As an Afro-feminist, Aïchatou Ouattara focuses mostly on promoting the rights of women in African descent who live in Europe. Yet what I find most compelling about her feminism is how she anchors it in her African heritage. This is what I wanted to ask her about this part of our interview.
Little did I know that her answers would unlock some of the reservations that had about embracing Afro-feminism myself! Read on, people: you too might just get transformed!
In case you’re just joining us: click here to learn more about the foundations of Aïchatou's militant journey, and here to learn about her vision of Afro-feminism and sisterhood.
Note: The interview took place in French - this is a translation. To read the original version, click here.
My favorite thing about your blog, Afrofeminista, is that you focus equally on Europe-based women of African descent and on African women living in on the continent. It’s not that common within the Afro-feminist movement – at least not what I’ve seen of it. Do you think your approach is grounded in your personal life journey or is it a more political decision?
Undeniably, my own African identity plays a huge role. I was born in Africa, I lived on the continent for many years. Once in Europe, my parents who had no intention of staying forever, so our African culture was always celebrated at home. I identify as Black because it’s the color of my skin, but I am African first and foremost. Beyond that, I don’t see how you can be an Afro-feminist and not think about what African women are going through, be it in Africa or even in African communities in the diaspora.
Discrimination against Black women starts within our African families. We are pressured to embody a certain idea of what woman is supposed to be: you have to get married, you have to dress this way, to behave that way. How can I say I'm Afro-feminist if I don't call out patriarchy as it manifests itself within our communities?
"How can I say I'm Afro-feminist if I don't call out patriarchy as it manifests itself within our communities?"
I am also convinced that the liberation of Black people in the diaspora cannot be sought separately from the liberation of African people on continent. We can’t have a territorial vision and think that our problems as Blacks living in Europe are limited to European territory and say we don’t care about what’s happening in Africa. As long as Africa isn’t free, Afro-descendants around the world will continue to face a range of structural and systemic discrimination.
The last reason I focus on African feminism is that Afro-feminism has developed an inferiority complex with American Black feminism, and I want to distance myself from that.
What inferiority complex? Tell me more about that.
I just think Afro-feminism cannot be a mere transposition of Black feminism into the European context. Yet I see too much copying and pasting, and it bothers me. I’m not blaming anyone – look, I just quoted Audre Lorde, right?
" Afro-feminism cannot be a mere transposition of Black feminism into the European context "
I am just as inspired by Black feminism as anyone else. There are commonalities between the realities of people of African descent in Europe and the experiences of African-Americans people in the United States. Both groups live in predominantly White societies, so the same dynamics and racial discrimination apply.
But that's all there is to it! African-Americans have experienced slavery on American soil, and that has shaped how gender roles were defined within the African-American family structure. The situation of Africans who migrated to France, Belgium or elsewhere in Europe from formerly colonized countries is very different. We can’t just replicate Black feminism’s concepts and methods and apply them to the European context. We need to put things into perspective.
Let’s not forget that there are just as many common experiences between people of African descent living in Europe and Africans living on the continent. So, of course I admire Angela Davis, but I am also inspired by Awa Thiam, Mariama Bâ, and all the intellectuals who have written and practiced African feminism.
So yes, you’re quite right: on my blog I cover the realities of women in Africa as much as I talk about women in the diaspora. And I celebrate the historical figures of African feminism as much as those of Black feminism.
I think you just helped unlocked something for me here! Because I’m a French citizen who is also Black, I fully support Afro-feminism but I’ve long struggled with calling myself an Afro-feminist. I thought that doing so would signal that I’m prioritizing that diaspora experience over my experiences as an African woman who has chosen to live in Africa and invest my energy in the African feminist movement. But what I’m hearing from you is: embracing Afro-feminism doesn't mean you choose it over African feminism. I didn't know how much I needed this conversation. Thank you!
You’re most welcome! Whether we are women in Africa or women of African descent everywhere else, let’s remember that we come from a lineage of powerful African feminists.
Take Queen Zinga in Congo. Take the women of Nder in Senegal, who decided to commit suicide collectively so that slave traders wouldn’t capture them. Take all the African feminist intellectuals doing such remarkable work: Amina Mama, Marie Angélique Savané, Fatou Sow, Ama Ata Aidoo, Fatou Sow Sarr, etc... It’s inspiring to look up to women who share our heritage – not just Angela Davis or Bell Hooks.
On my blog I celebrate these historic figures every year, with the #BlackHerStoryMonth series. Looking back at our history is a good reminder that African women are not victims – no matter what people say. African women are fighters. History teaches us that we cannot stay quiet in the face of the disgrace, servitude and discrimination we endure. We must do something to get things moving. I feel indebted to all the African women who have fought the fights that allow us to live a little freer today. It drives me to do the same for future generations.