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Issues of Gender and Development from an African Feminist Perspective
Patricia McFadden

Lecture presented in honor of Dame Nita Barrow, at the Center for Gender and Development Studies, University of the West Indies, Bridgetown, Barbados, November 2000.

It is a singular honor to be here with you this evening, celebrating once more the undaunted spirit of feminism and Africanity through a re-memorying of the significance of Dame Nita Barrow—an African woman, citizen of Barbados and the Caribbean, and a truly fearless defender of the dignity and rights of all Africans, wherever we live. Through her courage and amazing ability to envision a different world, even as she and her contemporaries battled with the seemingly impossible challenges of half a century ago, we have been able to come to where we are today—to a place where the discourse on rights has become one of greater inclusion for women and where issues of entitlement, dignity and integrity are opening up new intellectual and political challenges for us all, whether we are located in the academy, in the public service or private sector and/or we work within the home, as most women still do at some point in their daily lives.

This is a place we have come to, through struggle, perseverance and a belief in ourselves; where the notion of gender is no longer an idea that can be dismissed as 'Western' and/or 'other' by an older, formerly hegemonic nationalist discourse, particularly with regard to race and identity. Gender has instead begun to occupy an increasingly central status as a political thinking tool, particularly in terms of comprehensively re-defining our African realities within the numerous locations we call home. It is throwing up new discourses that sometimes speak more covertly to unfinished historical tasks relating to our search for freedom as Black women and Black men.

For example, there is a fear in most African communities, both Diasporic and on the African continent, that the existences of Black men, particularly young Black men, are fundamentally jeopardized by the achievements and freedoms of Black women. For those who espouse this discourse, however it is framed, the reality of gender equality has become the nemesis they always suspected it to be, no matter how limited and unsecured women's rights and benefits may be, given that the most critical institutions in all our societies are still largely controlled and directed by male interests. The question for me, as an African activist feminist scholar, who has spent more than half of her almost fifty years of life struggling to be free, is why the achievement of freedom, relative and incomplete as it still is, is perceived as a threat by the very men with whom I share, unconditionally, the oldest experience of racist violation and impunity.

Could it be that, despite our common bitter heritage of racist violation and humiliation, we are now ultimately faced with the imperative of coming to terms with the fact that Black men of all classes have always been privileged by the very same patriarchy that facilitated and institutionalized racist privilege for white men? That at the end of the day, it is the fear of a loss of male patriarchal claims; claims that are reproduced and naturalized through basically outdated notions and practices of masculinity and heterosexism, which constitutes the sub-text of this still barely theorized but passionately articulated discourse of male endangerment? I know I am treading on dangerous ground, and I can already hear the mental rifles being cocked, as I can hear too the echoes of a volley of questions and reprimands waiting impatiently to be fired from across various bows of this august audience. But I dare to tread on any and all hallowed ground, in the proud and fearless traditions of Nita Barrow, Audre Lorde, Andaiye, Winnie Madikizela, Nehanda, Ndzinga, and all those fore-mothers and sisters whose courage has moved the great stone of oppression and exclusion, so that change would come for all of us.

For me, these are narratives that are embedded in century old wounds—memories of having been ruptured from known cultural and social locations; from old and well-loved traditions that marked us as ourselves; of having crafted new familiars in dangerous and hostile lands and become African women and men again, albeit in new ways, within the landscapes of what is now known as the Caribbean; or along the margins of settler colonies which had displaced us in brutal and soul destroying ways, instilling in us that demon called self-hate, thereby making us strangers in our own lands.

And now, just when some would like to think that everything is finally back to 'normal'; when we have our own flags waving merrily in the breeze; our children's voices ring out with the sound of our very own national anthems; and Black men occupy the dizzying heights of state structures both on the continent and in these Africanized isles, now when it all seems to have been settled, Black women begin demanding 'gender justice' and insisting that 'women's rights are human rights'. Nita Barrow's dreams have taken root and the seeds of her labor of love, her life's work, are blossoming everywhere. How then to reconcile this difficult yet sincerely loved familiar—the anger and beauty of Black women struggling to be free of an African Patriarchy—the oldest patriarchy known in the human story.

In my presentation this evening, I want to venture into a landscape called Africa that is culturally so dense its true depth is rarely fully imagined let alone experienced. It is a place so materially, artistically and spiritually rich that only those who have lived as Africans within the skin of this incredible identity, and experienced being African through a history of resistance, can begin to have a sense of the power that this treasure house is capable of endowing. I will attempt to set out some of the legacies that have made it possible for us to survive as a people, on and off the continent, to 'play in the dark' and still be known, experienced and longed for, even as we continue to be reviled and feared by the dominant hegemonic cultures of the white North.

This I hope to do by making reference to my experiences as a feminist working mainly in Southern Africa, and by anchoring my ideas in the intellectual and activist traditions of Black feminist scholars in Africa, the Caribbean, North America and Europe. This reflexive process will, I hope, show how feminist ideology and practice has begun to impact and change notions of development through a more radical conceptualization and application of the concept of gender. My contention is that gender, in its most productive and creative meanings, conceptually and politically, is a social product that comes out of the struggles of women for freedom and inclusion.

