We spoke of waves of feminism during Gender classes. But those waves did not quite fit within the experiences, struggles and triumphs of the feminist forerunners that I know from my village and from my local newspaper.
So I was delighted to be sitting in the room when Solome Nakaweesi-Kimbugwe was talking about the history of the Women’s Movement in Africa, and she used an alternate frame that she called “the four generations of the Women’s Movement in Africa.”
She had women from all over the continent as examples, but I am going to go ahead and give examples from just Uganda in each generation. Some women, however, fit in more than one generation. Please comment with more examples.
Generation 1: Our Ancestors These, she said, were “pre-independence activists who by all standards today would be labeled feminists or women activists but strategically most of these didn’t name themselves.” The ancestors “participated in independence struggles through kingdoms and chiefdoms, cultural formations and anti-colonial struggles.” Think women like Drusilla Namaganda, Clara Nalumansi, Maria Mathilda Munaku (who in 1886 committed herself to perpetual virginity on baptism when there had not been any white nuns in the country to inspire the vocation. All the missionaries had been men until the first White Sisters arrived in Buganda on 18th October, 1899). And whether the stories are true or myth, Nakayima and Nyina mwiru of the Chwezi dynasty. I am going to add Lusi Kyebakutika on this list because of her June 1932 letter in Matalisi. In her letter dated 17 June 1932, Lusi asked “The word prostitute is too much in use for women alone. When somebody sees a woman without a husband, she is called a prostitute. Perhaps one should consider the proverb: “Gwe busulako avuma gwe bukyalira” (….) It reminds me of a man who divorced his wife for being a prostitute, and yet in his own house women are his pillows because they are too many and there is nowhere for them to sleep, but he lays his head on some of them.”
Generation 2: “The Golden Girls” These were the first. The first girl/woman to go to university; the first to sit in a Sciences class; the first to leave the village; the first to be a doctor; the first to be a nurse, etc. This couldn’t have been easy. Sarah Ntiro’s story always stands out. Other golden girls include Elizabeth Bagaya, Specioza Wandira Kazibwe, Rebecca Mpagi, Victoria Namusisi, Rebecca Mulira, Winnie Byanyima, Pumla Kisosonkole.
Generation 3: “The Mexico/Beijing Women” Nakaweesi-Kimbugwe included women like Prof. Sylvia Tamale and Winnie Byanyima. The women’s movement at this point had become organized and political. Conversations were held at the institutional level. These women took governments to account for gender equity, and many of them started organisations in the 1970’s-1990’s. The very first World Conference on Women was held in Mexico in 1975, the second in Copenhagen in 1980, third in Nairobi in 1985 and Beijing in 1995. It is from these conferences that women got called “abakazi baBeijing” and when they came back from their meetings, some of these women were looked at as troublesome. They asked for accountability from their governments, they went into the system and helped with the creation of organs like the Ministry of Gender. All of the different generations have helped, but these women have especially made spaces like this blog possible because they were ‘stubborn’. I will also include women on this list that may not have gone to these conferences, but who have been involved with women’s organisations at an institutional level and have fought- and paved way- for women’s involvement in political decisions. These include Betty Bigombe, Specioza Kazibwe, Florence Butegwa, Miria Matembe, Jane Frances Kuka, Rebecca Mulira, Patricia Munabi, Mary Karooro Okurut.
Generation 4: “X, Y, Z to Infinity” These, she explained, were the “Dot-Com Young Women, those that are fired up, young and agile.” They are not necessarily “organizing physically” like the Beijing Women would have had to but there is “a lot of the virtual connectivity – physically connected but virtually more connected.” This Generation is Mildred Apenyo, Beverley Nambozo Nsengiyunva, Godiva Akullo, Kampire Bahana, Maureen Nakalinzi, Jacqueline Asiimwe and many, many others. I would like to appreciate Solome Nakaweesi-Kimbugwe for providing this alternate frame to use when studying the Feminist Movement on the continent. As for the women of the different generations, the discussions they had, the ones they started in communities and in the country, their work, is what made possible blogs like this. They cannot be celebrated enough.