I have been called “toubab” (white) so many times in my life, I honestly can’t keep count. This is due to many reasons but mainly because I identify as feminist. After my last blog post about society’s expectations of wives in The Gambia, that sealed the deal. I was definitely a “toubab” because, according to the people who approached me to talk about “my way of thinking” only a “toubab” would think like that because feminism is after all a western concept, it is not part of our culture.
This is not something new tho, throughout my adult life and part of my teens I have been called the above because of opinions I held on several issues. Ranging from the fact that I am of the opinion that everyone should be able to love who they want to love and marry who they want without fear of persecution or being treated differently because of their sexual orientation, abortion should be legalized etc.
I have been called a feminist many times in my life, I am a feminist, I have always been a feminist long before I knew the word. I didn’t claim the word or used it until a few years ago. For me it has always been about what is right, and what is wrong, and what did not make any sense at all to me. When I was 11years old or so I attended a public school, our school could not afford to have cleaners who would clean our class so, we had to do it our self’s. The girls in the class were divided in to groups and we had to take turns to sweep the class on different days of the week. But none of the boys were in any of the groups, only the girls were put in groups responsible for keeping the class clean. I remember asking why the boys were not in any of the groups, and I was told that it was a silly question to ask because boys are not supposed to sweep.
I like to tell this story because that was when I truly began questioning things happening around me. I didn’t ask the question because I regarded myself as a feminist, but because it felt wrong to me. It felt wrong that we all attended the same class (both boys and girls) and only the girls were supposed to sweep the class. That day, I learnt that the answers you get to your questions may not always be the right answers and just because you receive an answer does not mean that you should stop seeking more answers
The point is, even though I didn’t know the word feminist at that time; that was a bold feminist move. I didn’t have to be white to be a feminist, and I didn’t have to know the word feminist to be one. My grandmother; my mother’s mother was a very strong feminist woman, she died when I was nine years old, but stories of bravery and open rebellion against the patriarchy is a great source of inspiration to me. She was the first female taxi driver in The Gambia, this was a huge deal back then. A woman driving a taxi in the 70s, at a time where the belief that “the place of a woman is in the kitchen” was quite popular and very few women publicly challenging it in her community, She defied the system that told her that her place as a woman was at home and that she had no business doing a man’s job. I do not know if my grandmother knew the word ‘feminist” or if she ever used it, but the way she lived her life is testament to the fact that she was indeed a feminist.
My point is: brave women in Africa and around the world from time immemorial have been challenging and resisting a culture that told them that they were less human by virtue of being born female; engaging in open rebellion against a system that sought to silence the voices of women around the world. Of course “feminisms” is an English word but the fact that the word is in English does not diminish the struggles, the triumphs, and work that women and men across the globe from non-western cultures have put towards fighting for the liberation of all women, It does not invalidate the struggles of my grandmother who fought so hard to break gender stereotypes, it does not invalidate the struggles of men and women from across the world who are fighting very hard for gender justice in their communities, it does not invalidate my struggles or my work as a women rights activist. It does not invalidate me.
Honestly, it does not matter if a person knows the word feminist or not, what really matters is whether they embody the core feminist values, and are fighting towards gender justice in their communities. To me, a feminist is any person who has ever stood up, resisted, or rebelled against patriarchy, and brave African women have been doing that from time immemorial; they may not have carried labels or be captured in history in the way that the needed to be, but that does not trivialize or invalidate the truth of their struggle.
I understand that when people say that “feminisms is not African”, “feminisms is a western concept” it is supposed to shame us (women) into silence, and show us that we have somehow lost our way and deserve to be tamed. If I could say one thing to all African women, I will say this; Women! now more than ever is the time to remain unshamed, unsilenced, and most importantly untamed.
This is one of the many ways society tires to silence women. Culture has never been in favor of women, whenever people say “this is not our culture” mostly, It is to stop women from enjoying a right, or asking them to give up something, or just silence them.
What is even more troubling is that whenever someone speaks of the rights of a minority group they are immediately called “toubab” (white) as if recognizing, acknowledging, and respecting the rights of others is somehow foreign and un-African. Well, it’s not. Human rights are universal, the rights of all people should be respected regardless of which part of the world they live in.