Beyond the Frontiers: Feminist Activism in the ‘Global’ Academy
As regions that have both experienced the challenges of post-colonial contexts, the Caribbean and Africa share a long and durable historical relationship that has flowed both ways, with Caribbean postcolonial theorists visiting Africa, and pan-African experiences informing the establishment of gender studies in the Caribbean. In this lecture, Amina Mama uses her personal experiences as a feminist intellectual worker, including work in establishing independent intellectual spaces such as the Network for Women’s Studies in Nigeria, to reflect on this relationship, the historical journey of feminism and gender studies in African universities, and its impact on wider activism and social movements through that time.
African universities, whilst purportedly global institutions, have in the post-colonial era been decidedly national in their role, actively contributing to forming and reforming national consciousness. Yet they have faced many challenges in developing an African intellectual culture, with universities still heavily dominated by patriarchal hierarchies of resources, intellectual discourses, and scholarly and research practices originating in the West. Developing an African gender studies discourse has been a slow affair, with the first gender studies course initiated at Ahmadu Bello University in Kaduna State, Nigeria, followed by others in East, West and Southern Africa. However, many women scholars continue to experience various forms of direct discrimination, ranging from overt harassment, to more invidious assumptions about women’s intellectual capacities and availability for professional careers. Furthermore, recent years have seen cultural and material conditions in African universities decline, with increases in student poverty, campus violence, deepening religiosity, and deteriorating infrastructure.
Mama concludes by noting that today, activist scholars based in African universities and research centres are making more concerted efforts to broaden their scope, as well as to bring activism and scholarship together. During the last three decades, African feminists have begun to imagine and build a community that brings activist and intellectual work together, to advance social transformations both within and beyond the academy. In short, African feminist scholars are now defining the field for themselves, resisting African men’s dismissal of feminism as a Western imperialist intrusion. They are also at the cutting edge of efforts to promote synergies between social movements and activism in African universities, including in the uptake of feminist pedagogic and research methodologies as part of activist strategy.