This was a question I was faced with recently at a session with women rights activists and gender equality advocates regarding feminism and what it means to be running a ‘feminist organization’. Frankly this was one question I have never considered and critically examined as a feminist, whose choices, actions and pretty much everything, have been defined by the feminist ethos. Growing up and living in Africa, the stark reality of inequality is one that we cannot easily escape and have to deal with on a daily basis. With sex, gender roles, geography, ethnicity, religion constantly determining who has access and opportunities, and those who do not and will likely never have.
Choices and decisions are constantly made based on these factors, ensuring that some people will remain, with their generations, for as long as possible, at the bottom of the pile. It did not need any particular crystal ball or rocket science to deduce, but using a bit of common sense, that the thread that ties all of these strands of inequalities together was that of sex/gender, specifically women and girls were usually the constant. No matter how poor or disadvantaged a man is, there will always be a woman in his life who is poorer – not always in terms of money, but in terms of decision making, accessing opportunities, being able to move around for better jobs, skills, education, and if she wanted to be too ‘big for her boots’, often various forms of violence are deployed to deter her.
Finding feminism for me was therefore an eye opener, not because I was unaware of the inequalities between men and women, boys and girls, but that finally it had a name and not only that, it defined that inequality linked to a social construct that it was not ‘God given’ and so cannot be challenged. It was clear these inequalities were another way in which a group of people (in this instance, men) has through control of women’s bodies; defining narrow reproductive roles for women, limiting of choices for women and through the use of violence manages to successfully limit competition against them while appropriating women and girls’ labor to expand their influence and power.
So while I constantly go on (and believe me, I do go on!) about feminism, I have never thought about what we would replace the current patriarchal structure with, should we have our way. I do believe that some forms of inequality will always exist in the world as we currently know it, with women also at the heart of sustaining it, including gender inequality. And that while discrimination on the basis of sex is the most prevalent form of discrimination, but one that does not elicit much outrage, there are other and multiple layers of inequalities based on geography, class, race, religion, ethnicity. A child born in Norway will always have more opportunities than one born in Nigeria, regardless of sex for example – that makes a truly egalitarian society, with absolutely same opportunities and circumstances of birth utopian (we can still dream though!).
In response to the question, I replied honestly that I do not have a term for what I do want, or even if that will ever be possible but I am clear about what I do not want based on my feminist understanding of patriarchy and the truly amazing work feminist scholars have done over the decades, to deconstruct how our society has been modelled and sustained. Through a system that allows more than half of its population to be held back, deemed inferior, patronized, abused and that these factors are not inherent, one that has been put in place for the advantage of one over the other.
I also do know what I want to see happen in my society and my world as a feminist. A world where all women and girls, and all men and boys, are given the same opportunities and access to resources, where choices are not taken out of their hands in the name of religion, culture, tradition, through marriage, through education and systematic brainwashing. Where they will not be limited by forced marriages, forced sexual encounters, violence whether by strangers or intimate partners. Where girls will not be forced out of school to marry so they are not ‘spoiled’, bargained over for cows and other objects, as if they were disposable assets. A society where our governments will actively protect and enforce these rights. It is simple really, if you think about it, and I always wonder, why are we not all feminists, and working to overthrow such a system even if we do not have a name for what will replace it?