Are young women anti-feminist?

“I hate being labelled”, says Tjawangwa Dema, a writer from South Africa. “Being called feminist is associated with you being automatically defensive and being anti-something”, she says. She is one of many women who show an instinct revulsion when they are called a feminist. In contrast, Johnson-Sirleaf considers her success to win against twenty men as a success for womanhood. “I think it’s just a great attestation to all the effort that has gone into the gender equality, throughout Africa and the world”, she told BBC’s magazine “Focus on Africa”. “After all this work, after all the dialogue, the debate, the participation, a woman has finally broken the barriers and entered that club, that male bastion”, the Liberian politician says. “I think the chances for women to succeed are far better now, because once the people see that women can do it too, the ice is broken”, says Addisalem Tesfaye. The student of political science and international relations is in the final year of her bachelor degree. “But it won’t change in a year”, says Addisalem who is active in the university initiative “Womens Association”. Eventually she will decide to become a politician, too. “I want to change how the system is working”, she explains. Addisalem is right. Yet, the success of African women in African politics is limited. Women who are making it are a minority. Gender inequality and oppression are still widespread, whether at home, in the field or at workplace. But there is an arrival of women in the top positions of state in Africa: Rwanda’s parliament has the highest proportion of women in the world with almost 50 percent of its delegates; South-Africa, Mozambique and Burundi each boast over 30 per cent; at least three women are currently holding vice-presidential posts (in South-Africa, Zimbabwe and Burundi) and two are prime ministers (in Mozambique and Sao Tom’ and Pr’ncipe). Does the “weak” sex finally become strong? To many observers it’s a borrowed victory: women do NOT begin to be represented equally throughout politics and government, in line with their skills and their rights; ‘ they are allowed to be successful because of the need of quotas. That’s why Johnson-Sirleaf tried not to sell herself as a feminist. She wanted to avoid alienating male voters, as she explainded the media after the election. However, a lot of supporters, when asked why they voted for “Ellen” or “Mama Ellen” ‘ as they call her, they say, “Because she’s a mother, she’s a grandmother, she understands'”. Moreover, there are some women who are critical about the means and methods of the feminist movement. Addisalem for example has to admit that the affirmative action campaign currently promoted by several African governments is not fair and provokes an outcry from her male comrades. “When you are a girl you don’t have to pass the entrance examinations for university”, she says. “And to pass form the first to the second year girls need 1,8 Grade Point Average (GPA) instead of 2,0. They call it positive discrimination”, she says. “All the boys complain about it. They say we are not good enough otherwise”, Addisalem says. In future the chances of women to succeed will not only depend on themselves, particularly in Africa. Their chances are interrelated with the overall economic development: they could increase if economies grow faster and more jobs are created, making employment less scarce and competition less intense. Until then, many African feminists argue, quotas and affirmative action are still needed.

April 2006
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