Culture is an integral part of African women’s identity, and they play a central role in preserving tradition and cultural practices and beliefs. While some are beneficial to all members of society, others are harmful to women and girls, such as female genital mutilation (FGM); early marriage and pregnancy and the various taboos or practices which prevent women from controlling their own fertility. Steadfast commitment to maintaining cultural practices that are harmful to women and girls infringes on their rights to live life free from violence, and to realise their full potential. These practices necessitate women, men to challenge harmful cultural practices, which may have been acceptable in the past, but which serve no purpose in a modern society. Culture should not infringe on anyone’s ability to realise their human rights. It is essential to interrogate how norms get constructed and what purpose they serve.

Culture is not static. In her TEDTalk entitled “We should all be feminists” Chimamanda Ngoza Adichie says “Culture doesn’t make people; people make culture”. She talks about her experiences of blatant sexism in her home country Nigeria, where culture and patriarchy remain deeply entrenched. She also locates family as central, but emphasises the family as a space that challenges harmful norms that perpetuate notions that women and girls are inferior to men and boys. She emphasises the importance of how children are raised and challenging stereotypical notions of what it means to be a boy or a girl. Adichie talks about the process of normalisation, in how norms are socially constructed and have been entrenched over time, but which can also change if we start doing thing differently. “If we do something over and over again, it becomes normal. If we see the same thing over and over again, it becomes normal.”  We have the opportunity make a new normal.

In her 2014 book, Adichie addresses some of the stereotypes that the term feminism invokes. She helps readers to understand that feminism is about the social, economic and political equality of the sexes. “It demands an annihilation of the gender hierarchy and is not about women’s rule over men as is often misinterpreted.” While weighed down by negative interpretations, the term feminism recognises that for centuries, a specific group, i.e., women, were being othered and oppressed.