World News

African women, the #MeToo movement and the sacredness of the female

By Jehron Muhammad | Last updated: Dec 12, 2018 - 9:15:51 AM

What's your opinion on this article?

(l-r) Dr. Josephine Dawuni, Ethiopian President Sahle-Work Zewde, Kenyan Governor Dr. Joyce Laboso, Rwanda Foreign Affairs Minister Louise Mushikiwabo

“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,” Howard University political scientist, Josephine Dawuni said, during her recent talk at Cornell University.

Responding to K. Riva Levinson’s commentary that appeared in The Hill, that focuses on gender specific rights, Ms. Dawuni emphasized that when she speaks of women’s rights, she means that men and women should work together in order to “advance the common good.” 


Titled “Africa needs its own #MeToo moment,” Ms. Levinson attacks “autocratic leaders” without highlighting changes and the challenges to change. She suggests that when African women depart from designated “‘safe spaces,’ and become a real threat to the interests of entrenched power, they are subject to a particularly egregious level of abuse and attack, when compared to their male counterparts.”

She added, “This level of hatred and dehumanization can be attributed to a legacy of sexism and misogyny and this too, is an obstacle to democratization.”

What White women of privilege like Ms. Levinson, who is the CEO of KRL International LLC and “wanna-be activist” and actress Alyssa Milano—who “threatened” not to speak at the upcoming January 19 women’s march, if the leaders don’t condemn Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan—fail to mention is how by hijacking Tarana Burke’s #MeToo movement they have relegated to the background Black women’s work on the intersectionality of race and gender equality. 

According to, the “moment” of #MeToo “is the result of the collective labor of women of color who turned private agonies into public battles on behalf of justice. As overdue and welcome as this reckoning feels, there’s also the unsettling reality that a movement built largely on the labor of women of color has been co-opted by a discussion that prioritizes the experiences of victims who are white, wealthy, and privileged over those who are not.” 

As Julianne Malveaux, in a commentary titled: “Can a Women’s Coalition Survive Petulant White Women?” wrote: “How does Theresa Shook and Milano ‘get off asking’ Tamika Mallory, Linda Sarsour, Carmen Perez, and Bob Bland ‘to step down from a movement they built?’”

She later wrote, “Shook and Milano are the antitheses of coalition building and intersectionality. In an intersectional world we come together to work on issues we agree on. In this case, the treatment of women. We decide to disagree on other matters. And sometimes, we agree to walk a mile in another women’s shoes.” 

In a report, the African Union highlights African “policies and governance structures and how they have contributed to a missed demographic dividend.”

The report includes, not only the importance of health rights of women and girls, but also focuses on child marriages, Female Genital Mutilation, gender-based violence and other cultural practices, including the practice of polygamy. In addition, family planning is discussed, and the domestication of programs aimed at improving sexual and reproductive health rights of women.

Ms. Levinson seems more concerned with African women rising to the highest ranks of political access through electoral politics, than with the health and well-being of average African women.

As Charlene Carruthers, an activist and founder of Black Youth Project 100 tweeted, “If wealthy, highly visible women in news and entertainment are sexually harassed, assaulted and raped—what do we think is happening to women in retail, food service and domestic work?”

In the U.S., in the last decade, according to EEOC data, the greatest number of sexual harassment claims include hotel and food services, retail, and health services—all areas where women of color are overrepresented. In 2016, organizers representing hospitality workers in Chicago started an anti-harassment campaign called “Hands Off Pants On” after a survey found that 58 percent of hotel workers and 77 percent of casino workers had been sexually harassed by a guest.

In Namibia, if you Google passion killings (of women) you receive over 548,000 results, including an incident where a woman bailed her boyfriend out of jail, they had an argument and he killed her. In Nigeria, where pre-natal care is lacking, one in every 30 women die giving birth compared to one in every 30,000 in Sweden. Not only do many women die from complications during pregnancy, but every year nearly 95,000 children die from infections after child birth. Female Genital Mutilation is not only in Africa, but globally there are over 200 million women and girls suffering, physically and mentally, from the results of the brutal practice.

Min. Farrakhan, who rarely gives a lecture without devoting a large portion of his remarks to women’s rights and their immense value, said in Detroit, during the 23rd anniversary of the Million Man March, that the suffering of women is “going on all over the earth.” He said at the Aretha Franklin Amphitheater, “They’re being raped in Africa, in Asia, in Latin America, in Europe (and) in America.”

Then while singing the praise of #MeToo founder, Tarana Burke, he added, “There will never be a change in the world until women rise from the condition that male authority has put them in.”

During her talk at Cornell, Professor Dawuni said, “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 … But these positive stories don’t make it on to CNN or BBC or hashtags.” 

Stories like in Ethiopia a gender balanced cabinet is sending a message that “patriarchy can be beaten.” The new prime minister, Abiy Ahmed recent decision to fill 50 percent of his cabinet with female ministers, according to Al Jazeera, “is an integral part of … (his) transformative agenda.”

And then there is Rwanda. Two decades after the 1994 genocide that killed an estimated 800,000, the country has a government where women hold key leadership roles and whose polices are cited as a model for gender inclusiveness. 

Kenya is the next on the horizon to ensure that women make up at least one third of the seats in parliament. Court rulings since 2012 have directed parliament to pass legislation to enforce the gender rule or risk being dissolved—but previous attempts have failed.

In a new bill, introduced in November provides for special seats to be created if elections fail to achieve the required numbers, with candidates from the under-represented gender nominated to fill them.

Min. Farrakhan while drawing near the conclusion of his speech, told the women in the audience, to “recognize your sacredness.” The 85-year-old Minister then remarked, “Women are sacred. And if you don’t see yourself as sacred … it’s because satan has robbed you of the knowledge of who you are and ripped you off from your divine destiny.”