By Sylvia Kanari Musalagani, Samburu District, Kenya, December 2017

Fashion has always been deemed to be anti-feminism because it is said to depict woman as objects of sexuality and beauty.[1] This is contrary to the feminist agenda that advocates that women should be treated equal by virtue of their being human.[2] Feminism in general is the school of thought that advocates for women rights from voting rights to gender equality. Over the years, feminists have fought and won battles for that cause. As much as there have been success stories so have there been critics. Critics have advanced that feminism has become a title as opposed to a way of life.[3] Further, it is said that the feminist agenda wears a western character; as such it is a limited perspective. [4]

Our Voice in Feminism takes an exploratory approach in discovering the African woman’s current perspective on feminism through the fashion lens. As we sit with the communities in production of fashion pieces that align with their heritage we create a conducive and relaxed platform to discuss issues pertaining to womanhood within that culture. The platform as set creates an opportunity for knowledge transfer and sustainable capacity building that is aimed at empowering women to lead financial justice.

The Samburu women are good at beading work. Their beading is colorful and fashionable.

The creation of a fashion accessory (handbag) that would be specific to the Samburu community was a good icebreaker. Reinforcing that our ambition was to learn from them as well as exchange ideas was a good warm up to the dialogue on their experience as women in the Samburu culture.

As we worked through their ideas for the bag design, we got to observe the organization of their village. They received us in song and dance, filled with DIGNITY. They presented a UNITED front as they ushered all their ideas through one of the elders. The elder explained that no matter where they go they would always dress exactly as they are dressed in the village, she went on to say that they ACCEPT who they are.

As they explained that in Samburu the women are the most powerful in the households. They encourage dialogue between husband and wife in matters of child rearing but the woman has the final say in what happens with the children. Observing them interact with the men present in space, one senses the power they possess very well balanced with a sense of HUMILITY. They went on to express that their focus in life right now is to ensure that their children are educated and protected from FGM.

Our translator, Jane a Samburu woman herself explained how and what inspired her to found the Samburu Women’s Trust. Her COURAGEOUS acts of kindness have paved the way to several other capacity building projects in the community.

The head chief, Chief Lekula exposed that while the Samburu women are cultural they are also sophistication. He is an advocate against female gender mutilation and gender based violence. He is at his heart a feminist. When asked about feminism he expressed that he has no idea what it was all he knew to do was the right thing. He taught us that feminism is GENDER NEUTRAL and definitely not a title

DISCUSSION

It is evident that there is not enough exploratory literature on feminism from an African perspective. Prior to our visit we operated under the impression that these women did not have a voice on the topic of feminism. It was further, surprising to observe that even the chief is a feminist. It is possible that the fashion lens presented a different research methodology that opened up the community to freely talk in their natural and comfortable state.

In contributing to the literature on the our voice in feminism, we observed that it could be beneficial to recover and remember the systems as they exist and to communally figure out instrumental ways to capacity build. We wondered how such practices as FGM and gender based violence have persisted in such ‘accepting’ and progressive communities. They seemed so empowered; this led us to question some of the intervention methods that have been used in the said communities. It is our considered observation that in inspiring social change possibly a bottom up approach should be essential.

Exploring social norms through the fashion lens appears to be an opportunity that should be given great consideration. We still wonder what sort of result could we have attained if we had spend more time in the community — what kind of results could we have obtained? And importantly would our initial observations remain valid.

[1] http://www.instyle.com/fashion/clothing/can-fashion-be-feminist

[2]https://www.reddit.com/r/Feminism/comments/166i8a/a_short_introduction_to_feminist_movements/

[3] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/thinking-man/11220536/Why-men-have-a-problem-with-the-word-feminism.html

[4] https://www.msafropolitan.com/2016/01/the-challenge-for-western-feminism-in-the-21st-century.html, http://grandmotherafrica.com/we-are-not-all-feminists-feminism-is-simply-un-african/, http://www.gender.cawater-info.net/knowledge_base/rubricator/feminism_e.htm

100 DAYS OF LEARNING

A journey from knowledge to wisdom — turning lessons into action

Sylvia Kanari Musalagani

Written by

100 DAYS OF LEARNING

A journey from knowledge to wisdom — turning lessons into action

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