Browse Tag: afrofeminism

This Is What an African Feminist Looks Like

The following interview was originally published on July 13, 2012 at Ms. Magazine via the Femisphere, a profile interview series about feminists in the blogsphere curated by Avital Norman Nathman (@mamafesto). The series featured three Nigerian feminists, prompting my reflection on “internet lists” via the post, “What Does an African Feminist Look Like?” (and even a head-nod from Melissa Harris-Perry!). I’m reposting it on here because, apparently, some of my readers missed the original interview, and had trouble finding it on the Ms. Magazine site. Enjoy.  

The Femisphere: African Feminist Bloggers

Spectra High Res

Spectra is an award-winning Nigerian writer and women’s rights activist, and the voice behind Spectra Speaks, which publishes news, opinions and personal stories about gender, media and diversity as they pertain to Africa and the Diaspora. She is also founder and executive editor of Queer Women of Color Media Wire, a media advocacy and publishing organization that amplifies the voices of lesbian, bisexual, queer and/or transgender women of color, diaspora and other racial/ethnic minorities around the world.

Located: Somewhere in southern Africa Website:
Twitter: @spectraspeaks
Blog Post Pride: Saying No to Saviorism and Celebrating Africa’s Resistance“Reflections from a Woman of Color on the War on Women: My Sisters-in-Arms, We Are NOT United”

What topics do you find you write about most frequently?

My writing isn’t so much about the topics I write about as it is how I write about them. There are the usual suspects–women, gender, LGBT and other identity issues–filtered through an international lens due to my Nigerian heritage and media advocacy and development work in Africa. But I also take the approach of highlighting solutions versus contributing to the constant re-articulation of problems I find over-saturates the feminist blogosphere. I pride myself on thinking forward, and so I push myself to write from a place of hope and positivity. I believe that personal relationships, not just rhetoric, are the building blocks of progress, and that winning hearts–not just arguments–are what bring about real change. My Afrofeminist principles are a roadmap for navigating the spaces between us as human beings, towards deeper, more empathic connections. My mantra is “Love is My Revolution”.

How has Afrofeminism informed what you write/focus on?

Afrofeminism is how I move through the world; how I live, learn and evolve. Afrofeminism is my personal compass, a way for me to stay centered as I navigate life as an idealist using a constellation of frameworks–feminism, social justice, spirituality and others. Afrofeminism guides every step I take forward, as it is grounded in my multi-layered, trans-national identity and personal experiences. For instance, as an African woman, my feminism manifests as an unapologetic focus on the empowerment of other African women and the diaspora. As the executive editor of Queer Women of Color Media Wire (QWOC Media Wire), I’m intentional about publishing content that portrays the diversity of voices and experiences of the diaspora from all over the world, not just western countries.

Have you found that blogging/Twitter/the Internet in general helps the reach/impact of African feminists, and if so, in what ways (or why not)?

Absolutely. I once thought I was the only queer Nigerian on the web. I tweeted that one day, only to have it retweeted by at least five other queer Nigerians. And with that, we each found community. The same has been true for finding other African feminists. I’d felt excluded from mainstream feminist spaces as a woman of color in the United States (and furthermore as an African immigrant, even within women of color feminist spaces). Writing about African women’s issues has exposed me to an entire network of inspiring African women writers, activists and feminists online.

Earlier on this year, a group of us decided to start using the hashtag #afrifem to organize conversations around African feminist issues on Twitter. I now follow it religiously to stay up to date on what my sisters are doing in different parts of the world and, of course, engage in challenging, important conversations with other African feminists. Yet, the benefits of this haven’t just been experienced virtually; using online tools has also made it possible to connect with African feminists offline, too. Earlier this year, for instance, online relationships directly resulted in an invitation from one of my tweets to participate as a panelist at a development conference in Cape Town, South Africa, where I met dozens more African feminists–including many of the women I’d already been chatting with daily for months, and LGBT African activists, some of whom I’m working with to host storytelling workshops for African women this [year].

What pitfalls/challenges have you experienced as an African feminist?