Within radical feminist analysis, gender comes to signify much more than an intellectual notion that may be bandied about like an intellectual ping-pong. It assumes a critical and deeply transformative ability when it is used to raise new senses of identity and meaning in relation to the categories of femaleness and maleness; youth and elderliness; citizenship and sexual identity/orientation; urban and rural location and their intersections with notions of authenticity and modernity; race and privilege; the contestation over space and nationality; and even the definition of the present and future.

However, before I set out to speak to some of the numerous issues which lie at this juncture where race, class, gender, age and location on the one hand, intersect with power, privilege and troubled relationships with the state on the other within the context of Southern Africa, I want to acknowledge and affirm the long and rich traditions of resistance scholarship and creative writing within the Caribbean—a bouquet of islands best understood as a living, breathing, always changing space.

To quote Patricia Mohammed as she celebrates the uniqueness of the Caribbean, even as she acknowledges the similarities this region shares with other parts of the world that have been marked by the common experiences of colonization, plunder and resistance for several centuries:

The narratives of misuses and abuses of colonization are tired old ones which will not be retired. The secrets and disguises of the past will be constantly rendered up for public scrutiny by each generation of Caribbean peoples, descendants of the myriad group of migrants; enslaved, bonded, coerced and encouraged to work and settle in these islands.÷ Both consciously and unconsciously, the interrogation of the past with the present is a process of creating continuity and tradition. This continuity and tradition—of families, buildings, institutions, art, music, song, dance, cuisine, of political systems and political struggles, of language, and of cultural beliefs—all of these are the markers of identity and difference. The different manifestations of these are the signature of the Caribbean on the world map—the way in which the circumstances of history, natural geography and resources of the region have evolved into something which is viewed by others and by ourselves as Caribbean, despite colonialism, and because of colonization. (1998)

I too want to 'insert' myself into this vibrant, dynamic ambiance, albeit temporarily as a guest: an African who is often asked, 'Are you Caribbean/from the Caribbean'?—at which I beam and instantaneously become Caribbean, and might not actually locate myself elsewhere unless I am asked more locally specific questions. In re-locating myself momentarily, I hope to add my thread to the millions of multi-colored strands that have spanned the breadth and depth of the oceans between us; and the multitude of lives taken/given/lost in the crossing to get to this place and in making it home, in spite and because of all that has come before. Therefore, as I prepare to step towards an offering of what I understand to be happening on the African continent at this particular time, I want to re-affirm, with Barbara Christian that

people of color have always theorized—but in forms quite different from the Western form of abstract logic. And I am inclined to say that our theorizing ÷ is often in narrative forms, in the stories we create, in riddles and proverbs, in the play with language, since dynamic rather than fixed ideas seem more to our liking. How else have we managed to survive with such spiritedness the assault on our bodies, social institutions, countries, our very humanity? And women, at least the women I grew up around, continuously speculated about the nature of life through pithy language that unmasked the power relations of their worlds÷ .My folk, in other words, have always been a race for theory. (2000)

It is out of these traditions of theory making, in order to explain our own realities, that I would like to locate my critique of the prevailing notion of development, and show how, through feminist theorizing and practice, African women have begun to transform their societies in new and futuristic ways.

Gender, Development and Feminist Transformation

The notion of development is seldom associated with an old liberal discourse that not only assumed that African preparedness for independent existence from colonial supervision would be determined by the colonials themselves, but which also excluded African women in particular from any part of that process, an assumption which remained largely unquestioned by Black men long into the independence era. It took almost two decades of insistence by African women that we too had rights to the benefits of independence for a more inclusive and more critical development discourse to emerge. The same can be said of the Caribbean (Peggy Antrobus; Rhoda Reddock; Eudien Barriteau; Byron and Thornburn).

Very central to this new and heavily contested discourse was the concept of gender, a dynamic concept which came out of the feminist struggles of women for inclusion into the political, social and economic domains of our respective societies. Up until gender became a critical analytical tool in the discourse about rights and entitlements to social and material resources, women's interests were acknowledged only in relation to the reproductive roles and socio-cultural obligations and responsibilities which had determined their statuses for centuries across the various cultures of the world.

Over the past three decades an entire genre of feminist development literature has emerged, reflecting lively discussions and contestations over the location of women in relation to the state and their access to the most critical material and social resources within such societies. This discourse has centered on the association of women as a social category with development as a process through which old colonial relationships of power between the North and Africa had begun to be restructured. An array of players positioned themselves strategically in this debate—Black men (within the state and on its margins); white men (usually as former settlers, shareholders in multinational corporations and as donors); white women (who usually formulated the theoretical expressions of what they thought African and Caribbean women should expect/where we could be positioned within this restructuring); and more recently, Black women, who have either accepted the approaches which came with the funding for 'development' activities (WID/WAD/GAD), or have challenged the assumptions and prescriptions of such approaches, exposing the underlying liberal paternalism and its function in maintaining the very colonial relationships it claims to be transforming. This latter group espouses Audre Lorde's wisdom that the master's tools will not dismantle the master's house.

From a radical African feminist perspective, it is quite obvious that WID/WAD and GAD are basically different versions of a fundamentally conservative discourse, which essentially de-politicizes women in terms of the public while it entrenches the private construction of women as peripheral to the real sites of power within our societies. The very latest version of this paradigm is reflected in the policy of gender mainstreaming which I will make further reference to later in this presentation.

