Crossing The Sahara and Back: African Feminisms in Dialogue

Event information
Venue:FIU Modesto A. Maidique Campus, GL 100B

2nd Annual AADS Humanities Afternoon

"Crossing the Sahara and Back: African Feminisms in Dialogue"

Crossing the Sahara and Back: African Feminisms in Dialogue brings together international scholars who are interrogating, theorizing and actively engaging gender issues within a transnational perspective. Being a feminist is sometimes considered synonymous with being from the Global North. And yet, if we think about feminist movement in North and Sub-Saharan Africa, we see how feminists are acting locally, pushing feminist theory forward, and giving it a new “local turn,” as it were. Moving across, within, and against local, national, transnational, and epistemological borders, African feminists are translating theory into practice according to the specificity of local and national contexts.

The panels will explore a number of questions, among which are the following: Given the rich diversities of the Continent, how are African scholars and activists articulating and enacting different ways of being feminist (such as Secular and Islamic Feminism, for example) in order to build a pragmatic and convivial feminism? What political, economic, social, and cultural agendas might be forged between feminists across the Sahara to empower African women and promote gender justice? What do institutions like NGOs, aid agencies, Government bodies, and regional and international organizations need to know about gender regimes and the influence of idealized masculinities, femininities and socio-sexual norms to more effectively and ethically engage various African developing nations? And, more broadly, how might these various African feminist praxes interface with, interrogate, and rework current models of development, democracy, nationalism and postcoloniality—processes that are always and profoundly gendered? In crossing geographic, epistemological, gendered, ideological, and disciplinary boundaries we hope to create a dialogue that is both materially and discursively useful for questioning how African women and men throughout the continent can live lives of decency, dignity, equity and fairness.


GL 100 B, Modesto Maidique Campus

1:00pm Dr. John Stack, SIPA Director, Welcoming Remarks
1:05pm Dr. Jean Muteba Rahier, AADS Director, Welcoming Remarks

Session I Sources of Power for Feminisms in the African North
1:20pm Chair: Dr. Aurora Morcillo, Florida International University
1:25pm Keynote Presentation: Dr. Fatima Sadiqi, University of Fez, Morocco
2:05pm Respondent: Dr. Edmund Abaka, University of Miami


The main theoretical argument I make is that an understanding of feminism, gender perception and gender subversion can be achieved only within a given socio-cultural context. In other words, gender subversion cannot be treated as sui-generis in the abstract; it needs to be grounded in real life conditionings and experiences if it is to be unpacked analytically. In a sense, the paper draws the attention of Western feminist scholars to the challenge that non-Western communities in the African north present to their theories. With respect to the Maghrib and North Africa, the issue is not only assuming that this region is like the West but also acknowledging the variation within the countries of the region and between the region and other Arab-Muslim countries. Up to now, mainstream (male) upper class Western feminist scholars have viewed not only North African, but all women who live in the (Arab) Muslim world, as a singular, monolithic, undifferentiated, subordinate and powerless group which basically constitutes the opposite ‘Eastern’ pole of Western women. Western texts have generally promoted fixed universal images of Muslim women and have presented them as poor, veiled, illiterate, victimized, sexually constrained, and docile housewives. In lacking a polyvalent and dynamic approach to the real workings and functioning of concepts like a specific history, a specific geography, monolingualism, multilingualism, code-switching, Islam, and illiteracy in real social everyday life, the Western image often remains too general and too simplistic, as it hides the wide disparities that exist between North African women and that deeply affect the way they perform gender.

Gender performances and women’s agency in the North African sociocultural context need to be examined within the larger power structures that constitute North African culture: history, geography, Islam, multilingualism, orality, social organization, economic status, and political system. These sources of power interact in a dialectic way and limit the system of viewing the world conceptually, the ideology, beliefs, values, and ways of meaning for North African men and women. It is in this interaction that individual and collective identities, as well as feminism and gender roles/issues are continuously constructed, negotiated, and subverted.

Session II The Women Writing Africa Project: African Women, Feminism, and the Production of Knowledge
2:20pm Chair: Dr. Heather Russell, Florida International University
2:25pm Keynote Presentation: Dr. Abena Busia, Rutgers University
3:05pm Respondent: Dr. Donna Aza Weir-Soley, Florida International University


I take up the question of where Feminist knowledge is produced by looking at cultural knowledge. It is often in popular culture, the everyday with which we get so familiar we take it for granted, that subversion is expressed, and as we know, women’s culture is the most taken for granted and familiar, and thus the most frequently overlooked, in terms of actually meditating on its meanings. What women do is what we do and take for granted: it is seldom what the culture thinks about, theoretically.