The experience of merging my online and offline African feminist network has been incredibly affirming of the power of using online tools to build community. Yet, it is also important to acknowledge that there are many African women who do not have access to the Web, and thus are left out of many important conversations. Where possible, I use my privilege as a writer to highlight work being done by people who are unable to do so themselves, but I’ve on occasion been faced with the question about whether or not something I’ve written is good advocacy or appropriation. For now, my rule of thumb as a media activist is ‘highlight, don’t re-tell,’ but this gray area remain challenging to navigate.

One other challenge has been far less potent than I imagined it would be, but is still worth highlighting, as it happens in almost every cultural context. My queer identity has at times called my ‘Africanness’ into question. And in instances when it hasn’t, LGBT African issues are often sidelined, treated as fringe or tangential. This has been frustrating, as I don’t want to see the African women’s movement repeat the same mistakes as the women’s movement in the U.S.–leading with ‘umbrella unity’ instead of an intentional approach to diversity.

How do you ensure that your voice/opinion/story is heard within Western/American feminism?

Frankly, ensuring my voice is heard within Western/American feminist spaces isn’t something I prioritize in my work; not because engaging people across cultures isn’t important (it is), but because constantly responding to what western feminism is or isn’t (doing) constricts my voice to being reactive (i.e., delivering constant criticism). I believe my voice as an African woman is more powerful when it proactively works alongside other African voices to tell our own stories, set our own agenda and come up with solutions for ourselves. As I’ve lived in the U.S. for more than a decade, however, I do engage with western feminists; building bridges is necessary since we’re all working towards similar goals. To this end, by writing and producing media as an African feminist, I not only do my part towards the achievement of those goals, but hold western feminists and media accountable to my perspective and highlight the work of other African woman and [people of the] Diaspora.

What does feminism look like to you from within your own cultural context? Does your spirituality inform your feminism (or other framework for navigating the world) as mine does?

3 LGBT-Friendly African Feminist Organizations Who Aren’t Afraid of Using the F-Word

“We Work on “Gender and Sexuality” Issues (But We’re Not a Feminist Organization)”


I recently spent some time in Windhoek, Namibia as part of Africans for Africa, my 6-month long volunteer project training women’s and LGBTI organizations all across Southern Africa in new media communications. To make the most of my two-week stay, I decided to look up local women-run organizations in order to introduce myself and in hopes of learning more about Namibia’s non-profit/social justice landscape.

After an hour or so of web researching gender and sexuality issues in Namibia, I had compiled an inspiring list of organizations that primarily served women in a variety of ways, including combating homophobia, educating girls, advocating for survivors of domestic violence, children with disabilities, and so much more.

As I read the founders’ stories, many of them survivors of some form of trauma, called to political action by some personal circumstance, I “mmmn”-ed out loud, soaked in what felt like a familiar brand of afrofeminism, the kind I’d become accustomed to being raised by a child of war, the kind that held its breath through resistance, generation after generation, with the dim hope that the work and sacrifice would afford their daughters the privilege of being able to breathe more freely.

Phrases like “fight against oppression”, “promote gender equality”, “resist patriarchy”, and “empower women” could be found in almost all the mission statements, yet, despite the parallel goals and shared context, the words “feminist” or “feminism” were nowhere to be found.  So far, in my travels, the word feminism has proven to be as taboo (and as divisive) as it gets. Ironically, nothing creates quite awkward a silence as someone perceived to be “pushing a feminist agenda” (or, my favorite, “man-hating”) in an African women’s circle.

I’ve certainly met my share of African feminist individuals — they’re the crazy ones that would drop the F-bomb (“Feminism”) in the middle of a discussion (and embrace the consequences, while describing the chaos as a series of “learning moments”. (Note: I say this, fondly.)

On the flip side, many of the organizations I’ve met working on combating gender stereotypes or gender-based violence are adamantly against using the word, “Feminism”, in their work, even if some of the leadership identify as feminists). Some of the resistance stems from the good sense to avoid alienating many of the women they serve, a scenario I myself can relate to; I received way more responses (and invitations) when I described my tech training as equipping African women (vs. African feminist organizations), so I made the switch. My mission, after all, is to make sure more women are skilled at using media for advocacy. Thus, for my purposes, I really don’t care whether or not these women identify as feminists or not.

