In the 22nd edition of the journal Feminist Africa, Charmaine Pereira (2017) provides an overview of the trajectory and latest developments of the movement on the continent. In this last part, I follow her reflections to shed light on the processes of feminist organising on both the continent and the country.
In terms of agenda, the author begins by emphasising the continuous presence of crosscutting concerns around Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR). Efforts from both academia and civil society organisations have been essential for raising awareness and achieving legal protection. In the case of Uganda, the Domestic Violence Act and the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilations Act (2010) were enacted. These were complemented by the latest amendment
of the Penal Code (Sexual Offences) Act, which broadens the meaning of ‘consent’ and extends the sentence of rape to life imprisonment (Butwega 2019). Most recently, cases of sexual harassment and sexual violence in institutions of higher learning have triggered mobilisations and long-lasting discussions beyond borders. It is noteworthy the interest and engagement of young activists in the field, as the so-called #MeToo movements in the continent illustrate (Kagumire 2019).
The emergence of these movements also invites us to consider one of the most notorious features of feminism in the continent: The use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) and the Internet. Far from being a feature of Africans alone, the Internet and social media have become an increasingly important space and tool for feminist discussion and activism around the globe. The writer Munro (2013) reflects on how these tools have generated a ‘call-out’ culture in which sexism and misogyny can be challenged. Indeed, face-to-face activism is nowadays accompanied by the use of the Internet to mobilise and access to multiple kinds of voices and resources at unprecedented speed and scale. Despite the limits in the access, it is undeniable that ‘e-technology shapes new ways of being and doing, generating change through new forms of connection (online), space (cyberspace) and reality (virtual)’ in the continent (Pereira 2017, 21). How this connectivity is influencing feminist activism and organising in Uganda underpins the analysis of this research, as illustrated in the next chapters.
It is through new technologies that we arrive at the actors who have popularised its use: the young African feminists. According to Pereira, the emergence of such a generation is one of the most striking features of contemporary feminism, a generation whose trajectory distances them from academia and nurtures from the Internet. The introduction of feminism into popular culture has also played a significant role in facilitating younger women’s forms of creativity and self-expression, combined with feminist concerns and activism. To my pleasant surprise, the author recognises the relevance of Akina Mama wa Afrika and its African Women’s Leadership Institute (AWLI) nurturing the movement and ‘shaping feminist consciousness among younger activists’ (2017, 22). The writer Minna Salami has even categorised young women’s activism across the continent as a new ‘millennial or 4th Wave of African Feminism’, which complements post-colonial and contemporary feminist strands since the 2000s (Dieng 2020). How this new generation is using social media to exert their political agency and organise as a movement in Uganda constitutes one of the points of focus of this research.
Beyond the use of social media, this new generation has also revitalised the notion of ‘intersectionality’ in the continent. This idea cannot be considered a new element to the African feminist thought, born out of the claim that context-dependent social structures engender specific, intersecting forms of oppression. Examples such as the South African #RhodesMustFall movement in 2015 evidenced the need to expand its traditional scope. Not only did university protesters focus on the persistent racism and exclusion faced by Black people but also shed light on the duress faced by Black feminists and Black queers, in particular (Ramaru 2017). The identification of these South African students as ‘radical, intersectional African feminists’ called for a renewed awareness on the effects of sexual and heterosexual dimensions of oppression (Pereira 2017). In the case of Uganda, we can see increasing efforts from younger activists especially to include and amplify the concerns of women in prostitution, LGBT women, and those affected by HIV/AIDS (Butwega 2019, 23).
In terms of transnational action, it seems that this new connectivity has strengthened PanAfricanist networks but also spurred the creation of new ones. Since 2006, their efforts around advocacy, training and, knowledge have come to be framed by the Charter of Feminist Principles adopted by the African Feminist Forum (AFF). The creation of this continental platform responded to the need to join efforts ‘to propel the movement forward in the face of increasingly reactionary and hostile responses’ (AFF 2006, 2), a reality that affect feminists in Uganda and across the continent. Therefore, it became paramount to ‘create an autonomous space for African feminists (…); to agree on a charter of principles
for feminist organising in Africa; to produce a body of feminist knowledge; and to engage with other social movements’ (2006, 2). National feminist forums were subsequently crea-ted, such as the Ugandan Feminist Forum, to share and advance these concerns at the country level. To these goals, one must add the deliberate effort to mentor and integrate young feminists ‘in a non-matronising manner’ (AFF 2006) and bridge the existing gap between generations, especially noteworthy in the use of social media and discussions around prostitution or LGBT rights (Pereira 2017, 22). Signed by more than 100 activists in Accra, the Charter of Feminist Principles for African Feminists stands today as a landmark document that expresses a set of principles to be upheld and the commitment to a collective feminist identity without reservations (AFF 2006).
It is around these concerns of shared identity and movement-building that the idea of sisterhood comes to the table. In the executive summary of the 1st African feminist Forum, we see how ‘understanding sisterhood and building solidarity’ stands as one of the goals of the convening (AFF 2006). To further evidence, the Charter envisages a movement sustained by a ‘spirit of feminist solidarity and mutual respect based on frank, honest and open discussion of differences’. Similarly, it reaffirms the commitment to ‘support, nurture, and care of other African feminists, along with the care for our own well-being’ at the core of feminists’ individual principles (AFF 2006). Far from being short-lived concerns, the Ugandan Feminist Forum hosted in 2018 a convening aimed at promoting collective action and ‘intergenerational knowledge sharing and cultivating self-love, inclusivity, solidarity, and commitment among Sisters’. In this context, this research aims to go beyond the narrative and comprehend the effects of these ideas on the lives of young feminists.