Today, Afro-descendant women who embody Afrofeminism express themselves and share their opinions online. Their fight against discrimination –based on gender, race, and class– now happens in the digital arena. Thanks to social media, the Afrofeminist movement keeps gaining influence over the activist sphere. An interview by Martine Kasongo, a refugee journalist based in Montreal.
It is within this context that Amandine Gay, in her documentary Speak up, interviews 24 French-speaking black women for two hours, addressing issues such as education, communitarianism, beauty standards and homosexuality.
During an interview aired this past November on Radio Télévision Belge Francophone (RTBF), Gay explains how she used social networks to find the women in her documentary. “Within two hours, I had already received 12 emails. That’s when I realized there really was a need to speak up for these women,” she says.
Today, Mediafugees spoke to two Afrofeminist women. They addressed social media’s role in their movement and the keys to efficient activism.
Fania Noël, from Haiti, moved to the French suburbs at two and a half years old. She is part of several collectives, including Mwasi, an Afrofeminist movement, and EMELA, a pan-African collective fighting xenophobia. Noël is also the director of AssiégéEs, a political journal, as well as the co-organizer of a decolonization camp, a several-days-long training on antiracist activism for racialized people.
Elvira Lla Katiolaise” Kamara is on the board of directors of the Fondation Paroles de Femme, an NGO that creates spaces for dialogue and action for racialized women. A blogger for about ten years, she wrote on issues such as identity within the context of immigration and expatriation.
What do you think of the Afrofeminist movement (in Canada and France)?
Fania Noël: Afrofeminism questions not only the relationship between gender and patriarchy but also relationships between black and white women. The latter can use their privileges to dominate black women.
It’s also a political movement that discusses “femonationalism.” This is the use of feminism for imperialist and racist purposes, which means any discourse where “we” will liberate women in Africa, in Arabic countries, from their mean fathers or brothers, and so on. This is rhetoric which we use for racist purposes to say that actually the savages that brutalize women, for instance in France, are Arabs, or that it is Islam’s fault, and so on.
Elvira Kamara: I believe it is important to note that it (Afrofeminism) is not a movement (or) a trend. Afrofeminism exists and has existed under different shapes, since countries like France and Canada have had an Afro-descending population.
The type of feminism we call mainstream has rarely championed black women. It pretends to fight sexism but, to paraphrase Sojourner Truth, aren’t we women as well? How come that we feel the need to choose between our identities as Blacks or as women when we look into feminism? To me, afrofeminism reconciles these different identities. It is inclusive. Being an Afrofeminist implies necessarily (in my case) the struggle against classism, homophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia, as well as fighting for the rights of those suffering from physical or mental disabilities, and so on.
What do you think of social media’s ability to help get the word out regarding gender inequalities?
Fania Noël: Social media have allowed people who have access to the Internet to start a blog and say relevant things, criticize, call out people who are in the mainstream while giving new tools for analysis. Then, other people relate to these texts, and it connects us. I know many activists, in places such as Haiti, Ghana, and the United States, that I met on Twitter.
Social media, Skype or WhatsApp for example, make it easy and free to set up a meeting with activists from all around the world and discuss the issues on the agenda. They play a role in transmitting information. But I disagree with people who think that being active on social networks is activism in itself. Activism needs to be in the real world […] we need to be able to be counted when we go into the street and rally, to show that we can fight and that we are real people.
Elvira Kamara: Social media have an extraordinary power when it comes to spreading information, rallying and organizing. More and more, struggles tend to transcend national borders, and social networks contributed to that. We have seen fantastic examples of solidarity and worldwide mobilizations these last few years, with, for instance, the #MenAreTrash campaign, which started in South Africa after the murder of Karabo Mokoena. We can also cite campaigns such as #BlackGirlsMatter, #MeToo, #BalanceTonPorc…
Besides hashtags and “likes,” social networks allow people to express themselves, to become more aware of topics ignored by traditional media. If Afrofeminism is making a comeback in the Francophonie, if we can get our voices heard and have an impact on society, it is thanks to social networks.
How do you get the Afrofeminist message across within a multicultural setting?
Fania Noël: Our means and tactics for fighting are part of the French activist tradition, which means demonstrations on the ground, meetings with activists and intellectuals, debates and so on. We organize festivals. We create spaces where we can think together and share knowledge and information with younger people.
We organize rallies. For instance, there is the labour struggle, against capitalist exploitation, against bosses– it involves going on strike. This type of action doesn’t happen on social networks, but it is true that they are useful when it comes to visibility.
Elvira Kamara: France’s Afrofeminism is different from that in Quebec or in Côte d’Ivoire. Also, all those who hope for, among other things, the end of the dehumanizing of black women do not necessarily see themselves as Afrofeminists.
To me, it seems rare that a social and political movement is only made of one branch. French colonies’ struggles for independence in Africa were made of several movements, which were different but shared the same ultimate goal… There is no reason why Afrofeminism couldn’t take several forms, since there are many ways to fight for our cause. We each bring in our own story, experience, and privileges, but, concretely, we all wish for the same thing. In the end, isn’t that what matters?
Translated from French by Elise Blanchard, Ruby Pratka