women to improve their lives and bring about empowerment in a specific African post-conflict setting - Rwanda. The article sheds light on the local / global dynamics in the processes of translating Res 1325 into practice and the role of women not just as victims of genocide but also as agents of change and active norm translators. Thus, it is explored how the agenda of ‘women, peace and security’ has been used by women’s organisations in transformative processes and to which extent is has brought about empowerment for women at the local level.

7. Can ‘sisters’ become ‘friends’? On changing African gender politics

Author: Rirhandu Mageza-Barthel, (University of Frankfurt, Germany)

Over decades African women and women’s movements particularly – and their kin across the global South – have sought inclusion in development processes and politics. The aim being to partake in the improved living conditions these seemed to promise. Whilst contesting their exclusion they also increasingly grew critical of politics and institution. Many have belonged to the most vibrant part of civil society: either as part of liberation movements, being part of democratisation initiatives and joining transnational movements. African women, to paraphrase a Chinese proverb, have held-up half the African sky.

But for a few exceptions, their audible silence on current African-Asian relations stands out. When they have intervened, they have either aimed at inserting themselves into or trailed along existing initiatives of African-Chinese cooperation. This is all the more surprising, because in framing itself as part of the global South, Beijing commits to solving common development challenges and sets itself apart from the West in taking-on African issues. One would anticipate women(’s movements) acknowledging this potential new opportunity for transnational gender politics. Set against the background of Chinese-Ethiopian relations, and Chinese-African politics more widely, the paper explores the pitfalls and potentials of changing African gender politics in this new context. I suggest that the rhetorical shift from ‘sisterhood’ to ‘friendship’ symbolizes the changed conditions under which women’s interactions are currently taking place.

8. (Re)negotiating gender roles: The participatory action research of the Tanzania Gender Network Program

Author: Mirjam Tutzer (Goethe University Frankfurt am Main, Germany)

For my research on the impact and negotiation of microcredits in Dar es Salaam I cooperated with the Tanzania Gender Network Program (TGNP), a feminist organization that uses participatory action research to learn from and consequently politizise and alter gender relations and their structural embeddedness. In my talk I will focus on how the prior engagement and exposure to the work of TGNP influenced the group discussions with women groups I conducted in cooperation with TGNP and, more broadly, how the work of TGNP impacts on and is negotiated in the Tanzanian society.

It is striking that the experiences and self-perceptions of the women TGNP works with are quite different then the stereotypes about ‘women in the Global South’ informing policies and ‘development´ projects, for example microcredits. Deriving from the perspectives of the women and the emancipatory practices of TGNP I will question and discuss the impact of such diverging pictures and their negotiation in the context of Tanzania.

Further, I will reflect on our joint efforts to make my research and its outcomes accessible and noteworthy to the ‘research subjects’. I regard this as a necessary step towards transcending such dichotomous pictures or understandings, which do also persist between the academic world and practices ‘on the ground’, as for example those of TGNP. A critical understanding of power relations which manifest stereotypes and their deriving practices must therefore be accompanied by efforts to surpass or bend the same.

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