Ayesha Imam, a Nigerian feminist, captures this transition from marginal intellectual and social status to feminist centrality in the discourse on development within African in the following passage:

The study of women in general and African women in particular contributed to the breadth and depth of knowledge and theorizing of African realities in a number of diverse ways÷ .It has demonstrated the importance of women not simply as passive breeders but also as economic agents, as active in creating new developments, in resistance to and in collusion with oppression also. It has added fuel to the questioning of assumptions about the beneficial nature of the colonial experience and the development of capitalism and 'modernisation' in Africa, by demonstrating that for many women these processes have frequently meant a decrease in economic autonomy, access to resources, status and security. It has contributed to the demythologizing of both the 'golden age of pre-colonial Africa' and the 'backward, uncivilized primitive Africa' theses through investigations as to women's positions in pre-colonial Africa—which turn out to have been neither a happy complementarity with men's roles nor the dumb beast of burden remarked upon by the early (white) anthropologists. (1997)

Through an expansive range of social science research, spearheaded by the leading African research institutes across the continent—CODESRIA (the Council for the Development of Economic and Social Research in Africa, based in Senegal); SARIPS (the Southern African Research Institute for Policy Studies, based in Harare, Zimbabwe—my project is part of this initiative); OSSREA (the Organisation for Social Science Research in Eastern Africa, based in Addis Ababa); AAPS (the Association of African Political Scientists, based in Zimbabwe) and numerous institutes and departments in Universities across the continent—African scholars have created new and exciting debates about the relationships between coloniality, development and power since the late 1950s when the first African states achieved their independence.

However, it was not until more recently, as a consequence of several interesting national, continental and international factors, that the discourse on African development began to reflect the impact and relevance of African women's struggles and demands on the independence project. The work of Amina Mama and Ayesha Imam (Nigeria); Fatou Sow (Senegal), Rudo Gaidzanwa (Zimbabwe); Filomen Steady (Sierra Leone); Ndri Therese Assie-Lumumba (Cote Ivoire); Techua Manu, Dzodzi Tsikata, Ama Ata Aidoo (Ghana), Ruth Meena (Tanzania); Fatma Mernissi (Morocco); Desiree Lewis, Natasha Primo and Shereen Hassim (South Africa); Sara Longwe (Zambia); Micere Mugo (Kenya), and my own work within the region, speaks only partially to a fantastic new tradition of feminist theory making and activist politics across a continent which is over three and a half times the landmass of the USA. Several African male scholars have also begun to engage with development issues using gender and feminist analysis to raise new conceptual and political issues.

Paul Tiyambe Zeleza (Malawi), Mwenda Ntarangwi (Kenya), Brian Raftopoulos (Zimbabwe) and Eboe Hutchful (Nigeria) are among a growing number of Black men who recognize the intellectual and policy relevance of gender analysis for themselves as male social activists within societies that desperately need to change. Although all these scholars still use gender in relation to women's struggles, as an expression of their political support for women's rights and the necessary changes which need to occur within the academy and at the level of policy making (in particular the work of Yusuf Bangura of Nigeria speaks most directly to the need to change the relationship between gender, structures and power and organizational policy and development), it is clearly time for these brothers and their counterparts to move on and begin the more radical work on masculinity and issues of power, control, violation and the consequences of patriarchal privilege for them as men. To continue drawing their male identity from practices and notions of culture which are essentially pre-capitalist and largely constructed through the prisms of white patriarchal notions of manhood is surely deeply problematical.

However, in order to make the conceptual and political leap from supporting women's struggles for freedom to initiating the process of freeing themselves from patriarchal backwardness, Black men will have to understand not only the necessity of interrogating male privilege as it relates to them as men, but they will also have to locate that understanding at the intersection of race, class, age and social status, as all these issues affect their identities and their relationships with power. They will need to understand and accept, for example, that while being against gender violence has now become the politically correct stance to adopt, because women have fought uncompromising battles to wrestle the issue of impunity from the domestic arena by making it a crime to violate a woman in any way and place in most societies in the world (although the issue of marital rape remains intractable and outstanding in this sense), it is not politically correct to continue to hold onto the ancient, undemocratic practice of violating children, whether this takes the form of sexual violence (which is still justified by certain cultural claims in some African societies), or physical and psychological violence, supposedly for purposes of discipline.

For centuries men violated women on the basis of this very claim, which was shored up by justifications of biblical license and cultural sanction. Just because patriarchal power and the institution of the heterosexual family have granted this privilege for thousands of years to adults who bear children does not make it any more acceptable than the violation and abuse of women was made out to be until recent legal and political challenges debunked such claims.

For feminists, it is even more critical that we make the political and conceptual linkages between all and any forms of violation and show how impunity (which I understand to be more than the legal definition of committing a crime without paying the price through punishment; and define more as the boundary crossing behaviour and practices of those who break those collectively created rules and defined expectations around our dignity and integrity as humans, rules and assumptions that govern the very essence of human existence beyond the differentiations we have constructed through race, class, gender, age hierarchies and notions of social superiority and status). Impunity is embedded in supremacist ideologies which feed patriarchal sexism and misogyny, racist violation and brutality and classist exclusionary privilege. It facilitated the buying and selling, brutalization and dehumanization of Africans for half a millennium, and we know that too well, each and every one of us wherever we are as Africans.

