The African Feminisms Conference: Weaving Our Stories Together

Purposeful
6 min readJul 27, 2023

by Kaata Minah

A collage of photos of Kaata Minah and other presenters in action at the AFEMS conference.
The African Feminisms Conference /ðə ˈæf.rɪ.kən ˈfɛmɪnɪzms ˈkɒnfərəns/ (noun): A heady blend of electrifying dialogues, profound insights, and intimate connections.

“Attending the recent African Feminism Conference was nothing short of a profound transformational journey, making me realise the collective power of African feminisms and the strength that lies in our shared narratives and struggles.” (Kaata Minah Feminist Dictionary, 2023).

Embracing the Chaos and Refusal

Arriving at Rhodes University, South Africa, on the first day, I was initially daunted by the packed 9–6pm three-day programme. Diving into this whirlpool of ideas, experiences, and emotions, I found myself both participant and observer, contributing to and absorbing the fabric of shared consciousness that was being woven. Now, as I unravel the threads of this extraordinary journey, I invite you to join me in exploring the themes that stood out. Past experiences with such conferences, where attendees were expected to merely sit and applaud the speakers’ accomplishments, hadn’t fuelled my enthusiasm, but the moment the first keynote speaker delved into the politics of refusal and chaos within the framework of killjoy politics, I felt an electrifying sense of being in a ‘feminist utopia.’

The days flew by with engaging sessions one after another, including discussions on hair politics and the personal being political, leading to a reflection of my own journey with my hair as an act of refusal, a symbol of identity, pleasure, and pain.

A collage of photographs of Kaata with her different hair cuts and styles.

I attended sessions that got me unlearning and evaluating witchcraft’s negative framing, protest narratives and the symbolism of influential women, and the aftermath of the naked body protest and its effect on the social and emotional life of the women that participated in it. Representing the Black Tuesday movement and Purposeful, I delivered a presentation on the transformative power of a black woman’s anger and rage, highlighting the movement’s significant impact on social change and the crucial amendment in the law. As an activist-lecturer, presenting in an academic setting is a new experience, and I am still navigating the intersection between activism and academia. While the thought of presenting in front of professors, doctors, doctoral students, and masters students initially felt intimidating, the feedback I received was genuinely heartening. They appreciated the practical perspective to shed light on some of their research. This experience has been invaluable and reinforces the importance of integrating lived experiences and practical knowledge to enrich scholarly discussions.

A photo of Kaata Minah presenting the session: How a Feminist Organisation Responded to an Angry Black Woman’s Call that Changed History in Sierra Leone.

The Power of Shared Spaces

While every session was enlightening and a blissful revelation, one that remains deeply etched in my memory is “Afems Conversational Tribute to Our Sisters(s) Killjoy bell hooks and Ama Ata Aidoo.” This intimate gathering was led by the formidable Yvette Abrahams, an activist and feminist scholar who proclaimed herself our “Feminist Grandma.” Sharing a roof with her during my stay in Makhanda allowed me to absorb wisdom from her activist struggles and joyful triumphs over breakfast. The session offered an intimate tribute to bell hooks and Ama Ata Aidoo, exploring the ties that bind our unique feminisms and examining how these authors shaped our feminist identities. The conversation centred on the discovery of language through their writings to declare ourselves feminists. The common thread across our diverse experiences was the personally-felt sting of injustice and the realisation that our struggles are strikingly similar and connected regardless of geography.

Iconic Women and Resistance

Listening to the session titled “Locating Nomzamo Winnie Madikizela-Mandela in the Contemporary Feminist Movement in South Africa” painted an empowering picture of her as a formidable symbol of resistance, independent of Nelson Mandela.

The quote by Winnie, “I have a good relationship with Mandela, but I am not Mandela’s product. I am the product of the masses of my country and the product of my enemies”, increased my admiration for my all-time favourite African “difficult woman.” However, the most impactful session for me was the “Afems Dialogue: Conversational Bridges: African Feminisms as Epistemic Community,” where prominent South African feminists reflected on their experiences navigating a white-dominated academic landscape. Their stories of resistance and refusal, and their collective effort to carve out a sanctuary for black and brown women to call out injustice, hold each other accountable, and cultivate love and support, were deeply inspiring

Creating Safe Spaces & Feminism as the Norm

The Afems Conference spotlighted the vibrant and unapologetically bold African feminist space. Their commitment to equality, ensuring that everyone from top academics to students felt seen and valued, was truly commendable. Safe African feminist spaces are a rarity, yet essential for feminist existence and joy. Reflecting on this experience, I question how we can emulate this model across different African regions, crafting shared spaces devoid of hierarchy where everyone can partake in creating their own feminist utopia. I also sit with the following questions that have stuck with me. How do we strategise and tackle contemporary feminist issues collectively, such as the anti-gay ban in Uganda and Ghana, which I fear will become a wave in many African countries? How do we forge strong connections between academic spaces and activist spaces for our shared objectives? How can we build a supportive feminist forum in Sierra Leone? How can we create a space for collective healing and love?

I reflect on the genesis of many feminist journeys, including mine. Often born from personal pain, anger, or witnessing injustices inflicted on women we love. As much as I believe in the transformational power of rage and chaos, I yearn for a world where feminism is the norm so our future generations don’t have to discover feminism as an antidote to their anger or unfair treatment. How can we impart a different way of existence to our children that doesn’t necessitate the oppression of another? How do we create a world where our girls can thrive without the fear of their femininity being a liability? How can we integrate feminist education into mainstream pedagogy? I may not have definitive answers to these questions now, but as I continue my journey through feminist spaces, I remain hopeful. Drawing strength from the struggles of our ancestors, the women whose “silent, loud voices” echo in our collective conscience and have inspired us to raise our voices, I am confident that we can continue to work towards a new world through love, sweat, tears, and resilience, nourished by transformative spaces like Afems.

‘Feminist Grandma’ Yvette Abrahams smiles at the camera from her lecture theatre seat.

As we journey through our individual and collective feminist narratives, the words of ‘Feminist Grandma’ Yvette Abrahams’ on intergenerational dialogues echo in my mind. Her pride in the innovative ways young feminists are organising, her commitment to being a ‘good ancestor’ who leaves a robust, resilient feminist legacy, and the conference’s own emphasis on safe spaces remind us of the importance of creating feminist spaces that foster not only dialogue but also understanding and support across generations.

Here’s to making the personal political, to promoting equality, and, above all, to harnessing the transformative power of collective action. And here’s to more such enlightening journeys, more threads in our journey, and the endless possibilities of what we can create together.

Kaata Minah is a Programme Manager for Purposeful, the world’s first Africa-rooted global hub for resourcing girls’ activism. To find out more visit: wearepurposeful.org

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Purposeful

A feminist movement-building hub that amplifies girls’ voices, resources their resistance, builds solidarity and catalyses collaborative philanthropy.