Coauthors: Precious Ozioma Okeke and Olayemi Mary Adeola
For decades, African women have been presented as passive humans instead of the independent agents of change and the nation builders that they are. In acts and narratives, women are depersonalized, traumatized, portrayed as powerless, and non-actors in decision-making. However, the narrative is changing. The African woman is transitioning from being unseen and unheard to the forefront of all that mattes to her, leading, setting the pace, and changing the narrative about her identity.
The 21st century is quite a time to be an African woman. Women movements continue to break the bias of gender and inequality across all spheres of life, including the creative and storytelling industry. In recent times, African women have been celebrated for their accomplishments in creative spaces. Women, such as Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, Ghanian writer Yaa Gyasi, Zimbabwean Tsitsi Dangarembga, Nigeria singer and storyteller, Simi, Nigeria actress and film director Joke Silver amidst others, have contributed greatly to African art and women expressions in art and storytelling.
The woman’s place in the African Creative industry cannot be overemphasized. The storytelling industry in Africa is expanding and gaining global attention thanks to a host of amazing women. In 2019, Genevieve Nnaji became the first Nigerian woman to release her “Lion Heart” movie on Netflix. Other women like Nigerian Folake Olowofoyeku, who plays the role of Abishola in CBS series Bob heart Abishola, Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong’O have challenged stereotypes and built reputable careers despite the misrepresentation of Africa in Hollywood. It is no news that the contemporary African woman is assertive, expressive, and creative. African women have continued to take creativity to the next level by dominating and bringing their creative ingenuity to every industry. Their influences are seen in performance Arts, Writing, Acting, Movie Production etc.
Sheryl Sandberg said we need women at all levels, including the top, to change the dynamic, reshape the conversation, to make sure women’s voices are heard and heeded, not overlooked and ignored. We need women to tell their stories in songs, movies, books, and poems. The African woman has so many stories, the good, the bad, and the ugly experiences, and they need to be shared without being ashamed. There is no doubt that conflicts often arise when women share their experiences. Nigerian women like Nse Ikpe Etim, Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, Omoni Oboli have constantly received criticism for their opinions, lifestyles, and women activism. Despite their contributions, these African women are still confronted with the most demoralising challenges. Meanwhile, they have to exist in the fear of rape, postpartum challenges, domestic violence, emotional abuse, and political inequality which are still concerns in the most developed parts of the continent.
Despite the stereotypes around African women’s art, several works have explored and highlighted the African woman’s struggles, created a room for advocacy, and contributed to sensitizing the public on the importance of gender equality. Nigerian film director Kemi Adetiba produced a movie, “The King of Boys” which sparked so much controversy amongst movie critics. Despite the review, it leaves its viewers with a striking lesson that an empowered woman can transform a nation. Like it is often said, educate a girl, and she will change a nation.
Lola Shoneyin expanded on this theme effortlessly in her book, “The Secret Lives of Baba Segi.” The book tells the story of a patriarch, ambitious Ishola, unfortunately infertile. The book highlighted a common stereotype that has traumatized many African women under the guise that a man cannot be barren. Lola Shoneyin’s book is a great book that raises awareness about infertility in marriage and the importance of health education.
We believe that women can contribute to changing the long-standing narratives that have stifled the African woman’s voice and dreams. Amarachi Attamah, an Igbo performance poet, challenged the stereotype and broke the bias that women cannot be expressive in her performances. Like every other successful African woman, she had to stand her ground and pursue a dream she would not have been allowed to have. Today, she is globally recognized for promoting Igbo culture and heritage.
In an interview with CNN, Mo Abudu, the Chief Executive Officer of Ebonylife Films who is an award-winning media mogul, says: People call me all kinds of names. I’m tough, I’m a slave driver, I’m hard, I’m aggressive. I know I’m those things. But the thing is that a man doing what I was doing would never be called aggressive or hard or slave driver. To do what we are doing as women, we have to be extra strong because we need to get certain results. As a trailblazer in the film-making and directing industry, Mo Abudu has nurtured lots of talents. Despite the criticisms about her work and ethics, she will remain a celebrated woman recognized for her innovation in the African media space.
Leila Aboulela, a globally recognized British-based Sudanese writer, has written five critically acclaimed novels and a collection of short stories. Her works include Bird Summons; Elsewhere, Home; The Translator; The Kindness of Enemies; Minaret and Lyrics Alley. Leila has won a string of awards, among them the Caine Prize for African Writing and the Saltire Fiction Book of the Year and has been long-listed three times for the Orange Prize for Fiction. Her works are often focused on African identity, immigration and her faith. She has also received criticism for her choice of works over the years.
Over the last decade, contemporary women writers have emerged who represent various genres and stories across Africa. While we celebrate older women for their contributions to the evolution of African literature, Nigerian writers like Damilare Kuku, author of “Nearly all men in Lagos are mad,” and Oyinkan Braithwaite, the author of “My Sister, The Serial Killer,” are recent talents who are earning deserved accolades in the writing industry.
The evolution in the creative and storytelling industry opens a series of opportunities for other women across different backgrounds and genres. We can only hope for an awakening in the spirit of solidarity and empowerment towards African women to pursue their dreams and build the future they deserve.