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Article

Jessica Catherine Reuther

The modern-day Republic of Benin in West Africa was historically a patchwork of precolonial kingdoms and acephalous zones. In the 17th century, the kingdom of Dahomey formed in the south central interior plateau region of modern-day Benin. In the 18th century, Dahomey grew to become the dominant regional power. Dahomey’s women were famed globally for their roles as government ministers, queen mothers, and warriors. Women had multiple means through which to achieve various forms of power. Women’s power was multi-faceted during the precolonial era; however, these women’s power required proximity to the king and incorporation into the royal palace. During the colonial era from 1894–1960, women had much fewer opportunities to achieve positions of formal power. After the conquest of the Slave Coast region in the 1890s, France established a colony named after the kingdom of Dahomey. Women’s roles in politics declined rapidly as part of the shift from the precolonial to colonial systems of governance. This shift continued a trend though, already unfolding in the 19th century, that reduced women’s power in the royal palace. Few women rose to formal positions of authority in collaboration with the French colonial administration. Colonialism irrevocably transformed gendered systems of power and authority in ways that removed Dahomean women from officially sanctioned positions of power. Despite these restrictions, Dahomean women always found ways to express their agendas and exert influence over the colonial government. During the colonial era, market women, in particular, found ways to protest colonial policies and developed gendered strategies of activism. In 1960, Dahomey gained independence from France and was renamed Benin in 1972. Beninese women have struggled to regain their active roles in political life. Since the end of the Cold War and the transition from socialism to democracy in the 1990s, individual Beninese women who had access to education and the opportunity to study and work for extended periods of time have managed to once again participate in national politics. However, they remain a disadvantaged minority in electoral politics.

Article

Marie Saiget

The history of women is characterized by nonlinear and gendered social, political and economic processes. In particular, the history of Burundian women’s collective actions has been embedded in the contested and violent trajectory of the Burundian state. Burundian women’s collective actions refer to a broad range of interactions: from protest, and social mobilizations to institutionalized actions. These interactions have been shaped by both global and local social structures, and by complex conflictive and cooperative relations between the Burundian state, political parties, women’s organizations and movements, and external actors (colonial powers, international organizations, non-governmental organizations). Women’s experiences in Burundi’s pre-colonial patriarchal society are little known, with the exception of the glorified Queen-mothers. German and Belgian colonial policies (1886–1962) reinforced and rigidified pre-colonial social constructions of ethnic and gendered social identities and roles, assigning ordinary women to the domestic sphere and sanctioning their social inferior status along with ethnic lines (Tutsi, Hutu, and Twa). After Burundi’s independence, the one-party military regime organized and supervised the first forms of women’s political participation through the Union des femmes burundaises (1962–1980s). The democratic transition of the early 1990s led to the creation of autonomous women’s organizations and networks, which were extended during the civil war (1993–2005). Burundian women actively contributed to national and grassroots peace processes. In particular, a delegation of seven Burundian women participated in the negotiations held in Arusha (1998–2000), with observer status. Post-conflict struggles for women’s rights posed the central issue of women’s political representation, with the adoption of gender quotas from 2005, but left aside other issues after 2010, such as women’s right to inherit land. In Spring 2015, Burundian women were present in protests against the president’s third mandate; with the women’s march being the first to reach the city center in March 2015. Women’s organizations kept mobilizing towards women’s rights after the electoral crisis, in exile or within Burundi, though facing important financial constraints and political repression.

Article

Harmony O'Rourke

Cameroon is a nation-state in West Central Africa. Historical evidence about the precolonial period has revealed the diverse ways women valued their motherhood and fertility, knowledge of agriculture production, membership in secret societies, and their role in transitioning deceased women and men through dance and ritual. Women exercised varying levels of power and experienced a spectrum of belonging as wives, mothers, concubines, slaves, queen mothers, and political intermediaries. Near the turn of the 19th century, political centralization and the expansion of long-distance trade produced new forms of inequality for women as wealth became more concentrated in the hands of elite men who sought to control women’s labor and sexuality. With colonial rule and postcolonial nationhood in the 20th century, Cameroonian women were increasingly integrated into a capitalist political economy that supported local patriarchal authority, changed women’s relationships to land, and engendered new socioeconomic inequalities. At the same time, women worked to check gendered disempowerment through secret societies, cooperative groups, schooling, religious conversion, changes in marriage and family structure, entrepreneurship, and new avenues for political engagement. In so doing, Cameroonian women transformed gender roles, struggled against new forms of discrimination, and altered lines of difference among themselves.

