The moderation of the session Cultivating Change – Sustainable Transformation with Women and Marginalized Groups focused on participants’ understanding of feminism and examples of “challenging issues” from the start. The wide spread of results in this introspection fueled debates throughout the session.
Held in a friendly atmosphere with a relaxed tone, the moderator and four panelists captivated an audience of about forty people, mostly women. The diverse profiles of the panelists allowed for a cross-cultural exchange on North-South feminism, with a detour into its real or borrowed appropriation and the related challenges.
This article offers a recap of the highlights of various interventions.
Feminism in Senegal is synonymous with freedom and autonomy
According to Halima Diallo, there is no feminist diplomacy; the feminist framework remains the national strategy for gender equality and equity in Senegal. Despite her own experience, Halima admits to confusion about the feminism she defended, realizing in Paris during her thesis preparation that she had adopted a white, bourgeois, Beauvoirian feminism that did not resonate with her at all. The generalization of issues facing Western women in a different African context further complicated the appropriation of feminism.
The existence of women leaders or dynasties, mythical women, and exceptional figures in pre-colonial African history showed that not all women have always been dominated. However, this did not negate the contrast of existing unequal relationships in the same African context. The challenge was in reconciling these two ambivalent realities. While demonstrating that feminist ideology had resonance in African societies may minimize rejection, addressing power dynamics and privileges did not go unnoticed. Many development projects under the guise of gender mainstreaming were often projects for women without truly addressing power relations.
Societies are built around norms and values
Marame Cissé emphasized that gender and feminism relate to changes in norms and values around which a society is built and identifies. The targeted deconstruction was not only societal but also institutional. Arguments in favor of this deconstruction included the fact that feminist values were not in contradiction with African ones. Despite the conceptualization of feminism in Europe, it was not labeled as Western. The evolution of history had allowed the voices of Southern feminists to be heard in international agendas since the 1970s. Holistic perspectives of black feminism had produced an intersectoral approach.
Magatte Diop shed light on secure access to land for women, citing social constructions as the source of inequality. In Senegal, recourse to religious prescriptions — Islamic and Christian — and development projects had been a successful alternative, so Magatte.
Magatte, a practitioner in rural areas, asserted that there was no miracle solution; even with acquired funding, success involved a good diagnosis and close collaboration with the targets. Magatte echoes Marame’s sentiment that power is not given; it must be taken intelligently.
Defying contrasts to break myths
Claudia Senghor, a young agricultural entrepreneur, recounts the challenges faced in establishing herself on social media as an agricultural consultant. Defying contrasts to break myths, she encourages women and youth to embrace agricultural professions. Claudia works to make the non-conventional potentials of agricultural value chains accessible to women, emphasizing a combination of context understanding, strategy, and intelligence for change.
In summary, the speakers showed that mistrust of feminism includes issues such as excessive Westernization, willingness to admit the relevance of improvement, and the impact of certain development project practices. One participant’s question provided food for thought and still resonated after the session: “How can we promote feminism in partner countries when we, at GIZ, still have a lot of construction sites ourselves?”