Even though Western media often portrays African women as poor, crying out of agony or working hard in agricultural production, many of them actually hold important seats in local and national politics, according to Prof. Josephine Dawuni, political science, Howard University.
Although poverty and pain do exist in Africa, Dawuni said in a talk last week that women’s influence in politics and empowerment is something people should pay attention to. Dawuni’s visit to Cornell was organized as part of the Institute for African Development’s fall seminar series.
To demonstrate her point, Dawuni pointed out that Ethiopia recently elected its first female Supreme Court president on Nov. 1. Furthermore, Rwanda has the highest percentage of women in the lower or single house, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union.
“There are positive stories of ways in which African women are renegotiating their gender roles and are drawing upon their rights and making positive advances in some areas,” Dawuli said. “But these positive stories don’t often make it on to CNN or BBC or hashtags.”
According to Judith Van Allen, a senior fellow at the Institute for African Development, there’s a lack of positive coverage of African women in media because “we live in a racist society.”
“There’s very little teaching about African countries, much less about African women, so we often show African women as victims,” Van Allen said. “There is an unfortunate tendency for American students to try to go save African women without knowing what’s really going on in African countries or what our own country’s responsibility is for African problems.”
In the talk, Dawuni said that an example of a misconception she found was an opinion piece written for The Hill titled, “Africa needs its own #MeToo movement.”
“African women don’t need the #MeToo movement. They’ve always had an ‘#UsToo’ movement — collective women’s mobilizations that have fought against colonial oppression, military dictatorships, foreign interventions,” Dawuni said. “We have to open our eyes beyond westernized labels and the idea that people have to follow the same trend in order to be heard.”
As Duwani ended her talk, she emphasized the idea that when she speaks of women’s rights, she means that men and women should work together in order to “advance the common good.”
“The African proverb we have heard several times says that it takes a village to raise a child, and it is really true,” Duwani said. “If [men and women] can come together, not only are we developing a child, but we are developing a nation together.”