Most often within African societies cultural constructs of age, hierarchy and tradition are used to mask such violations, enabling them to continue through the collusion of groups who should be in the forefront of the removal of all vestiges of undemocratic and autocratic behaviour. The same applies to issues of sexual orientation and the right to self-determination. For too long, Africans all over the world tended to assume that heterosexuality was synonymous to being authentically 'African' and most Black people still collude (less overtly these days maybe) with homophobic, heterosexist structures and political systems in excluding homosexual and bisexual persons from exercising their rights to choose how they experience and express their sexuality. It has taken almost a century of hard activist work to begin to break the myth that Africanity is synonymous with heterosexuality—a compulsory sexual form which lies at the heart of much of the violation (bodily and sexual) which affects millions of Black women and girls all over the world, but especially in those parst of the continent which perpetuate the misogynist practice of female genital mutilation and other humiliating and degrading practices against women.

The essential political lesson which must come out of our struggles as women for bodily and sexual integrity and personhood is that any form of violation and exploitation perpetrated against any group of persons and/or individual anywhere, but especially within our African societies, cannot and must not be tolerated, particularly when it allows us as women to engage in undemocratic patriarchal practices which ultimately undermine our own freedom as women and as mothers. Beating children is a violation of their integrity and their right to live secure and humane lives. It serves to further institutionalize impunity under the guise of cultural preservation, and in my opinion it is another example of how oppressed women collude with patriarchy in perpetuating systems of domination.

Of course, we need a new and courageous public discourse about the relationships we enter into with the human beings we bring into this world; it is essential that we take the discourse of socialization out of its patriarchal embeddedness within archaic institutions like the patriarchal heterosexual family, which is still legally, socially and culturally defined and determined by conservative males, and make the personal political also in relation to our interactions with young people. Yes, it is a difficult and challenging issue because not only does it subvert the essentialist claims of cultural authenticity which have sustained the rhetoric of the nationalist male scholars and 'gurus'—the guardians of African authenticity—but it also means that women will no longer be able to exercise power over 'children'—and child will have to mean those things that speak to the nurturing, loving, supportive and protective aspects of our encounters with human beings who come through us, but do not belong to us. The power between women and their children will have to become a power to make life safe, democratic and violence free, rather than being a power over another human being—which is a bad habit we have learnt as women from patriarchal male practices and their uses of power for destructive and misogynist purposes. The persistence of war across our continent speaks tragically but most realistically to the exercise of this kind of power, and we have to stop this confounded nonsense which is destroying us all.

It will also mean that we begin a new layer of the discourse on property, a discourse which for ages included the ownership of women as property through rituals and cultural practices. When women insisted on becoming adults at the same age as men did, they entered into a relationship with material forms of property which scuttled the claim that women could not be autonomous in relation to economic and financial issues; and initiated a rejection of the violence women had suffered as privatized objects in patriarchal societies. This discourse will require that we interrogate the relationship between violation, property and the continuing hegemony of patriarchal power after centuries of struggle to change our worlds, an expression of impunity which the recent rape of Black women by Black nationalist males on white owned farms in Zimbabwe brought to the fore in horrific but urgent ways.

When the systematic occupation of white farms began early this year (2000), one of the first things Black men did was to rape and terrorize Black women and girls, with impunity, claiming that they were colluders with settler colonialism for working and living on those farms. To most Zimbabweans working in the civil society, Black farm workers are isolated and disenfranchised—in particular Black women, who live the lives of slaves (in the main, they do not vote, have no access to education, legal security of employment, are the most casualized and the most impoverished section of the entire Zimbabwean population, and are without claims of any kind to citizenship and/or land on the basis of an indigenous identity or social status). Most of these women are descendants of Malawian and Zambian immigrants who were brought in by the colonial state almost sixty years ago to work as even cheaper labour on the white farms as part of the then Nyasaland and Rhodesia Federation. They stayed when Zimbabwe became independent, many families having supported the liberation struggle and even joined the ranks of the liberation movement. However, the distinction between them and 'authentic' Zimbabweans—who are basically the Shona (even the national claims of the Ndebele have been questions by the ruling elite, which is predominantly Shona)—was maintained. Over the 20 years since independence, most farm workers have been refused the right to register as Zimbabwean citizens because such a right is still tied to the presentation of proof of an authentic Zimbabwean parentage; most do not vote because to vote one needs an identity card; they have no claims to land because they do not have an authentic African home within Zimbabwe (in spite of the fact that all these workers know no other country or home besides Zimbabwe), and most tragically, their children have been excluded from national educational and health services because they cannot be identified as Zimbabweans. This by a government that has signed numerous human rights declarations and some of whose ministers use these very workers as peons on their huge farms across the country.

