Yale Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies

Volume 6, Issue 2
spring 2016
Editor, Geetanjali Singh Chanda
Managing Editors, Linda Hase & Moe Gardner
Layout Design, Nick Appleby

Politics, Gender and Sexuality in Africa

by Dianne Lake

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Over the course of Yale’s first Symposium on the Politics of Gender and Sexuality in Africa, speakers from around the nation and from the African continent presented papers that disrupted, reconfigured, reconsidered, and critiqued systems of violence and patriarchy affecting the African continent. As a Political Science and Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies double major focusing on African Feminism, I’ve often had to grapple with a disconnect between theory and activism so it was enlightening and reassuring to see scholars engaging with African politics outside of the classroom and in the field. What I saw over the course of the two day symposium were researchers in political science, anthropology, and sociology all focusing on key questions emerging from Africa and producing knowledge with the potential to impact meaningful change. The scholars and researchers presenting at the symposium addressed themes such as the political nature of humanitarianism and human rights, the complexity of gender integration and representation in policy, discrimination in economic and social relations, and the political exploitation of sexual minorities in African nations.

One of the highlights of the symposium for me was how Kara Ellerby (University of Delaware) problematized the ways in which ‘gender equality’ is conceptualized and pursued both globally and in Sub-Saharan Africa. Ellerby noted that the current methods utilized by most pursuits of gender equality in regards to policy can unfortunately be reduced to “add gender and stir,” resulting in persistently poor implementation and the lack of engagement with gender as an intersectional identity. Josephine Ahikire (Makerere University) also challenged the politics of representation in her paper and urged participants to consider the failure of gender equality as a deficiency located in men’s overrepresentation as opposed to women’s underrepresentation. Ahikire asked the questions “Why do men deserve over 70% representation in the government?” and “Why can’t a man represent women’s issues?” Ahikire’s paper discusses the the politics of recognition in terms of what influences the ability of the political system to channel women’s interests into effective policy formulation and implementation.

The resounding take home message from the symposium was that researchers and policy makers must look at oppression as multiple connecting social systems built around domination that extend beyond patriarchy. Due to how sexism, colonialism, and other forms of subordination can become internalized and institutionalized it is important for scholars and researchers to always consider and address questions of gender, sexuality, class, nationality, and ethnicity when we look to the global south. Overall, anthropologists, sociologists, and political scientists all in one room made for a weekend of insightful knowledge production and discussion and highlighted nuanced perspectives of how sexuality is recognized, how politics and representation are defined, how humanitarian intervention is executed, and how the stories and experiences of minorities are either misrepresented or simply made invisible. The interdisciplinary discourse was fruitful and insightful and left scholars and other symposium attendees inspired and reinvigorated in their research interests.

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