The WIP The global source for women's perspectives

The Color of Feminism

‘[A journalist] advised me once that I should not call myself a feminist because feminist women are unhappy women who cannot find a husband…so I decided to call myself a happy feminist.’

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

What does feminism mean to you? Feminism and feminists have a negative connotation for many people. For me, feminists were a bunch of women in the Western world who were always asking to be equal to men.

‘’We want equality’’

‘’We want to be paid as much as men’’

For many years women all over the world have been fighting for their rights. As I was discussing gender equality with some classmates, I realised how Western women have achieved a lot compared to women in my country. And while wage equality is one of the priorities of some Western feminists, it is not the case for Rwandan women.

I am not saying that your voice should not be heard, but hear me out; this homogenous existence is an illusion. And understand me when I say that your fight is completely different from other women. Compared to women who do not live in the West, consider yourself already privileged. As a Rwandan my definition of feminism is completely different. To me, feminism is to work for the well-being of women; make sure women are self sufficient especially in the patriarchal system that we live in.

Before you start talking about equal wages, women should first of all be able to go to school and get the same opportunity to work as men do. In Rwanda, traditionally men and women have different roles and domains, which reduce the career choice of women. Rwanda just got the first female pilot Esther Mbabazi while the total number of female U.S commercial pilots in 2011 was approximately 8,200 according to the company American Airlines.

Before you start talking about equal wages, women should be encouraged to choose their career and hired without being discriminated. As the international labour office states in their Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work (PDF), most African women still earn less than men and are more likely to be stuck at a low-paid, low-skilled jobs often in the informal economy. Since 1994, the participation of women in the labour force has declined by 1.6%. On the plus side, the number of women in non-agricultural sector increased by 3.5% over the past decade.

Before you start talking about equal wages, think about the poverty and unemployment that affects sub Saharan countries and especially women and girls who are the first to lose their jobs. And of course the physical violence and sexual harassment experienced in the work place.

For many years feminism has been dominated by the Western activist and has failed to acknowledge the different need and potential of many African women and portraying them as powerless women who need the help of other feminists.

Gender has been an issue all over the world, but let me talk as a Rwandan because that is what I know and where I am from. My country has evolved, and I can say that the old traditional thinking like ‘women should have ambition but not too much,’ and ‘women should work to be successful but not too successful’ has evolved. Not fighting for the same equal wages and equality does not mean we are powerless but simply means that we have different struggle.

Melissa RusanganwaMelissa Rusanganwa is a 22 year old from Rwanda, a small East African country. She studies at Bishop’s University in Canada, majoring in international studies with a minor in entrepreneurship. She is currently an exchange student at California State University Monterey Bay.

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