Therefore, when the crisis of property contestation erupted—because that is what the issue is about in Zimbabwe, a re-structuring of the relationship between predominantly Black males, who deploy the trope of authenticity to lay claim to indigenous land that was alienated by a white colonial state over a hundred years ago, and the demand for private property—female farm workers became the easiest enemy to attack. They raped and assaulted and brutalized women and girls without the state arresting or trying a single one of them (except the gang of thugs who abducted Shona children from a school where they claimed the teachers supported the newly formed opposition movement). Rape and domestic violence is still treated as common assault within the Zimbabwean criminal justice system, and unlike in South Africa, where a newly passed Domestic Violence Act provides severe punishment for such crimes, Zimbabwe, like most African countries, still treats the rape and violation of women and girls as a common crime.

Often, the police watched as the homes and meager possessions of farm workers were burnt and looted, and little girls were gang raped as punishment for being part of the white man's property. It was tragic and bizarre, and the responses of both the Zimbabawean Women's Movement (which I shall make reference to below) and the wider civil society were generally feeble, moralistic protestations about how disgusting such behaviour was. However, an explanation for the impunity with which such violations were carried out was sorely lacking, and although some women's organizations provided termination (within the constraints of the law which still criminalizes a woman's termination of an unwanted pregnancy) and counseling services to a few of the girls and women who had become pregnant after the rapes, it was generally a case of too little too late.

Earlier today Dr. Barriteau showed me a report by the Post Express newspaper of Nigeria, where the implementation of Sharia Law in several of that country's states is facilitating the violation and total disregard of the rights of mainly women, girls and Christian individuals. Once again, women, especially young women, are bearing the brunt of the reactionary, right-wing backlash against the advances that women may have made in that society. This is not uncommon across the continent—the reinvention of archaic notions of culture and religious dogma to curtail the advancement of women is a strategy that is often applied with impunity, regardless of whatever larger civic laws and protections might be in place.

The report details how what are described as 'free and single girls' in Minna, the Niger State capital, were given a week's ultimatum by the state's Sharia Implementation Board 'to get married or quit the state'. This has resulted in some of the women and girls fleeing into the military barracks where Sharia law does not apply, and 'squatting with unmarried soldiers and policemen'. In Bida, another town: 'Some of the girls now squat with unmarried soldiers in the barracks while others throng the beer parlours for men that need them. Those without alternative arrangements have begun to flee the state en masse'. When asked about the indiscriminate arrest of the women and girls, the Board Chairman denied that this was indiscriminate arrest, insisting that 'we must do our job the right way'.

Here again, we see the blatant use of impunity to deny the rights of citizens in a country which is represented in the UN and the OAU; and has signed most, if not all, the international conventions on the rights of women and children, the human rights charter, etc. Yet the state and the wider society is clearly unable to defend the rights of female citizens in the face of outright misogynist practices. Women are running from one arm of the repressive state into another, victimized by both in the interests of so-called religious sanctity and cultural preservation. In such contexts, the distinction between religious dogma and outright patriarchal repression disappears, and all one sees is the brutalisation and exclusion of women from the securities and entitlements which those who inhabit the state are supposed to guarantee and secure.

I have used these examples to show how critical it is that we move from the important but still fragmented analysis and activism we have thus far carried out with regard to violation, and begin to understand its perniciousness and connectivity to a multitude of other structures and ideological systems within our societies. These are ideological and political systems which are linked very intimately to power, property and a value system that shapes and determines how people are included or excluded from the resources of the law, the state as a custodian of citizens/peoples rights and entitlements, and the very notions of dignity and respect for each other as Africans.

Having probably shocked some of you with the retelling of these brutal expressions of misogyny and exclusion in societies that have been in the limelight these past months, let me hasten to assure you that while everything I have said above is entirely true, and reflects a deep crisis within Zimbabwe and Nigeria, Africa has given rise to a plethora of social movements, amongst which the African Women's Movement is a foremost actor in moving the societies of the continent to a new and qualitatively different, people-friendly place. The transition to such a new dispensation will require a different set of political and cultural values, values which we see emerging predominantly within the African women's movement. I will return to this claim in the conclusion of this presentation.

Comprising fifty-four countries and numerous islands and beautiful archipelagoes, Africa is bursting with new energies and visions for a different kind of world. These of course are seldom even noticed, let alone spoken of in the global medias, which prefer to focus on those events and practices that continue to reiterate the tired racist colonial claims that Africans cannot govern themselves.

But then we all know that Africa's crisis is not simplistically the invention of a few greedy, autocratic dictators who have maintained the very state structures put in place by the colonials (which were not considered undemocratic while they served the interests of the colonial state for over a century in most countries of the continent). While I cannot speak adequately to the specificities of each and every African society within the context of a 45-minute lecture, I would have loved to have had the time to speak to the tragic realities of Sierra Leona and Libera; Somalia and Sudan; Ethiopia and Eritrea; Angola and Rwanda and a multitude of other crises which desperately require our utmost attention as Africans wherever we live. The fact of the matter is that whatever affects Africa, affects us all—to a greater or lesser degree—no matter where we are and who we are as Africans. How we respond will determine how long it takes for Africa to get back on the road to building sustainable, democratic, African-friendly societies.

In conclusion, I would like to map out some of the outstanding challenges facing us on the continent, with particular reference to the reality of women in the Southern African region and the role of the African Women's Movement in this process of change.