In addition to this, in the world in which we live, we need to recognize that women’s knowledge is often hidden knowledge, and African ways of knowing discredited knowledge, and we are African women; how we negotiate the world is thus invisible, and assumed to be irrelevant.

It is in this context that I set the work we did on Women Writing Africa, a multi-volume publishing project a group of us undertook, (at one point totaling nearly two hundred, almost all on the African continent), which took nearly twenty years from idea to completion. What is the place of a research and publishing project such as ours in the cause of feminist struggle? What concerns me here is what concerns so many of our sisters on the continent: how, and in what context, are our voices even heard? In thinking of the context for Feminist praxis on the continent, the global theoretical must always be considered in the practice of the actual, in whatever sphere. To think about the concept, execution and production of the volumes of Women Writing Africa is to tackle what it means for African women to stand up and claim authority over our lives and works, in the context in which we live and work. We cannot do that unless we face the question of what it means to be “African” in the contemporary world. The significance of the intractable nature of the “image of Africa,” including within Feminist circles, has to be addressed; for anthologies such as Women Writing Africa have to tackle, in their very production, questions of authority in knowledge production. This paper thus discusses the issues of the “the authorizing signature of western discourse” in the context of African women’s lives, looking at African feminist debates over what happens “when and where we enter,” what happens when we speak, and the dynamics of wresting authority over our own lives, inside and outside the academy. That is, I wish to address the process of the production of the volumes, as well as the contents of the volumes themselves; the words of the women, as well as what it took to collect and publish the diversity of texts that we found. Women Writing Africa is a project of cultural restoration comprising four volumes of approximately five hundred pages each, containing African women’s cultural production from five regions of the continent spanning nearly four millennia from Ancient Egypt to the present day. It is our hope that the volumes will help restore a sense of African Women’s collective voices to the public sphere, through the several volumes which document the history of self-conscious literary expression by African women throughout the continent. This expression is, for us, oral as well as written, ritual and quotidian, sacred and profane. We are as interested in dance songs and private letters as we are in legal depositions and public declamations. Our hope is to allow for new readings of Africa’s history by shedding light on the things that women do and say, for in doing this, we hope to find where the fault lines of memory lie and so change our assumptions of how knowledge has been shaped.

Session III Captured in Translation: Africa and Feminisms in the Age of Globalization
3:20pm Chair: Dr. Yesim Darici, Florida International University
3:25pm Keynote Presentation: Dr. Obioma Nnaemeka, Indiana University
4:05pm Respondent: Dr. Maya Boutaghou, Florida International University


This presentation seeks to answer the question: Is feminism translatable? In other words, can feminism cross borders and survive, and in what form(s) does it survive? I will examine what became of feminism in its travels in and out of Africa by focusing on the following issues among others: ownership and appropriation, borders and border-crossing, disaggregation, domestication and ‘doing gender.’ Convinced that feminism is translatable, and cognizant of the specificity of their cultural and social locations, African feminist scholars in the West and on the continent burst on the feminist theorizing scene in the 1990s. Seeking culturally defined tools for the analysis of African women’s experiences, African feminists proposed various frameworks that are rooted in local realities in order to fully account for the plurality of feminisms that are unfolding on the continent. My task will be to tease out these strands of thought and action and use them as a platform to rethink and reengage feminist struggles in the climate of nationalist struggles. The paper will argue that it is imperative that we engage a sustained examination of the multidirectional journeys of feminism in a globalizing world. Only a serious engagement with what Zillah Eisenstein calls “feminisms from elsewhere” will fully account for the polyversality and polyvocality at the heart of feminist engagement in a world in motion.

4:15pm Questions and Answers Session with the audience

5:05pm Closing remarks Dr. Jean Muteba Rahier

5:30pm Opening of Exhibit by Dr. Aziza Chaouni, Bureau E.A.S.T., Toronto, Canada

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Paul L. Cejas School of Architecture, Room PCA 140, Modesto Maidique Campus


Professor Fatima Sadiqi, Linguistics and Gender Studies, University of Fez, Morocco Fatima Sadiqi is a former Fulbright Scholar and recipient of a Harvard Fellowship. She is Senior Professor of Linguistics and Gender Studies at the University of Fez, director of the Isis Centre for Women and Development, and co-founder of the International Institute of Languages and Linguistics (INLAC: Fatima Sadiqi has written extensively on Moroccan languages and Moroccan women’s issues. She is the author of Women, Gender, and Language in Morocco (Brill, 2003), Grammaire du Berbère (L’Harmattan, 1997), Images on Women in Abdullah Bashrahil’s Poetry (The Beirut Institute: 2004). She has also edited and co-edited a number of volumes, including Migration and Gender in Morocco (with Moha Ennaji, Red Sea Press: 2008) and Women Writing Africa. The Northern Region (with Amira Nowaira, Azza El Kholy and Moha Ennaji, The Feminist Press, CUNY). Her article on “Morocco” in Women’s Rights in the Middle East and North Africa (Freedom House and Roman & Littlefield) was published in March 2010, and her co-edited volume Women in the Middle East and North Africa: Agents of Change” has been published by Routledge in May 2010. Recently Dr. Sadiqi was elected President of Morocco's National Union of Feminine Associations.

