Reflections on Feminism and Development in Africa: The Case of Kenya

Nancy Baraza, Nkatha Kabira


This paper discusses the importance of moving towards African centered feminist theories. The paper argues that bringing feminism home to Africa will greatly impact our understanding of development processes in Africa. Scholars, world over, have come up with feminist theories, frameworks and ideologies in order to respond to the realities of women at particular moments in history. That there is a plethora of feminist theories out there is an understatement. We have heard of renowned feminists in the West. Feminists such as Mary Wollstonecraft,[1] Virginia Woolf,[2] Andrea Dworkin,[3] Catherine Mackinnon[4], Carol Smart,[5] Betty Friedan[6] and so on. We are also familiar with the many different kinds of feminisms that exist to explain women’s realities universally. Feminisms such as liberal feminism,[7] radical feminism,[8] black feminism,[9] materialist feminism,[10] environmental feminism,[11] and postcolonial (third world) feminism[12] The theories are drawn from a wide range of disciplines such as philosophy, law, sociology, psychology, Marxism, post colonialism and the list goes on. These feminist theories and perspectives have a lot to say about non-discrimination, equality, representation of women, domestic violence, class and racial differences and so on.

What is interesting however is that these approaches to the woman question have predominantly been developed based on the experiences of women in the West and yet we continue to rely on these forms of feminism, feminist thought and frameworks to describe African women’s experiences.[13] We need to COME HOME. It’s time to for homecoming! We need to consolidate the efforts of various African women across the continent and come up with ways of critically engaging with the realities of women of Africa. The Kenyan women and many African women have, through the constitution making process, agreed resoundingly with Chinua Achebe’s famous statement “If you don’t like someone else’s story, you need to write your own”.[14] That is why this seminar is so important. We are beginning to tell a narrative. A narrative about how women have told and continue to tell their own story of hope, their own story of joy, their own story of resistance, their own story of how they conceptualize themselves and their world.

1        See Wollstonecraft, Mary, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman with Strictures on Moral and Political Subjects. London: Joseph Johnson, 1792. This is one of the earliest works in Feminist philosophy.

2        Woolf, Virginia. A Room of One’s Own. New York: Harcourt Brace & Co., 1989. 4.

3        See Dworkin, Andrea, Woman Hating: A Radical Look at Sexuality. EP Dutton, 1976; In Harm’s Way: The Pornography Civil Rights Hearings (with Catharine MacKinnon, 1997

4        See for instance Mackinnon, Catherine, Feminism Unmodified: Discourses on Life and Law. Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1987; Mackinnon, Catherine, Are Women Human?: And Other International Dialogues. Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 2006;

5        See Smart, Carol. Women, Crime and Criminology: a Feminist Critique. Routledge, London, 1976; Smart, Carol, Feminism and the Power of Law Routledge, 1991; Smart, Carol. The Ties that Bind. Routledge, London, 1984; Smart, Carol. Women, Sexuality, and Social Control. Routledge, London, 1978; Smart, Carol. Regulating Womanhood: Historical Essays on Marriage, Motherhood and Sexuality. Routledge, London, 1992; Smart, Carol. “’Feminism and Law: Some Problems of Analysis and Strategy” International Journal of the Sociology of Law; 14(2) pp 109–23, 1986; Smart, Carol. Regulating Families or Legitimizing Patriarchy?” - Family Law in Britain. International Journal of the Sociology of Law; 10 (2) p 129-47.1982

6          Friedan, Betty. The Feminine Mystique, Hardcover Edition, W.W. Norton and Company

7        Bryson, V. (1999): Feminist Debates: Issues of Theory and Political Practice (Basingstoke: Macmillan) pp.14-15; hooks, bell. “Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center” Cambridge, MA: South End Press 1984. For a critique of liberal feminism by black feminists and postcolonial feminists see Mills, S. (1998): “Postcolonial Feminist Theory” in S. Jackson and J. Jones eds., Contemporary Feminist Theories (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press) pp.98-112

8        MacKinnon, Catharine. (1989) Toward a Feminist Theory of the State; Willis, Ellen, “Radical Feminism and Feminist Radicalism”, 1984, collected in No More Nice Girls: Countercultural Essays, Wesleyan University Press, 1992,

9        White, E. Frances. Listening to the Voices of Black Feminism, printed in Radical America, quoted in Alice Echols, Daring to be Bad: Radical Feminism in America, University of Minnesota Press, 1989, 239. Hull, Smith, Scott. All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men, but Some of Us Are Brave: Black Women’s Studies, pxvi. Weathers, Mary Ann. An Argument For Black Women’s Liberation As a Revolutionary Force, No More Fun and Games: A Journal of Female Liberation’, Cambridge, Mass, by Cell 16 vol. 1, no. 2 (Feb 1969)

10     Rosemary Hennessay and Chrys Ingraham, eds. Materialist Feminism: A Reader in Class, Difference, and Women’s Lives, p. 7 (New York and London: Routledge, 1997)

11     MacGregor, Sherilyn (2006). Beyond mothering earth: ecological citizenship and the politics of care. Vancouver: UBC Press. p. 286.

12       Spivak, Gayatri, “Can the Subaltern Speak?” (1988)

13     See generally, Kabira, Wanjiku, “Our Second Home Coming” seminar paper, 2012 Department of literature University of Nairobi,

14     Achebe, Chinua, “Paris Review: The Art of Fiction No. 139 “ available online at http://

Full Text: PDF


  • There are currently no refbacks.