First of all, almost every African country has been faced with the imperative, at independence, of having to restructure the state and its apparatus in response to the needs of the people, especially in those societies that fought a liberation war. In countries like Zimbabwe, the state put in place a welfare program which, for the first ten years, made provision for primary education and health care and limited transport infrastructure to the mass of the people, especially the rural folk who had been totally excluded from such services by the Rhodesian state. This had a tremendous impact on the people's sense of dignity and nationhood. However, the sustainability of such development initiatives is intimately tied to the ability of the leadership to not only reform the social delivery systems or just reform some of the laws, but to ensure that the relationship between the people and the state changes in fundamental ways which ensure that the rights of each and every citizen are secured and protected. Central to this is the question of property and a restructuring of the rights of the individual from collectively assumed 'rights' to specific individual rights. This did not happen for several reasons and the current crisis in that country is a reflection of this political and ideological flaw.

I know that there are still Africans, even those who live in societies where individual rights have been enshrined as inalienable in the constitution and the laws of their countries, who would like to imagine that the true African context is one where collective rights supersede the rights of individuals. They even argue for a so-called Afrocentric paradigm, wherein all Africans become 'similar' at the rhetorical level via the re-institution of common property, customs and traditions which protect these authenticators of Africaness, even as they allow for the ownership of private property (which includes women and children) by Black men. This is the myth which they perpetuate as they enjoy the right to vote, to own private property, to be autonomous and to make decisions about their sexuality and their reproductive capacities. Such people do not have to live in these imaginary African societies, they prefer to live in countries like the USA and the UK, while they pontificate about a 'true' African culture and way of life.

Let me explain briefly, and I will not be able to do justice to this issue given the constraints of time and space, but it is really very vital that I at least use the example of Zimbabwe to debunk this myth about a 'true' Africa, which is basically an invention of those who are either privileged by patriarchal cultural and social practices, or who naively have not thought about the reality of a viable Africa in the 21st century and what that will entail. I do not intend to insult or annoy anyone in this gathering, but if I have, it is certainly unintentional.

At independence, the new Zimbabwe government signed a deal with the representatives of the white settlers (Britain) that guaranteed the security of white property in land and other forms of property for the first twenty years of independence. Zimbabweans entered the independence era without a real constitution in the sense that South Africa has—where the people debated and contested across gender, race, class and special interests until they had formulated a document which reflected some of the expectations of those who fought for the liberation of that county. (I am not saying that the South African situation is fundamentally different from that of Zimbabwe, even if they do have the most 'advanced' constitution in the world.)

For Zimbabweans, their constitution for the past twenty years has been basically the constituents of the Lancaster Agreement, which fundamentally excludes the majority of Africans from accessing the most critical resource in their country—land. Whatever land was purchased during these past two decades was bought on the basis of willing seller and willing buyer, and a small percentage was redistributed to about 77,000 families across the country. There was no restitution of the land which had been forcibly taken from the people over a period of one hundred years, and many of those who had joined the struggle for Zimbabwe, including large numbers of poor women, were left without the very thing for which they had fought so bitterly. After twenty years, the moratorium on the security of white property elapsed, and the opportunity for a new and real constitution was at hand. The people of that country formed themselves into a national constitutional assembly which sought the views of the ordinary people on a wide range of issues, central to which was the claim to land ownership and its relationship to the realization of other citizenship rights. The response, as shown by the referendum, was overwhelmingly that the people of Zimbabwe wanted a multiparty political system, with a fair re-distribution of the land and the right to own private property as an expression of their constitutional entitlements as citizens of that country.

The occupation of white owned farms should have been an expression of the people's demand for their birthright, had it been allowed to occur immediately after independence. But the discourse on land reclamation and the restitution of land rights to the people were truncated and repressed through a rhetoric of reconciliation and co-existence which suited the immediate class interests of the emergent Black petite bourgeoisie at that point in time. A deal was made not to touch white private property in land, thereby perpetuating the deeply entrenched social and economic disparities which had divided that society for almost a century and protecting the rights of white Zimbabweans, whose citizenship is measured via their ownership of property, but who otherwise generally do not give a damn about that country and use every opportunity to siphon the resources of the country back to their places of 'cultural and social authentication'—in this case, Britain. Having lost the moment to do the right thing and recompense the people for a terrible wrong that had been done to them, and for which many died trying to reverse that wrong, the new regime colluded with global capital and the ruling elites of the North to protect the interests of a small, highly privileged white minority at the expense of the general welfare of the majority of their people. In addition, the country experienced the Matebeleland massacres, when thousands of Ndebele people (Zimbabweans who felt aggrieved by the political alliance struck between the leadership of the two main liberation movements in 1982 to form the Patriotic Front) were butchered Pinochet style over a period of three to four years, and the wound of that violation has continued to fester. As with the issue of racial privilege, the murder of the Ndebele people by the national army of Zimbabwe became a festering wound, waiting to explode.

And now that the horse has bolted, they want to shut the stable door. We know what the consequences of that are.

Therefore, the most fundamental challenge facing Zimbabwe is that the society has to find a way of reconciling the gross disparities between a small, very spoilt, white minority that squeals and screams violation of citizens rights at the first sign of any policies which attempt to bridge the gap between their enormous, ill-gotten wealth and the every increasing numbers of impoverished Black people who still remember that their mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, children died for that country, for the very land on which the white settler continues to sit, gun in hand.

