Feminism: A conversation about Equity and Gender Justice
Feminism versus Gender Equality
This is a summary of the Feminism versus Gender Equality debate based on peoples experiences and definitions from essays/debates.
Despite the similarities between these two complex concepts, Feminism and Gender Equality are not the same thing. They have different meanings that need to be clearly understood.
What are the Similarities and Differences between Feminism and Gender Equality?
According to most written works, feminism is defined on the basis of equal rights for women. Sometimes this is also presented as equality between the sexes.
Gender equality or Sexual Equality refers to a uniform and effortless access to opportunity and resources in spite of one’s gender.
However, Feminism is a broader ideology that goes beyond Gender Equality and covers choice, freedom, and liberation unlimited to sex or gender.
With this in mind, Gender Equality can be considered as a concept or ideology that is encompassed within the meaning of Feminism. Before we get a little deeper, ask your self this question: Do you think Kenyans can vote for a woman president in the next 20 years? Hold that thought as we explore the History of Feminism and Gender Equality in Kenya.
History of Feminism and Gender Equality in Kenya:
Right to vote and stand for office had been given to European women in Kenya in 1919; in 1956, those rights were extended to African men and women under certain conditions related to educational level and property ownership.
Would we say it is also un-African for a woman to own land? Even though the estimated ratio of women to men is 1:1, only 5% of land title deeds in Kenya are held by women jointly with men. Only 1 percent of land titles in Kenya are held by women alone. Why?
The word “feminist” has grown to be one of the most sensitive expressions of our time this part of the world, almost like a religion. The conversation on equal economic, social, and political rights for all creates a tempestuous frenzy amongst Kenyans despite the fact that our Constitution clarifies all there is to know about this.
Mukoma Wa Ngugi’s Identity and Definition of Feminism and Gender Equality:
In an interview by By Kemi Lijadu & Leah Fessler titled: “The non-confrontational question that helps men become feminists.” Mukoma Wa Ngugi was asked if he identifies as a feminist and how he defines his brand of feminism. Here’s what he said:
I always find it funny that as men we can label ourselves as Marxist, Leninist, Democrat, Republican, BernieBros, and so on but get uncomfortable with considering ourselves feminist. I do consider myself a feminist—a radical black male feminist, meaning that I am a man interested in the interconnectedness of struggle in the tradition of, say, Angela Davis—that is, feminism as an ideology of resistance.
This is where feminism is a theoretical tool that helps us tackle sexism, racism, homophobia, and political and economic exploitation. To put it another way, I cannot relate to, say, Sarah Palin’s brand of racist, pro-military-industrial complex feminism.
Part of the reason to paraphrase the revolutionary and male feminist Thomas Sankara, national liberation is incompatible with women’s oppression—that is to say, it is a contradiction to struggle for national freedom while keeping the structures of patriarchy intact. In this sense, Western democracy remains hollow to the extent that it is patriarchal.
There is one sentence in Elaine Brown’s A Taste of Power: A Black Woman’s Story, a book about her time as the first female chair of the Black Panthers that I think about a lot—she says at some point she realized that the Black Panther was a man. That in spite of a woman leading it, it was a structurally and ideologically patriarchal.
So even though the Black Panther (and we should revisit Huey Newton’s lonely progressive stand on feminist and gay rights struggles) was fighting for black liberation, it carried within it this contradiction.
Because feminism for me works best when it ties questions of gender to racial and class marginalization, I think there is a racial and class bias inherent in the #MeToo movement.
Think of how the original founder, Tarana Burke, was almost “tsunamied” out of the movement she started. Speaking to class, do we really think a non-unionized woman working in a low-paying job can say Me Too about her bosses or co-workers and remain employed?
Secondly, to access social media one needs to access to the internet, but the digital gender gap means that poor women nationally and globally do not have the same access as the affluent. Because the #MeToo movement is now a global phenomenon, I think that is all the more reason that there should be a conversation about all those voices outside its radar.
And thirdly, there is a celebrity aspect to the #MeToo movement—a woman with 10 twitter followers will not have the same loud, public protection that one with a million followers does.
I am not trying to delegitimize the movement or the methods—in social change you use all the tools at your disposal. But we should acknowledge its contradictions, its blind spots, as we should with all movements calling for social change.
Thomas Sankara Taught Us All How to Be Feminists
From the above text, it is clear that feminism has different facets that tend to either be misinterpreted or used out of context. Mukoma Wa Ngugi rightly quotes Thomas Sankara who was very keen on women’s rights. Here’s one of his most famous quotes about Feminism and Gender Equality:
Posing the question of women in Burkinabè society today means posing the abolition of the system of slavery to which they have been subjected for millennia.
The first step is to try to understand how this system works, to grasp its real nature in all its subtlety, in order then to work out a line of action that can lead to women’s total emancipation.
In other words, in order to win this battle that men and women have in common, we must be familiar with all aspects of the woman question on a world scale and here in Burkina.
We must understand how the struggle of the Burkinabè woman is part of a worldwide struggle of all women and, beyond that, part of the struggle for the full rehabilitation of our continent.
Thus, women’s emancipation is at the heart of the question of humanity itself, here and everywhere. The question is thus universal in character.
Patriarchy, Religion, and Classism:
In reality, our cultures are still deeply patriarchal; religion and classism enormously contribute to prevailing gender injustices for both men and women. But why do many men find it difficult to join in the movement of women’s rights? Is it ignorance, fear, or the way the idea is presented to them?
Is it possible to create a language of talking about feminism in a way it can part of the national dialogue as opposed to a women’s issue? Does the word “feminism” exist in your indigenous tribe? Do you believe in gender roles; that men and women have their place in society and each gender should stick to its lane? Do you think men and women can be equal? Can you be a feminist?
Where Expression and Gender Parity meets Fatuma’s Voice:
Fatuma’s Voice aims to break the silence and encourage expression. One of the root causes of self-censorship and apathy is Gender inequality and Patriarchy that further supports stereotypes and discrimination towards women and other gender identities. Systematic manipulation through social institutions like Education, Politics, and Mass media, is used to maintain this status quo.
People lose trust and develop a culture of self-imposed silence.
Gender equality is a fundamental human right but it is still challenging for girls and women to access education, employment, and political representation. As a result, women in Kenya are still not receiving equal pay for work of equal value.
They are mostly the victims of rape, violence, sex slavery, poor parliamentary representation, and child marriage. A defective education system worsens the situation by perpetuating gender stereotypes and forcing people to occupy socially constructed gender roles.
Why Fatuma’s Voice and reasons to join the conversation about Feminism:
We intentionally gave Fatuma’s Voice the name Fatuma, which is associated with the female gender. This was a statement in acknowledgment of the gender gap that builds up social, political and economic barriers to change. Participating in conversations like this one on Feminism are ways for you to break this silence. Join us this Friday, at the Memorial Park from 5:00 pm.