Prof. Obioma N. Nnaemeka, Chancellor's Professor of French and Women's Studies, Indiana University, Indianapolis
Professor Obioma Nnaemeka was born in Agulu in southeastern Nigeria. She received a B. A. (Hons) from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, and a PhD with distinction (French) from the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. She was a Rockefeller Humanist-in-Residence (University of Minnesota), Edith Kreeger-Wolf Distinguished Visiting Professor (Northwestern University) and Verne Wagner Distinguished Visiting Professor (University of Kansas). Professor Nnaemeka is an expert in the fields of gender/women’s studies and development. As the founder and president of the Association of African Women Scholars, Professor Nnaemeka has collaborated with a global network of scholars and activists committed to social transformation. She is the President and CEO of the Jessie Obidiegwu Education Fund, an NGO dedicated to the education of women and girls in Africa. She is a member of the Board of Directors of many NGOs and on the Editorial or Advisory Board of several refereed scholarly journals. Professor Nnaemeka combines research and teaching with consultancy for the United Nations, the World Bank, governments, international agencies, and academic institutions. She is the convener of the "Women in Africa and the African Diaspora” international conferences. Professor Nnaemeka has received numerous national and international awards as well as grants and fellowships from several foundations and agencies, including Rockefeller, MacArthur, UNIFEM, SIDA (Sweden), SAREC (Sweden), and IRDC (Canada). She has delivered more than 100 keynote addresses, lectures, and papers in over 30 countries on five continents. She has published extensively in the following areas: development, women/gender studies, human rights, and African/African Diaspora studies. She is the author of over sixty scholarly articles and book chapters, editor of the 10-volume WAAD collection, and author/editor of eleven books.

Prof Abena P.A. Busia, English and African Studies, Rutgers University, New Jersey
Professor Busia is co-director of the groundbreaking Women Writing Africa Project, a multi-volume anthology published by the Feminist Press at CUNY. As Professor Busia points out, "history is located in multiple places." This collection is designed to recognize the cultural legacy in that assortment of voices by gathering together the original "cultural production" of African and Indian women for the first time. She is also co-editor of Women Writing Africa: West Africa and the Sahel (2005). In addition to the Women Writing Africa Project, Professor Busia is also the author of Theorizing Black Feminisms (1993) as well as many articles and book chapters on topics including black women's writing, black feminist criticism, and African literature. Her scholarship keeps her actively connected to her native Ghana, where a Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad Grant enabled Professor Busia and two historians to lead an interdisciplinary program on "Teaching the History of the Slave Trade Routes of Ghana and Benin" She is now at work on a book called Song in a Strange Land: Narrative and Rituals of Remembrance in the Novels of Black Women of Africa and the African Diaspora.

Professor Busia is also the author of the poetry collection, Testimonies of Exile. She serves on the advisory board of the Ghana Education Project, as well as the board of the African Women's Development Fund, the first and only pan-African funding source for women-centered programs and organizations. She teaches courses in African American and African Diaspora literature.

Aziza Chaouni, Architect and Artist, Bureau E.A.S.T., Ontario, Canada
Aziza Chaouni architect with Bureau E.A.S.T. Ontario, Canada, focuses on sustainable construction. Her “Fez River Project,” for which she served as co-project coordinator was selected for top international prize from almost 5000 plans and visions from 121 countries. IUCN Director General Julia Marton-Lefèvre and celebrated architects and building professionals from three continents presented the trophy at a hand-over event in Fez, Morocco. The River remediation and urban development scheme focuses on improving life quality for the people living in Fez. The scheme combines a strategy to comprehensively address the economic and social life of the residents together with the ecology of the heavily-polluted river. Prize-winning architect and co-founder of Bureau EAST Aziza Chaouni (Morocco/Canada) explained that the project aimed to reintegrate the river into the medina as the central lifeline of the city’s urban infrastructure. “We want the medina to still be a living urban environment in the 21st century, not a museum artifact,” she said. The project was praised by the jury for applying the economic, social and ecological benefits from the recovery of the river which include the rehabilitation of the old town’s architecture, revitalizing public spaces and traditional tanneries, creating new pedestrian zones, promoting the growth of wetlands and biodiversity, rehabilitating older craft industries and sensitizing the population to ecological issues and a clean city. “Each step in the project is part of a longer chain of recoveries, which also allows for future interventions to supplement the scheme,” the jury stated.