“There is important labour that feminists perform in this country and too often it gets erased when the issues become mainstream. Remember the women who speak before it is acceptable. The women who make it impossible for us to look away”
This was a tweet by feminist and lawyer, Marilyn Kamuru on 30th May, 2019 when the vigil to remember the femicide victims was ongoing. This got me thinking of all the feminist women who have set the pace for change, for transformation and for revolution all over the world only to have their labour erased, their work dumbed down and their sweat and blood disregarded completely in favour of mainstream power that comes in quite literally like a silent thief and runs away with their ideas sensationally and with lots of euphoria.
The term “misogynoir” which means the specific hatred, dislike,distrust, and prejudice directed toward black women was coined by Maya Bailey, an African American feminist, to show the intersectionality of misogyny with race and gender. The term has since gone mainstream and is used by numerous scholars and in mainstream pop culture without her name being cited. As she says in her article titled On misogynoir: citation, erasure, and plagiarism “We experience, to varying degrees, our contributions being erased, our writing not cited, or our words plagiarized by people who find the word compelling.
It is not surprising that misogynoir would be enacted against the Black women who brought the word to public acclaim but it is nonetheless troubling. This is not to say that every time the word is used, our names need to be mentioned, but it does matter that our intellectual interventions are understood in proper context.”
Kenya’s Wangari Maathai was a social, political and environmental activist way before activism was fashionable. Her struggles, her arrests, her labour took long to be recognised and acknowledged but she forcefully pushed for the protection of the environment when the work was unpopular, when the struggle was abhorred, with zero support and backup from media or the government, just an African woman working towards climate justice.
On International Women’s Day, Young feminist women in Kenya commenced a nationwide conversation about the rising cases of femicide. They introduced the conversation on femicide nationally. They researched on the missing gaps in our laws, drafted sound demands to the government, organised a non violent march with little resources and camped at the Judiciary, Office of the President and in Parliament to present their memorandum of demands which among other demands, called for the President to declare Violence against Women a National Emergency and to develop a National Action Plan to fight violence.
They organised when no leader was talking about femicide.When the conversation about femicide had not gone mainstream. They laboured to ensure that women’s safety was guaranteed and their right to life protected. They organized amidst backlash on social media watering down the deaths of Kenyan women. They organized amidst widespread victim blaming.
It’s important not to erase the labour of young feminists even as the conversation on femicide is becoming more mainstream. It is a win that young feminists were able to influence national conversation around an important topic like femicide.
As young women fight for inclusion and representation in different spaces, the danger of their ideas being watered down, erased, invalidated and their labour unrecognised or undervalued by both the media and people in power is a necessary conversation that must be had. We need to remember that erasure is violence.
We rarely see young women represented in positions of power or where they have set good precedent and set a stage for national conversation. We need to constantly invite young feminists to the table.
Amplify their voices.
Affirm their work.
Validate their experiences.
Discuss on strategies for achieving collectivism in the feminist movement. Recognize their labour and the ideas and passion they come with.
The space is big enough for all of us without actively pushing to erase the work of brave, young and feminist women.