However, besides tactical reasons similar to the scenario above, some of the pushback against using the F-word also stems from negative perceptions feminism. Unfortunately, I’ve met one too many feminists who exclusively blame “ignorance” or “patriarchy” for the bad PR. While I agree that some of this is certainly at play, I quite frankly find it ineffective (and self-righteous) to continually blame an audience for bad messaging. Feminism isn’t always the problem; sometimes, feminists who use feminism to alienate (vs. engage) are the greatest barrier to engaging women in what’s arguably one of the most powerful movements of our time.

Queer Nigerian Boi Seeks African Feminist Organizations; Must Be Open-Minded (i.e. Love the Gays)

I personally have felt excluded from so called “inclusive feminist spaces” based on my disdain for academic jargon, my love of hip hop music, the task of constantly having to fight against assumed heterosexuality, and the frustration of hearing even allies conflate my gender presentation as a tom boi and my sexuality as the same issue. Like religion, at its core feminism is good; but when preached as a doctrine in the way it’s quite often done (especially at conference spaces), when policed in the way that it frequently is by so-called “real” feminists, it can feel more like dogma, a set of rules and judgments, rather than loose set of principles, heavily strengthened by an appreciation of the “gray”, which can guide all of us to better caring for ourselves and for our communities.

Given the tensions that exist within and around (African) feminism, I was pleasantly surprised to discover (and get to know) three amazing organizations that have found a way to strike a balance between engaging all kinds of women from where they are and empowering women who already identify as feminists to “spread the good word”; who welcomed me whole, and didn’t reduce me to being the “gay one” in the group. It was so encouraging to meet so many open-minded African women, some LGBTI, some not, who united around a shared commitment to (all) women’s empowerment.

I’ve listed them here in no particular order. And, luckily for you, because I spent quite a bit of time training a number of their members in new media for branding and visibility, so they’re pretty active on Facebook. Like them :)

Young Feminist Movement in Namibia (Y-Fem)

Y-Fem’s mission is to nurture the next generation of feminist leadership. Pow! These inspiring young women I was privileged to spend two weeks with in Namibia describe themselves as “an organization that creates space for passionate, stylish, and fashionable young Namibian women and allies.” Ooh la la — sign me up! This is exactly what we need — an organization that isn’t afraid to make feminism cool, fashionable. During my sessions with them, it came up, over and over again, that they were committed to making sure Y-Fem appealed to the ‘every day’ girl, not just women’s and gender studies major. Incidentally, I got to help them prepare for their first major event, which was an informal social gathering intended to create an awareness of feminist and women’s issues through the use of poetry by both established and aspiring poets. They pulled that event off like pros; I arrived mid-way through it to find 40+ people gathered around a blazing fire as a woman chanted and sang about her love for African women. Namibia’s women’s movement is in good hands if Y-Fem has anything to say about it. Like them on Facebook

Women’s Leadership Center

WLC is a feminist organization that promotes women’s writing and other forms of personal and creative expression as a form of resistance to oppression embedded in patriarchal cultures and society, and aims to develop indigenous feminist activism in Namibia. (Wow!) They’ve published several anthologies of stories, poetry, and photography produced for and by women living in rural areas, and routinely host writing workshops in order to develop interest in writing both as a tool for archiving African women’s stories and advocating for equal rights and access. Before I left, the director of the program, Liz Frank, a feminist scholar herself, gave me about five books to read, including “Between Yesterday and Tomorrow” and “We Must Choose Life”, both writings of Namibian women on gender, culture, violence, and HIV/AIDS. As someone whose work is all about women telling their stories, discovering WLC was such a treat. Visit their website.

Sister Namibia

And, last but not least, Sister Namibia is a feminist, women’s rights organisation based in Namibia that uses media to raise awareness on women’s rights issues in the country and region. An African feminist media organization? It sounded too good to be true when I stumbled across their website. I hadn’t imagined that I’d receive a response as quickly as I did (yay African hospitality), that the director would invite me to come spend an afternoon with them in their office, nor that this “office” would be an actual building the organization owned. When I stepped into their small bungalow, I was blown away by the display table in the entryway that held past issues of Sister Namibia’s print magazine, “Sister”, and the wall-to-wall covering of bookshelves filled with books about African women, feminism, gender, sexuality–the whole shebang. This organization doesn’t need to “create space” for women (or feminists); they already have one. Their physical space, which I’ve come to fondly call my favorite African feminist temple, serves as both a library and a meeting space for local students, activists, and community members. They rock. Love them on Facebook.

