Mona Eltahawy, Iheoma Obibi, Charmaine Pereira
Moderator: Hannah Azieb Pool
This panel was part of WOW - Women of the World Festival at Ake Arts & Book festival
Fuck the Patriarchy:
These are the first words of Mona Eltahawy in an all-women’s panel on “What is new in African feminism?” moderated by Hannah Azieb Pool. It is how she starts all her panels, her motto. Mona continues this broad message with specific intense statements on feminism. Her voice is filled with excitement. You cannot miss the fact that this is something she is very passionate about. She starts with the premise that western feminism is failing and has failed and that this patriarchy commits crimes against our body. “I am going to America to rescue white women. They chose to elect a fascist fuck, Donald Trump and now, with the news of Harvey Weinstein, they are pretending like they do not know that this has always happened, that everything has not been solved. I go to places to say the things I am not supposed to say. Patriarchy tells us what to say. I am trying to dismantle it. They call me a slut and I own it but I am not defined by it. I am fighting the disillusion of western feminism as a feminist and a Muslim. No more pretence that western feminism has saved us. African Feminism is on the rise. We are fighting patriarchy whether it is tribal or religious. I fight the Muslim brotherhood, Christian brotherhood and the Hindu brotherhood”
Others on the panel include Charmaine Pereira, an Abuja Based writer and Iheoma Obibi who is into international development and runs an online boutique for sex toys.
When it Iheoma Obibi’s turn to speak, she explains how she straddles different worlds with her work. “I have opened the cage for us to talk about women, sex and sexuality,” she says. Her background on international development makes these things legitimate. “We need to have our own feminist counsellors. What we face is dire. We have evangelical fundamentalism and we have real issues.”
Charmaine says that since 1995, she has been trying to function as a feminist scholar. “To produce intellectual work as a feminist is very difficult in Nigeria where the institution is bad.” Her book is about the unravelling of this. She was only able to function through a network of feminists. “Feminist building has been taking place in Nigeria.” She says when we Google feminist African journal we would find an amazing resource and wealth of information on feminism in Africa.
The moderator poses an important question to the three women, “What are the issues?”
Charmaine answers first. She says that there is a real need for male feminists or men who try to be feminist in theory and politically to interrogate perpetrators about the things they do. There’s also the problem of sexual politics – the nexus of gender and sexuality. “We have to create a convergence,” she says “The state cannot continue to reproduce itself without consent at social level. Political culture is toxic and should not get away with it. Political cycles create new targets especially in sexuality.”
Mona says she is interested in sexual revolution in Egypt which recently had the worst crackdown with regards to homosexuality. Very soon they may criminalize it. “Why?” she asks “Because it is a distraction. But not just this, because human lives are not a mere distraction” She believes that rainbow flag waving at a concert precipitated the crackdown. This rock concert which held in Cairo ended with the arrest of more than 50 people. Some of the arrested men were found on dating apps and have been charged with engaging in or promoting debauchery. She explains that the real reason, beyond using it as a distraction is that there is an increasingly bold sexual expression. “The state wants to be the moral guardian. This is what patriarchy does. Sex is chaos and liberation. Moral guardians cannot control it. Rape is better because they have control with it.”
Iheoma Obibi continues that Nigerian women are sexually repressed and there is a need to have these discussions and conversations publicly. In Nigeria and Africa at large, Sex and issues surrounding sexuality are not topics discussed openly and the possibility of acknowledging and engaging the subject of sexual minorities as it pertains to their needs and peculiarities are near impossible. Charmaine adds that language is a powerful tool policing gender polices the boxes. Queer is used to transcend boxes. She advises that women should be intellectual producers. Iheoma concludes that you can check her out on twitter @nayadesires – if you need sex toys or need to talk to a counsellor.