On the other hand we have a regime which has squandered the commitment and dedication of the people to a just and equitable society, by using the past twenty years to accumulate wealth and facilitate the enrichment of a small middle class; allowing the IMF and the World Bank to use an inherited debt, which Smith had incurred in a war against the people of Zimbabwe, to be used as a leverage against the state. So has the regime succumbed to the macro economic restructuring of the Zimbabwean economy in ways which have left the people totally vulnerable and without access to even the most basic educational and health services. The quality and standard of life of the ordinary Zimbabwean has plummeted in tragically dramatic ways over the past five years, and the people are so poor it simply is too painful to detail their condition at the present time. To add insult to injury, the government is involved in a war in the DRC [Democratic Republic of Congo] which is basically about a small military clique, which is using Zimbabwe's presence in this distant, absolutely unnecessary conflict to accumulate wealth through mineral concessions and other shady deals. The incorporation of a company made up of army generals last year, which was made known to the public through the national newspapers, bears this claim out, although of course this argument would be vehemently denied by the representatives of the government, and my entire analysis would be interpreted as anti-Zimbabwean and hostile to the interests of that country. Even as I present this paper, I hope that my permit to work in Zimbabwe will not be revoked and that I shall not find a deportation order awaiting me when I arrive home on Monday morning. It is a risk I have chosen to take because I believe that we have to be faithful to the principles that we hold as Africans who aspire for a better continent at this critical time in our story.

The same analysis can be made of South Africa, which has an even more entrenched white economic ruling class which is diligently rewriting the history of the anti-apartheid struggle, inserting claims that remove the blame from the white minority and distributing the glory for the liberation struggle to both Black and white, equally. The notion of the 'rainbow nation' has become the hegemonic icon of multiculturalism and non-racialism in a society where racial privilege remains deeply entrenched and blatantly obvious. Any discourse on race is violently opposed by a white liberal media which immediately accuses that Black person of 'reverse racism'.

All this is of course very opportune for the purposes of middle class accumulation at this point in time, when the poor of that countryare expected to wait and be 'reasonable' in their demands for economic and social redistribution. However, I dread to think of what is going to happen when the Black government of the day attempts to make the necessary amends in that deeply unequal situation, for the day will come, sooner than later, and the people of South Africa will not have the patience or the tolerance of the Zimbabweans, that we must understand from the onset. The superficial reforms which the South African government is making in relation to the land question in particular will certainly not resolve the fundamental contradictions facing the peoples of that country.

Across the region of Southern Africa, the people want guaranteed access to private title over land, and for women in these societies, this represents a revolution in several ways. We know that in class societies, especially within capitalist societies, people experience their citizenship through their ability to own property and to have that property safe-guarded by the state and the law. This is an essential element of all class societies, and the construction of African women as the private property of men is embedded in outmoded yet preserved systems of feudal relations which assure men of the ownership of women's reproductive and productive abilities through various rituals, most important of which is the ritual of marriage. Marriage is essentially a relation of property, and even under modern law, men can access impunity by appealing to so-called conjugal rights, for example, in their denial of the existence of marital rape, or in seeking mitigation in cases of femicide.

For Zimbabwean women, the demand for private property speaks to several very crucial consequences for them as women and as citizens. First of all, because the current government simply stepped into the shoes of a colonial policy which claimed custodialship of all non-commercial land, on behalf of the people, the majority of Black women in Zimbabwe (and in all the countries of the region) who live in the rural spaces only relate to land via the custodialship of the state. Therefore, whoever occupies the state can use that custodialship as a leverage to 'persuade' women in particular, and rural folk in general, to vote for the party in power. If they do not, they will not have access to the land. This is a powerful mechanism of social and political and cultural control, and it explains why so many dictatorial regimes on the continent continue to rule through the vote of poor women, in the main.

These women have no choice, because without education, access to markets and production inputs; without skills that are marketable and without the ability to survive in the urban spaces, they have to conform to the demands of the chiefs, headmen and husbands and vote for the government of the day. This is how Hastings Banda ruled Malawi as a dictator for over thirty years; the women kept him in power, because they had no choice. They remained dirt poor, without the right to make the kinds of political choices which would have economic, cultural and legal implications for their lives, and Moluzi, the current dictator, is using the same tactic in spite of having come to power on a claim of being different from Banda.

In terms of Zimbabwean women, the Women's Movement has seized this opportunity of crisis, which to me is really a moment of transition to post-coloniality, when the people are restructuring their relationships with the state and the ruling classes by insisting that their rights and entitlements be guaranteed constitutionally and in the law. The Women's Movement has mobilized women to demand equal land rights with men and to shift the meaning of citizenship from its supposedly gender neutral claims (in the law and constitution, claims which are contradicted by the very letter of these two phenomena), and to demand equality in terms of property, autonomy and personhood.