What other self-identified African feminist organizations exist on the continent? I’m sure they’re lots. Please feel free to recommend them. Have you come across organizations that don’t explicitly identify as feminist but practice feminist principles? Should African women’s organizations necessarily adopt the feminist label? Why/why not? 

I am An African Feminist Cyborg: Activism, Fundraising and Security Online

I’m participating in a webinar hosted by The African Feminist Forum and Association for Progressive Communications: ‘Feminist Cyborgs: Activism, Fundraising and Security Online’

Who is a feminist cyborg?

“The feminist cyborg is at home both online and offline, and her activism is reflected in her online life (whether it is through blogs, tweets and general online presence) as well as in what she does offline (working for a feminist organization, working with women’s rights organizations and social justice movements, or in progressive media).”

I’d go further to add that the African feminist cyborg’s super powers can be online and offline simultaneously, as her world exists beyond the fragmented and finite conceptions of “online vs. offline” to the fluid, whole, and layered landscape of world 2.0.  Interesting in hearing more?

Join this amazing panel for an exploration of cyber activism, fundraising, and online security, featuring yours truly:

Yara Sallam (Egypt) will speak about her experiences of activism in Egypt, and concerns around online activism.

Spectra Asala (US/Nigeria) will share her experiences of fundraising online to raise money to deliver training to LGBTIQ and women’s rights organizations in South Africa.

Jan Moolman (South Africa) will speak on online security and violence against women in online spaces. Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah (Ghana) will facilitate the webinar.

Register for the Webinar in English or French

Monday December 3rd, 2012 at 1:00 pm GMT (English), sign up below:

This webinar will be repeated on 5th December at 1:00 pm GMT with French translation. Francoise Mukuku (DRC) will replace Jan Moolman and speak on online security and violence against women in online spaces. Note: After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.

I hope you’re able to join. Do ask questions. I LOVE questions. They make for really vibrant discussions. Much love to you all.

UPDATE: Despite technical difficulties, I thoroughly enjoyed hearing from other African women’s activists about their work using social media for advocacy. A “Live Blog” of the event can be found here. Also, thoughts and ideas from my presentation can be found, in full, here

How to Increase Media Diversity: 3 Lessons from the London Feminist Film Festival

A few months ago, the London Feminist Film Festival approached me for help in reaching out to African feminist filmmakers for their open call. The media activist I am, I admit that I did make them jump through hurdles before I agreed to help them spread the word of the festival on my blog. But it was only fair.

In my relatively short experience as an activist (who is also a person of color), I’ve received so many requests from white-run organizations and campaigns asking me to “help them create more diversity”, often without any proof that they’ve attempted to do any of this outreach on their own. It’s almost as though they view brown people as the people primarily responsible for alleviating the “burden” of creating the diversity they claim to want in their spaces. Oh, who am I kidding? 9/10 times that’s actually the case. But I digress.

After a series of sharp-shooting, poignant questions to the committee (“What have you done to reach out to feminist filmmakers of color?” “Who is missing from your lineup, and why?” “What have you done to make this relevant to African feminists, specifically?”), and receiving thoughtful (and honest) responses, I found myself in a strange place: satisfied, and affirmed enough to see myself as partly responsible (as an afrofeminist) for ensuring their success. I didn’t just write about the festival; I volunteered to be one of their media partners and a judge for one of their jury awards as well.

Why am I telling you this? Well, there are lessons about diversity to be learned (and shared) here. 

It’s only been a few months since the LFFF’s initial email to me, but judging from the film festival’s program, the organizers efforts have really paid off. The lineup of films included in the program look fantastic; the panelists and jurors represent a wide range of perspectives, aaaannd (so far), they’ve avoided appearing to be The London White Feminist Film Festival, which is quite commendable. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve witnessed “universality” (i.e. lack of intersectionality), result in the white-washing of so many spaces which would — with some effort — have the potential to truly empower and unify communities within communities.

