Interview with Ruth Nyambura, member of the African Eco-Feminist Collective from Kenya

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By: María Torrellas, reporting from Zambia at the Pan Africanism Today Conference / The Dawn News / May 10, 2016. We talked to Ruth Nyambura, of the African Eco-Feminist Collective (Kenya) about their collective and the women’s situation in Kenya and in all Africa.

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Could you tell us about your feminist movement and how do you think that capitalism affects women?

I am part of the African Eco-Feminist Collective, which is a group of wonderful, young women across the continent who work with the intersections of gender economy and ecological justice. When it comes to the question of how capitalism affects women, one of the things I like to say as a feminist is that I want to call it not just capitalism, but hetero-patriarchal-capitalism, because capitalism further builds on different manifestations of patriarchy, whether influenced by culture, whether influenced by social relations. And what we see for African women, for example, is that through colonization the disciplining of their bodies according to Victorian ideals and standards of what a woman should be like, the idea of how a woman should behave, we see that very clearly. We see also the externalization of the course of capitalism, specifically in the economy, the productive and also the reproductive role, being transformed by the relationship between capital and the different layered identities and spaces that they occupied. We see this very clearly, we see it in the agricultural sector where women do the majority of the work, around 75% of the agricultural work is done by African women and beyond that there is at the same time, they are in charge of the reproductive work at home, which is uncompensated and it is also unacknowledged. So, this is one of the reasons of how we see capitalism affecting African Women.

-You said in the conference that people in Africa are able to eat because of women. What kind of struggle should we take up to make this visible?

Not just in Africa, but across the world, we eat because of women, that’s a reality and is important to acknowledge the work that they do and it is often backbreaking, it’s often not compensated. Globally, we see that 60% of the hungriest people in the world are women. The same women who feed us, are the hungriest. That shows you clearly the intersections of different issues. In Africa, for example, one of the biggest struggles happening right now is in regards to women, food justice and food sovereignty: with climate crisis, the seasons are changing, the weather patterns are changing, it’s becoming much more difficult for women farmers to get enough production from harvest. Rainfall patterns have absolutely changed, it’s hot one day and cold the other day. And this has a devastating impact on the livelihood of these women. In addition to the climate crisis, since 2004 around a million hectares of land have been sold off to private investors by African governments. For women already in the continent, access to land is ridiculously difficult. So on top of being in a place where you have a climate crisis, you are also unable to access land, and this makes it much more difficult to provide for yourself and your family, and to be able to make any income. So, basically, for African women farmers, their lives have gotten more precarious. And I guess, finally, patriarchy always shows up, in the fact that it’s not enough to celebrate women and say that they do all this amazing work. It’s important to redistribute agricultural labor, even as we acknowledge them, but we must question the ideology on which the amount of work women do is built on.

And when you go back to the heart of this ideology it’s simply capitalist patriarchy, so it’s important to redistribute, to challenge these ideologies and to invest in facilities that make work easier and well as ensuring that they get support.

– What do you think about this Pan African and Socialist conference, in which we are participating?I think is an amazing thing, my generation unfortunately, those of us born in the 80s or the 90s, our association with Pan Africanism is very shallow beyond knowing the names of the great Pan Africanists. But from my own opinion, from my own readings and my own understanding and for my own intellectual activist journey, I understand the possibilities and potential of Pan Africanism as a revolutionary journey: all I say is that Pan Africanism needs to open up more space, for feminist analysis, for queer analysis, that has been missing. In fact, a lot of complaints about Pan Africanism by women across the continent has been the biological essentialization of African women in which we are forever stuck in terms of mothers of the nation, we are stuck in this simplistic ideas and notions about motherhood, which further reinforces the Victorian ideas of what a woman should be, of how a respectable African women should be. So we must challenge the respectability politics that is in Pan Africanism, because if not is it not inherent to Pan Africanism. These are things that have been picked up over the years.

There are great revolutionary Pan Africanist women. Winnie Mandela, Miriam Makeba, Ruth First, Wangari Maathai in Kenya and other amazing women who have fought for different revolutionary spaces, so I think that is really important. But beyond that, I think it’s fantastic that we have a conversation about Pan Africanism and socialism and the intersections, and that we are very honest about, what the our vision for the future looks like.

-What kind of work do you do in your organization, the Eco-Feminism Collective?

The African Eco-Feminist Collective is a young space, it’s 3 years old. It was started with a group of sisters, as I call them, across the continent. We met in several spaces, all of us were interested in the intersections of ecological justice, because you can’t talk about ecological justice without talking about the gender component, you also can’t talk about ecological justice and the gender component without talking about the economy. So over the last 3 years, what we have been doing is having meetings and conversations, because one of the things that we learned from Amilcar Cabral, another great Pan Africanist, is that theory and practice must go together but you must really get your theory right. What is your vision for the coalition that you have? It’s been a really important space in that, we’ve learned from Latin America the use of memory, you know, Eduardo Galeano is fondly referred to as the holder of the institutional memory of Latin America, said that memory is actually a tool of resistance, a tool against power. And throughout these last 3 years we have been working really concretely to further not only just eco-feminism but also on how  it interacts with our identity as black women, as black queer women, in this continent. And that’s been an absolutely amazing journey to learn, to grow, also all of us are involved in different spaces. I, for example, work with different collectives in East Africa on agrarian justice, others work on issues of mining, or legislation, on the impacts of trade rules on African women, specifically related to agriculture and extractive industries. So it’s basically a collective of young women in Africa fighting power.

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