Do we need to define who the African Woman is?

Who is the African woman? What defines her existence? Where does she belong? Chenesai Brand and Reforming Salala are archiving the thoughts, art, activities, style and words of African women, as a means of reminding themselves and those around them that African women have been powerful, creative and beautiful beings for centuries.

Our passion for sharing stories of African Women brought us together, as we find ourselves on a journey towards exploring what it means to be an African woman. We met on Twitter; a reminder of how social media has become more than just a social platform, it sets the tone and eases the way individuals and businesses interact within a global village.

We pose these questions to fellow African women, because we are the ones with the authority to define ourselves. In this article, we provide a definition of African women that reflects our diverse identity on the continent and in the global society. In giving ourselves this positive “label”, we are able to correct the narrow and often incorrect perspective of African women. More importantly, we hope that our working definition will enable other African women to write themselves into history and share their views on African Womanhood.

Who is an African Woman?

“The African woman has always been a complex multifaceted being. For centuries, her survival has been bold, beautiful and brilliant. Within her fabric has always been this profound ability to be the seed of nations balanced with reinventing cultures, one generation at a time…” (Chenesai Brand).

By general definition, African women are born in, live in, and are from the continent of Africa. The culture, evolution and history of African women is related to the evolution and history of the African continent itself.

Social Identity Theory

Coined by British social psychologists Henri Tajfel and John Turner in 1979, social identity theory proposes that a person’s sense of who they are depends on the groups to which they belong. This means that part of a person’s concept of self comes from the groups to which that person belongs. In practical terms, this implies that individuals do not have a personal selfhood, but multiple selves and identities associated with their affiliated groups. This explanation is in synchrony with the definition of the African woman by Chenesai Brand as “….complex multifaceted being”.

The African Diaspora

In the contemporary setting of migration, “diaspora” houses millions of these complex multifaceted beings who balance reinventing cultures as they work to being seeds of nations – in their both their diaspora and African homes.

Most early discussions of the diaspora were firmly rooted in a conceptual ‘homeland’; they were concerned with a paradigmatic case, or a small number of core cases. The paradigmatic case was of the Jewish diaspora (Sheffer 2003, p. 9). The Jewish diaspora exile refers to the dispersion of Israelites or Jews out of their ancestral homeland (the Land of Israel) and their subsequent settlement in other parts of the globe.

When historian George Shepperson introduced the notion of the African diaspora, for example, he did so by expressly engaging the Jewish experience (Shepperson 1966; Alpers 2001; Edwards 2001). In our contemporary setting when migration in instance is mostly voluntary it the original conception of ‘African Diaspora’ can lead to a distortion in describing the African Woman in Diaspora.

In our experience, we have simply come to understand diaspora to mean a home away from home. Most African women have sought out diaspora as a place where one can gain quality education, enhance their skills and contribute meaningfully to the global village. “Diaspora” to the African woman has no longer become just a destination but a balancing act between two nations they fondly call home.

The African Woman in Diaspora

Our thinking is that the African woman in Diaspora strongly identifies with her place of birth. Her whole being and her sense of direction is defined by her African home. Coined by Dr Moleen Madziva (an African woman in Diaspora) she carries with her a “hunhu” heart. The term Ubuntu/Botho/Hunhu is a Zulu/Xhosa/Ndebele/Sesotho/Shona word referring to the moral attribute of a person, who is known in the Bantu languages as Munhu (among the Shona of Zimbabwe), Umuntu (among the Ndebele of Zimbabwe and the Zulu/Xhosa of South Africa), Muthu (among the Tswana of Botswana), and Omundu (among the Herero of Namibia), just to name a few of the Bantu tribal groupings.

Philosophically, the term Hunhu or Ubuntu emphasizes the importance of a group or community. The term finds a clear expression in the Nguni/Ndebele phrase: umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu (a person is a person through other persons).

Do we need to define who the African woman is?


It is absolutely crucial that African women define who they are, as they have the sole authority to tell their stories, ways of life and history. Presently, different elements of our global society maintain a restricted and incorrect image and understanding of African women. Development practitioner and Zimbabwe feminist activist Everjoy Win (2009) argues that a vast majority of developmental programmes frame African woman as very poor, pregnant and rural. African woman who don’t fit this model are viewed as “inauthentic or undeserving of assistance. Published writer and Blogger Minna Salami aka Ms Afropolitican (2012) adds that Minna
Salami the “pitiable, rural African woman” imagery neglects to
acknowledge the agency and multiple experiences African women have.

Is this definition correct?

In adopting this approach to African womanhood, it is important to correct the mainstream ideas of who the African woman is and maintain our own definition, that African women have been complex multifaceted beings. We are as diverse, powerful and unique as the 55 countries on the African Continent. It would be incorrect to state that there is a singular

African woman, but they all share the ability to create and carry customs, languages, designs, hairstyles, mannerism and lifestyle unique to them.