You’re confused for a reason
Co-optation has evolved into an art form in which those embroiled in the process are no longer the exuberant traditionalists or affluent entrepreneurs who retain values and ideals based on their commercial and ideological profitability. The co-opters are now those who look and sound like us, but the subtle difference is the drivers that motivate their actions have shifted. Anti-feminist groups working arduously to tamper with movements to advance the rights of women are flourishing. The co-opters might be professionals, who have gained credibility in their respective fields, religious leaders, economic specialists, political entrepreneurs, adamant to stifle women and girl’s rights over their bodies and access to sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services. The same individuals exude the energy of harmlessness, due to the low calibre institutions they might be associated with, giving the illusion that an impact of heavy proportions couldn’t be garnered. The surprising part is that the same individuals who shared safe spaces with us, are the ones fighting against us seemingly more convinced of their newfound values. I always ask myself how individuals would bend and break their value to sell their souls to the devil, disregard the impact of their words and actions to benefit a cause which might grant them lucrative streams but deny the existence to others. Well, the answer might just be as simple as the question. Money does make the world turn faster.
Online petitions are thriving, concocted to disseminate anti-feminist messaging, pretending to stand for something at the brink of extermination such as traditional values and most importantly the status quo. The same petitions are shared innumerable times, on every social media platform, some click and sign as a stern act of political action while others inadvertently succumb to the associated benefits. The petitions are large in number as are the causes of co-opters. Some are against women’s access to contraception, safe abortion, SRH rights under the aegis of protecting “African” family structures with numerous members. Others are against access to surrogacy, invitro fertilization under the pretext of protecting the monolith that is their conception of family values. This is purposefully vague and a narrow definition, as African families, are diverse: there are single headed households, polygamous compositions, incorporate cousins’ and other organs which are not traditionally recognized. Their aim is to impound any movement with the clear intention to ensure legal rights for women, girls, and other marginalized groups.
The main challenge is that movements by co-opters are considered harmless, just principled individuals who counter progressive ideologies to safeguard values and virtues transmitted by our forefathers. No, these are consorted efforts to clamp down a vulnerable movement that’s being co-opted left and right. The same individuals have allegiances with high officials within government structures to advance their agenda. They’re preferred medium is any/every social media platform, as reality can be reduced into a few characters that dilute/sensationalize facts to instigate emotions. Individuals who have amassed followers though bots and follow me and I’ll follow you back schemes, are the easiest targets for such ventures. You see the same accounts who were adamantly supporting a certain cause swiftly changing ideological direction for a divergent purpose, which can only be attributed to the newfound wealth.
Messaging dissipated through social media is aimed at inciting emotions and most importantly indignation. The tweet or Facebook post is not meant to inspire us to learn more about a certain phenomenon or encourage us to explore differing viewpoints on a subject matter, it’s actually meant to convince us. Some social media messaging are formulated in a dystopic manner to activate a cult. A cult of fragmented truths from a voice who pretends to be the source of reason. There is also a sense of guilt that’s incited within us, a feeling helplessness to make a difference over a cause so pertinent to the author and of course us, that we are compelled to dissipate the messaging to others, to help them breach the vacuum of obliviousness.
So, these co-opters are adamant to derail the feminist movement at any cost. They work tirelessly to mimic each and every step of activists and demolish the gains made to improve the lives of women. Online platforms used to sensitize women and girls about SRH are hijacked by the same forces, used as a free megaphone for campaigns, to sensationalize issues and tamper with vital information being shared. Research is co-opted with pseudo-research to create alternative narratives and reinforce seemingly traditionalist values, with ambiguous methodologies for the sake of pretend academic validation. These groups are active within the premises of the UN, they would either use the platform at the New York or Geneva level to submit shadow reports that challenge and undermine real gains made on the right of women. Alternatively, they will try to undermine the UN by glamorizing national sovereignty and discrediting implementing partners.
What’s the way forward? We as activists, academics and most importantly as women should deny them oxygen and space. Let’s report pages created for trolling and demand accountability from social media, for them to uphold their role at containing the spread of hate speech and messaging inciting violence. We should throw away the box, diversify our tactics at countering these rising trends. Let’s use our creativity to occupy untamed safe platforms (or better yet create them) such as theatre, music, art, podcasts. Let’s unite and persist in the fight against those who cannot prevail if we become a force to be reckoned with, by unpacking their web of deceit and summoning the courage to always speak the work of resistance.