Women are also demanding the removal of relativist cultural clauses in the Zimbabwean constitution which have made it possible for Black, male judges to prevent women from inheriting property by using clause 23 of the constitution, which states that all rights for women shall be superseded by the interests of custom whenever the case of competition between the two arises. This clause has been used effectively by a particularly right-wing Black male judge who has argued that under African custom (of which he has decided he is the custodian), women cannot inherit property when a male heir exists, even if he was not designated a rightful heir. These are truly astounding demands and they are creating the necessary sense of entitlement among women which will enable them to defend their rights more effectively in the future. When people have a consciousness about their entitlements as citizens, they are better able to defend their rights to integrity and personhood in the face of reactionary backlash movements like that mentioned in Nigeria, which seek to push women and socially weaker groups and constituencies back into spaces where they can be controlled and dominated.

Additionally, the Women's Movement across the countries of the region is calling for all women to respond to the HIV/AIDS crisis by demanding legally guaranteed reproductive and sexual rights which must be linked to the provision of adequate and accessible health care services, information and the facilitation of choice in terms of sexual relationships, reproductive abilities and counseling. Young women and increasing numbers of young men across the region, but in particular within South Africa as well as in countries like Uganda and Zambia, are insisting on a discourse about masculinity and responsible behaviour among their peers. Countries like Botswana and South Africa, which have the dubious reputation of having the highest rates of HIV/AIDS infection, are taking the lead, through the activism of young women and men, in reconstructing the meanings of masculinity and its intersection with notions of culture and tradition. It is early days yet, but I think it is important that people know that we are not simply victims of the virus, as Africa is so often represented in the global media. We are fighting back, through true African traditions, which is why the linkages between AIDS, poverty and economic globalisation need to be made more often and with greater clarity.

The recent vilification of President Mbeki on the basis of a claim that he had denied the existence of the HIV virus is clearly a reflection of the kinds of financial interests that have become attached to the HIV/AIDS crisis within so-called sub-Saharan Africa. The pandemic is undoubtedly a leading cause of death within the region and across the continent, but in order to explain its proliferation and seeming invincibility, we need to make the political, social and economic linkages between poverty, racism, the behaviour of pharmaceutical companies which have used countries like South Africa for decades as illegal testing grounds for their drugs, with the collusion of the apartheid state, and the development and availability of retroviral drugs as well as the provision of services to HIV infected persons in the white North. It is not only ideologically na‘ve but politically dangerous to accept uncritically the racist claims that Africa is affected worst by HIV because Africans are 'naturally' promiscuous and the only solution to the HIV crisis is to change the sexual behaviour of Africans, especially the sexual behaviour of young Black men. While attitudinal behaviour is very important in the overall strategy towards containing HIV/AIDS, this must be combined with a more wholistic strategy which incorporates the fundamental rights to choice, access to services, information and the ability to make decisions; the right to sexual pleasure and security within intimate relations; and the ability to make a distinction between one's reproductive abilities and the opportunity to enjoy one's sexuality as an erotic experience.

Most Africans still shy away from an open discourse about sexuality and sexual choices, and through our generally conservative behavior we tend to allow the danger to slip in and destroy us because most of us do not have the courage to become modern. Too many Africans, on the continent and in the diaspora, still cling to the dichotomisation between the public and the private, because we have accepted the claim that making the personal political is 'Western' and 'un-African'. This kind of ideological schizophrenia allows for the continuation of a whole series of dangerous and backward practices—among which are the inheritance of women; so-called 'widow cleansing' rituals; the isolation and stigmatization of widows and their banishment from their communities because they have become witches, as is happening in Ghana, South Africa and Tanzania to mention only a few countries (a woman without a man to legitimize her existence is either a whore or a witch); the use of girl children to compensate an avenging spirit (in which case she becomes a sexual object to be used by all the men in the aggrieved family); the persistence of Trokosi in Ghana, where girl children are given to traditional priests to be used as sexual slaves and breeders (in some cases such priests can have several hundred women and girls at his disposal). These are blatant violations of women's and girls' human rights and their sexual integrity, and they are made possible by the maintenance of so-called customary laws which are often claimed to be necessary for Africans to remain African. In reality what is called customary law is a set of social status laws which apply only to women and which are safeguarded to ensure the sexual and socio-cultural privileges of males, especially older males. These laws are totally backward and must go.

For me, as a feminist who loves being an African, the key to Africa's future lies in a re-envisioning of ourselves in relation to modernity. This new vision of Africa has already begun within the ideological and political activism of women in the Movement—this is where the fundamentally inclusive notions of democracy, human rights, dignity for all, respect without humiliation; integrity and the celebration of the human body as a totality; and a recognition of the personhood of the individual as central to a new and more sustainable Africa have begun to take shape. We are struggling against the assumption by Black men in the state that they can use the state to wage war, make money, and destroy the present and future livelihoods of millions of Africans across that amazingly beautiful continent. We are demanding political and economic accountability and through national, regional and global networks are working towards making Africa a more women-friendly, African-friendly space. The task is greater than us all, but through the solidarity of Africans wherever we live, and the adoption of an uncompromising stance against dictatorship and corruption, we will become modern citizens of our countries.

Patricia McFadden is a well-known African feminist, born in Swaziland. She was women's policy coordinator for the Southern Africa Regional Institute for Policy Studies (SARIPS) in Harare, and is currently on a Ford Foundation fellowship to the Five Colleges Women's Studies Center at Mount Holyoke, where she is writing a book on feminism and nationalism.