It’s not every day I get to see I’m impressed with an organization’s outreach efforts (and results). So, I’d like to take this opportunity to highlight A Few Awesome Things the London Feminist Film Festival Did to Support Media Diversity:

1) They Avoided the “We Are One” Trap: In my post calling for support of the London Feminist Film Festival (LFFF), I talked about the importance of diversity in media, especially in the context of solidarity groups; it’s actually quite easy to let diversity slide under kumbaya umbrella politics i.e. “we’re all feminists, women, etc,” ignoring inequalities as we embrace sameness. But the festival organizers, tempting as it may have been to default to what was familiar, made a commitment very early on in their organizing process to keep the inclusion of minority groups in mind, including queer/LGBTI women, African/Black women, etc.

2) The Organizers Did Their Own Outreach Before Contacting Minority Stakeholders: As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, there’s a different between being asked to solve an organization’s (lack of) diversity issues for them (i.e. being tokenized) and being asked to lend your efforts and guidance to work with them towards a more inclusive space. As my communications with LFFF revealed a progressive approach to diversity, I was happy to become more deeply involved in ensuring the festival’s success. When I asked the organizers what they’d done to reach out to other minority groups, I was pleased to hear about their efforts, as well as their honest observations about audiences they were having trouble reaching, making it easy for me to see my role as offering support vs. being saddled with the entire responsibility of creating a diverse program for their festival. Still, I’m obviously not the only partner LFFF has been working with obviously; the LFFF committee has done a phenomenal job building a team of partners, community stakeholders, vendors, and feminist advocates with unique perspectives and talents to both both shape and amplify the 3-day event this weekend. So, this is a PSA to festivals, organizations, campaigns everywhere: outreach isn’t a buzz word, it’s work that needs to be done. So please do it vs. asking marginalized people to do it for you.

3) The Film Festival Resisted the Urge to “Caucus”

Instead of creating a ‘special’ track for Black films, LGBT films etc, the festival opted instead to create special tracks for their “outreach”, in order to improve representation in the larger pool. The result is an impressive festival program that reflects a range of perspectives and experiences, rather than the separation of “main” from “other.” Now, can everyone just adopt this policy? I’m tired of having to choose between discussions, sessions, films etc that represent fragments of who I am, and I’m pretty I’m not the only person with multiple identities that feels this way. Check out some of the films that I’m most excited about (and the range of countries represented), which will be screening next weekend:

  • Lesbiana – A Parallel Revolution is a documentary about the lesbian writers, philosophers, and activists who were key players in creating a revolutionary sisterhood in the 1980s (USA)
  • As a Warrior (Como una Guerrera) is a drama about a victim of domestic violence who finds the strength to be her own knight in shining armor (Argentina)
  • Sari Stories is a short about women in rural India documenting their everyday lives and talking about the problems of growing up as women in a patriarchy as they’re trained to become video journalists (India)
  • In Beautiful Sentence, women prisoners experience the therapeutic effect of creative writing (UK)
  • The Witches of Gambaga is an award-winning documentary about a community of women condemned to live in a camp for ‘witches’ (Ghana)
  • Audre Lorde – The Berlin Years 1984 to 1992 highlights the contributions of award-winning, African-American, lesbian, feminist poet, Audre Lorde, to the Afro-German movement (Germany/USA)
  • And last, but not least, Kung Fu Grandma is about elderly women in Kenya undertaking a self-defense course to help protect themselves from rape by young men in their community (Kenya)

Note: Some of these films are available for free viewing online, so I encourage you to check them out. The LFFF has also granted me access to a few of the features as well, so I’ll be publishing my reviews (and reflections) of several of these films leading up to the festival. I’ve already published a few. But stay tuned for more!

4 Powerful Documentaries about African Women Everyone Should Watch

The London Feminist Film Festival opened with a bang last night — a sold out viewing of the UK premiere of Lesbiana, about the lesbians, philosophers, and activists that were key players in creating a revolutionary sisterhood. This weekend, audiences interested in more (Black feminist) lesbian history can look forward to the documentary, Audre Lorde — The Berlin Years 1984 – 1992. Note: This show is sold out — seems it’ll be a packed house!

