As International Woman’s Month comes to a close, reflection and reasoning in circles of African female academicians and activists are focused on the position and roles of African women, especially from a historical perspective. This view is considered key, particularly in light of the major impact on women of color due to COVID and its subsequent damages. The sense of urgency and isolation derived from the pandemic in Africa as a result of the Western socio-economic and ethno-cultural approach, basically left Africa to “figure it out”. This has energized the movement for African solutions to African problems, with specific attention to the woman’s role in society from government to grassroots. Historically, Africa had no shortage of female rulers and royalty from the Ethiopian Queen of Saba – Makeda, 1020 B.C.; Egypt’s Candaces of Meroe 170 B.C.; Nigeria’s Queen Amina Tu, 1500’s; Zulu Kingdom Queen Nandi, 1700’s; Madagascar’s Queen Ranavalona, 1800’s. Ethiopia’s Empresses Taitu, 1800’s; Empresses Zawditu and Menen Asfaw in the 1900’s. Serving in the 21st century was Liberia’s Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, 2006; Malawi’s President Joyce Banda, 2012; Ethiopia’s sitting President Sahle-Work Zewde, 2018 and newly inaugurated Tanzania President Samia Suluhu Hassan. All have been tasked with wo-managing governance, development, education, health, security and other matters of state in the best interest of respective societies.
Africa has to now recognize and even reconcile, the value of female leadership and perspectives, in order to ensure Africa’s holistic and sustainable development. Their role in homes, communities, corporations and countries, alike, must be center stage in any discourse. However, this should not be mistaken for the Western concepts of feminism, women’s liberation or gender equality warns, Dr. Asantewaa Oppong-Wadie, a Chicago based Researcher and community educator/advocate. The distinction is crucial, she says as, “African women want to be seen as complimentary persons in the relationship….not seeking parity in everything…but respect for what we do… (with) her highest value… giving time, space and material to be our best …”. Oppong-Wadie, also creator and editor of the Empress Menen Chronicles and Founder of the annual Empress Menen Day, Chicago, shares further, “…men are not the standard by which we should be measured… matter of fact the Black woman is saying I want liberation from the white man and white woman as both have been historically oppressive …” particularly in respect to slavery, colonialism, and neo-colonial structures. She cautions that Western women’s rights movements “…seek liberation from their husbands, fathers, sons and uncles…” who established and maintain systematic discrimination. Hence their agenda is to rehabilitate the system which will then accommodate such things as equal pay in board rooms and the right to do everything a man does. Dr. Asantewaa says African women should instead seek complete eradication of western norms which have seeped into African homes and societies post colonialism. She urges Black women to look to history and African tradition for best practices and models of leadership and liberation as we navigate a space dominated by other narratives on equal rights and justice.
An online lecture-conversation, touching on some of these topics, entitled “Empress Menen 20th Century Queen of the Nile” will be hosted on April 3rd commemorating the birthdate of H.I.M. Emperor Haile Selassie I’s wife, H.I.M. Etege Menen Asfaw. The Empress is documented as introducing herself as Daughter of the Nile, hence the discussants will consider historical parallels and current relevance. The River Nile flows through over 9 African countries, and served in ancient times as a transportation and information highway in the ancient world, carrying culture along the way. Could Empress Menen’s self-description offer clues to the aspirations of Ethiopian women where the Nile is concerned even decades ago? Will women be part of the peaceful solution to the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam and justice in the region? There are many concerns to be addressed and African women indeed have a major role to play.
Finally, two dynamic Black women Rashida Bumbray, Director of the Culture and Art programme and Ayisha Osori, Executive Director of the Open Society Initiative for West Africa have been in cultural diplomatic battles with France and Germany regarding return of looted African antiquities. Though other European countries are also in possession of artifacts, Berlin is poised to begin returning some of Benin’s stolen treasures. With over 90,000 artefacts taken from Africa, Open Society has pledged $15m to help facilitate efforts for return items over a four-year period. It is restoration time in Africa and the women will continue to play a substantive role, factually, we always did. You see we have no shortage.
Dr. Desta Meghoo is a Jamaican born
Creative Consultant, Curator and cultural promoter based in Ethiopia since 2005. She also serves as Liaison to the AU for the Ghana based, Diaspora African Forum.