In our ongoing Inspiring African Feminists series, we feature Godiva Akullo from Uganda. Godiva, a Harvard Graduate, is a feminist lawyer and teacher of the law with a background in human rights. Godiva has also been writing for AfricanFeminism (AF) since 2016.
AF: How would you define your feminism and what it is rooted in?
GA: My feminism is rooted in love for Womyn and love for myself. Love for humanity as well because feminism for me is directed not just at the ending of sexist oppression, but at ending all oppression including homophobic, transphobic, racist, capitalist oppression etc Feminism to me, is an ideology of love.
AF: What has shaped your understanding of feminism?
GA: My understanding of feminism has been shaped by my personal experience and the experiences and writings of other womyn. Living in this world as a girl/ Womyn, it’s impossible not to feel the ways in which society tries to reduce me, to contain me and to limit me. I am grateful to have found other Womyn who felt these things and, like me, thought it necessary to resist the erosion of their humanity. Two Womyn- Melissa Kiguwa and Busisiwe Deyi who introduced me to Audre Lorde and queer feminist theory really played a role in transforming how I thought about feminism. My feminism used to be very much about my personal struggles but reading theory and being able to place myself within a wider context completely changed that. Audre Lorde reminds me that there’s no such thing as a single issue struggle and that it is necessary to work across difference if we intend to build a better world. Sylvia Tamale reminds me that just conditions must be fought for, and that sometimes you have to take a few punches for what you believe in. Bell Hooks reminds me to think and act from a place of love, and that change is possible. These are just a few of the Womyn who have shaped me.
AF: What type of backlash have you faced for your feminist activism and how did you respond?
GA: Lol, this is a tough question for me to answer because I like to publicly pretend that nothing phases me and the nonsense just rolls off my back. Anyway, I’ve been verbally abused, received death threats, rape threats, been called all sorts of names (on and offline) and had people try to bully me into silence. A lot of that stuff hurts when it happens, because I don’t understand why anyone is offended by my assertion that myself and other Womyn are full human beings, but I’ve learnt to take it in stride. I’m very aggressive about protecting my space and energy…online, I block, mute, unfollow at the slightest hint of unkindness, meanness and bigotry. Offline, my space is guarded just as aggressively. I surround myself with people I love, who love me and with whom I can eat life without fear of abuse. I’m very interested in the politics of those around me because people’s beliefs often translate into words and actions whether consciously or unconsciously. If your belief system disagrees with my humanity then we can’t be friends. How can I expect you to love someone you don’t see as a human being?
AF: How do you respond to those who say that Feminism is un-African?
GA: I call them what they are, ahistorical fools. I recently reread a paper by Catharine MacKinnon in which she asserts that Feminist theory was born out of the practice of womyn’s lives. I agree with her completely. Our foremothers were practicing feminism long before anybody started theorizing about it. And look at all the amazing contributions African Womyn (both from the continent and the diaspora) have made to feminist theory…
Feminism was born from womyn’s desire for justice, what’s more African than that?
AF: What issues are very important to you currently in your feminist activism? Why?
GA: The most important thing for me is the creation of more feminists- recruitment if you like. As Jesus said “The harvest is plenty but the labourers are few”…increasingly, we are seeing a few vocal Womyn stand up and speak out against their own abuse and other womyn’s, we are seeing more conversations about the ways in which Womyn are deliberately excluded from opportunities because “that’s the way it’s always been.” All these conversations are important and we need more feminists to steer those conversations in the right direction, to provide accurate and intelligent context of womyn’s lives and experiences, we need more feminists to do the work of changing this world.
AF: How does the work you are engaged in currently contribute to that?
GA: Well, I teach the law to undergraduate students, I try not to proselytize, but I’m definitely trying to do real consciousness raising and encourage critical thinking inside and outside the classroom. I also work as a lawyer and of course there’s always room to create feminists among people doing human rights work because the theory of human rights and freedom is exactly what feminism is about.
AF: Aside from your work, what other forms of feminist organizing are you involved in?
GA: Nationally: Feminist Kweterana, a collective of young Ugandan feminists doing our best to challenge patriarchy in the public and private sphere both on and offline. Women4Ug, a Collective of Ugandan Womyn working to promote the rights of Womyn and good governance in Uganda. I’m also part of the Uganda Feminist Forum and by extension the Africa Feminist Forum. I think that the feminist movement has made great gains on the continent and one of those is in the raising of feminist consciousness. Everyday, we are recruiting more feminists to do the work of dismantling the patriarchy on the continent. In addition to this, feminists on the continent and in Uganda in particular have confronted abuse of power both by governments and private citizens (case in point; Stella Nyanzi). The movement is also becoming more inclusive and intersectional everyday. Womyn are embracing and practicing a feminism with no qualifications…with no ifs, buts or howevers as the African Feminist Charter puts it. The feminist space has been hotly contested by Womyn who do not fit the narrow definitions of womynhood and so the feminism qualified by religion, age, status, is becoming a thing of the past. African Womyn are recognizing that none of us is free until we are all free.
AF: What in your view is currently the biggest challenge to feminist organizing and activism in Africa?
GA: Bad governance. Feminism is an ideology of progress, many African governments are trying to maintain oppressive status quos which puts them in direct confrontation with feminists.
AF: What insights into self-care would you like to share with our African Feminists worldwide?
GA: I recently started gardening and caring for my plants reminds me that we need to care for ourselves. We need water and sunlight and some weeding and repositioning to grow well sometimes. Lately, people have been talking about how self care has been monetized and that’s true to some extent. But just because you can’t afford a spa trip doesn’t mean you can’t care for yourself. Self care is about your comfort and growth…the ways in which you achieve that will of course vary from person to person…I’m trying to listen to myself and trust myself more…when my body or my spirit rejects something or someone, I pay attention. I try to repeat as often as I can, the things that make me happy, whether it’s my favorite clothes, hanging out with friends, listening to music I like, cooking for myself.
AF: What is your feminist utopia?
GA: Banange! This question excites me because I spend a lot of time dreaming of and trying to imagine a feminist future. My utopia has happy womyn.
AF is grateful to Godiva for taking time to share with us in this interview as well as her writings on AF.