On strengthening the feminist movement in Southern Africa

To reduce violence against women we must understand the multidimensional nature of female oppression, says Nolwazi Ntini, Ethnographer/Project Manager, Gender Equality and Health Programme, HEARD, UKZN.

The 4th African Feminist Forum (AFF), held in Harare Zimbabwe from the 10th to 12th April 2016, provided a platform for feminists working and living in Africa to connect with each other and share experiences, ideas and strategies to strengthen the feminist movement in Africa. Many African countries were represented, with delegates from West Africa, and Eastern and Southern Africa. The structure of the forum was set up to enable various conversations to happen simultaneously, allowing for dynamic discussions exploring a plethora of themes most pertinent in the African feminist movement. The main area of focus being patriarchy and the many ways it allows for the domination of women.

One theme discussed at the AFF was violence, particularly violence against women (VAW). Global studies show that 30% of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/ or sexual intimate partner violence (WHO 2013). Within the context of the AFF, patriarchy and religious fundamentalism were identified as the main drivers of violence against women. These two factors are undoubtedly important drivers of violence for millions of women across Africa. However, the situation is far more complex with many other factors such as poverty, lack of education, unequitable laws, all contributing to the social and systematic oppression of women and their experience of violence. Therefore a more complex analysis of VAW is required, emphasising the intersectional causes of VAW.

Kimberlé Crenshaw (1991) coined the term ‘intersectionality’ as a way of describing and enabling a comprehensive examination of the various systems and structures that drive the oppression of women: race, class, gender, religion and age, to name a few. Furthermore, Crenshaw argued these elements do not work in isolation, but they all interconnect and overlap at various points, thus making the oppression of women that more multidimensional than only one or two factors.

The lack of an intersectional approach in discussions about VAW at the AFF was a concern for two reasons. First, it failed to recognise the multiple causes of VAW in Africa and narrowly focused on only two causes. Second, this has implications on the types of interventions that are implemented to reduce VAW across the continent, if only a small number of causes are identified then interventions will only seek to target a small number of factors. Rather, models and strategies for ending VAW need to address the intersectional nature of factors that exacerbate women’s vulnerabilities to VAW, and aim to empower women to overcome systematic oppression and violence.


Crenshaw, K. (1991). “Mapping Intersectionality, Identity Politics and Violence against Women of Color”. Stanford Law Review, Vol. 43, No. 6, PP 1241-1299.


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