Women in Zambia
Women in Zambia
- Iva PešaIva PešaDepartment of History, University of Groningen
The history of women in Zambia is dynamic, complex, and varied. In the precolonial period, women held a range of influential positions in society. Through agricultural production, pottery, ritual, and healing, they performed valued tasks complementary to those of men. Descent was most commonly traced matrilineally, affording a woman’s lineage much power over labor, offspring, land, and wealth. The colonial period changed the position of women profoundly. Christianity and colonial policies advocated for an ideal of a nuclear family with a male breadwinner. Concomitantly, commercialization and labor migration made women’s positions more precarious. In rural areas, women struggled to prepare fields because of the absence of men’s labor, whereas in urban areas women were officially only allowed residence as “wives” of male workers. Yet a story of increasing female marginalization and subordination would be far from complete. Moreover, such a narrative obscures everyday gendered contestations. Some women in the colonial and postcolonial periods made a profitable livelihood by selling crops; others moved to town and engaged in trade or brewed beer. Such activities became particularly significant in the wake of economic decline during the 1980s and 1990s. The HIV/AIDS pandemic all too often made women the heads of their households. The history of women in Zambia is, thus, far from singular. Studying its variety reveals Zambian women’s agency and power, even in conditions not of their own choosing.
- Southern Africa
- Women’s History