But lesbians (and everyone else who loves them) aren’t the only group that’ll get to enjoy the London Feminist Film Festival. The organizers have made sure that the interests of African Feminists have been woven into the program as well. Four powerful documentaries highlighting the lives of African women in Kenya, Ghana, and Senegal will be making their debut with feminists this weekend.

I’ve gotten a chance to watch a number of these films, and I can assure you, they are not to be missed. So, if you’re based in London, and are on the fence about attending the inaugural festival, I encourage you to check out the synopses (and mini reviews) below.

4 Power Films about African Women at the London Feminist Film Festival

Taxi Sister (UK Premiere)

Mini ReviewTake a drive with Boury, a taxi driver in Dakar, Senegal, as she forges her way through a male-dominated profession. “There are no such things as Taxi Sisters!” a man growls. He towers over Boury, his voice loud and thunderous as he attempts to get her to submit to the idea that she is an impostor in the popular Dakar taxi stand. Boury vacillates between shaking her head and pacing back and forth in frustration while also keeping her eyes open for customers; she’s not driving a Taxi to make a point, she’s trying to make a living to support her family. When she’s on break, she and another Taxi Sister talk about being single working women, dating and relationships, and American tourists: “Watch out for people with big backpacks. They just walk.” Charting its own course, Taxi Sister takes viewers on a tour through Dakar’s streets, segregated by gender, class, and tourist visas, offering poignant, insightful, and humorous insights along the way.

Theresa Traore Dahlberg / Senegal / 2011 / 30 mins / Wolof and French with English subtitles


 The Witches of Gambaga

Synopsis: This award-winning documentary is about a community of women condemned to live in a camp for ‘witches’ in Northern Ghana. More than 1000 women accused of witchcraft in northern Ghana live in refuges, where they pay for protection from the chief who runs them. The Witches of Gambaga follows the extraordinary story of one of these communities of women. Made over the course of five years, this exposé is the product of a collaboration between members of the 100-strong ‘witches’ community, local women’s rights activists, and feminist researchers, united by their interest in ending abusive practices and improving women’s lives in Africa. Told largely by the women themselves, this is a uniquely intimate record of the lives of women ostracized from their communities.

Yaba Badoe / UK & Ghana / 2010 / 55 mins / English and local languages with English subtitles


KungFu Grandma

Synopsis: Elderly women in Kenya undertake a self-defense course to help protect themselves from rape by young men in their community. The rape of elderly women by young men is a big problem in the slums of Korogocho, Kenya. This documentary follows a group of elderly women who are taking a self-defense course to enable them to better protect themselves. The daily realities of the slums and the myths that may contribute to these violent attacks are explored. A powerful portrayal of women who have come together in solidarity to teach each other self-defense skills and to fight back. The film was shortlisted for an award at the One World Media Awards 2012.

Jeong-One Park / UK / 2012 / 27 mins / Swahili and Kikuyu with English subtitles


Ladies Turn

Synopsis: In Senegal, as in most of the world, football is largely considered a sport for men not women. Ladies’ Turn is a non-profit organisation working to give Senegalese women and girls their turn to play football and to develop important leadership and teamwork skills. Ladies’ Turn recognizes women’s football as a powerful tool for promoting gender equality, both by empowering the women who play and presenting new role models to other women and girls. This film shows the determination of the players and of the Ladies’ Turn organisation, despite the challenges and prejudices they face. With the help of Ladies’ Turn, Senegalese women fight to follow their passion for playing football all the way from small neighborhood fields to the tournament finals in Dakar’s newest stadium. An inspiring story of women pushing boundaries.

Hélène Harder / France & Senegal / 2012 / 65 mins / French and Wolof with English subtitles


About The London Feminist Film Festival

LFFF was set up as a response to the under-representation of women in the film industry, as well as to the lack of films addressing feminist issues and the fact that the representation of women on screen is often narrow and stereotypical. The festival will be a celebration of feminist films past and present, and aims are to inspire discussion about feminism and film, to support women directors, and to get feminist films seen by a wider audience.

Catch the London Feminist Film Festival this weekend at the Hackney Picturehouse. Check out the full program at the festival’s website:

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