Article

Celeste Fortes and Elizabeth Challinor

Cape Verde is a transnational nation, situated off the coast of Senegal, formed out of the slave trade, and has such a long history of migration that it is widely believed that double the size of its local population resides abroad. Men were traditionally the first to emigrate, influencing family and gender relations, with high rates of informal male polygamy producing diverse family forms in predominantly female-headed households that challenge the dominant Cape Verdean model of a patriarchal society that places the man as the breadwinner at the head of the family. Historical records have largely failed to address the significant roles played by women during the colonial period and struggle for independence, which have become the focus of current research. Following Cape Verde’s independence from Portugal in 1975, women did not occupy any governmental positions until after the country’s first multi-party elections in 1991, when issues related to women’s emancipation, gender equality, and equity began to gain political leverage. In 1994 the government created the Institute for the Condition of Women (ICF) to implement its policies to combat discrimination against women in all public and private spheres, which was renamed the Institute for Gender Equality and Equity in 2006. Civil society and non-governmental organizations that specialize in gender and promote women’s empowerment through projects and campaigns have also become increasingly active. Informal commerce has constituted an important resource for many women to provide for their families, some of which takes place through transnational business networks that allow them to buy goods abroad and sell them in Cape Verde. Women have also migrated to support their families—thus initiating transnational maternity practices—and to pursue academic capital in higher education. They have also contributed toward the dissemination of Cape Verdean culture through female voices such as Cesária Évora and Lura.

Article

This examination of the history of women’s situation in Central Africa from the late colonial period of the 19th to the early 21st century sheds light on women’s experiences by highlighting their agency in confronting the changes they faced. The colonizers’ introduction of cash crop production and forced labor in the late 19th century to modernize the economy impacted the sexual division of labor, transforming the organization of the work within the family and community. In the post-independence period, traditional gender expectations continued to shape the lives of the majority of women, but a small number were able to take advantage of social mutations in the domains of education, politics, and work to become leaders. Transformations brought about by postcolonial armed conflict in three Central African countries profoundly affected women’s lives.

Article

Sophie Blanchy

The inhabitants of the Comoros archipelago, situated between the East African coast and the island of Madagascar, are Muslim and at the same time follow a matrilocal residence rule and, in two of the four islands, a matrilineal descent rule. This has consequences for women’s place in society, though their status and power varies according to their age and place in the social hierarchy, and with the political context. This article draws on three examples taken from specific island contexts to illustrate forms of agency accessible to the Comorian women. It shows how, having previously been invisible in political life, women played a leading role in Maore Island to escape the domination of the other islands’ elite by choosing to remain a French territory. It analyzes the way ceremonial exchanges in Ngazidja Island give elder and younger sisters different opportunities and place different constraints upon them in terms of how they behave and lead their lives. Finally, it shows the unexpected impact of an international program addressing Ndzuwani women on their empowerment in a patriarchal social context.

Article

Catherine Porter

While the Republic of Congo has been frequently eclipsed by its neighbor with a similar name, women have been active participants in its history. Women’s experiences vary across Congo-Brazzaville, depending on their location and economic status; they create a diverse fabric of histories of multiple ethnicities, occupations, and encounters. The contemporary political boundaries of the Republic of Congo are European colonial constructs from the early 20th century, and today the majority of the population resides in the capital city of Brazzaville and in the other large urban areas in the southwest. Early contact with the Portuguese in the 15th and 16th centuries at the base of the Congo River destabilized the Kingdom of the Kongo, which was further accelerated by the proselytization of Catholic missionaries. The encroachment of Europeans and missionaries combined with the consequences of the trans-Atlantic slave trade deeply affected the traditional gender dynamics that women had in rural settings on farming plots. Women lost much of their social and political power that they held in precolonial settings, and this was further exacerbated by traditional roles that were impressed by Christian missionaries. The establishment of French Equatorial Africa in 1910 with Brazzaville as its capital shifted the importance of the area within French West Africa. The railroad industry and the completion of the Kinshasa-Matadi and the Brazzaville-Point Noire Railways changed the demographics of the southwest, most specifically Brazzaville, into not only an administrative city but also a hub for industrial activity. As men began to move the coast into railway labor camps, women followed suit, where they became predominant in tailoring, domestic labor, and, later, secretarial services. World War I and World War II brought profound changes to Congo-Brazzaville as men were conscripted into the French armed forces and women provided necessary services to the colonial French administration in the form of administrative and tailoring work. During the push for independence and decolonization, women joined political parties such as Union Révolutionnaire des Femmes du Congo, Union de la Jeunesse Congolaise, or Confédération Générale des Travailleurs Africaine, mainly as auxiliary members. Women focused their political, social, and economic concerns and pushed the emancipation of women to the center of the government in 1967. While women had a greater role in national life for the later part of the 20th century, women faced daily harassment and exploitation, especially with the 1993–1994 and 1997–1999 civil wars. Constitutional reforms in 2002 and 2015 guaranteed women the same rights as men within the country and a proportional representation within the upper and lower houses of the National Assembly. While this has increased the prominence of women on a national level, it has not proven consistent in daily interactions. Generally women are subjected to intimate violence, including domestic and sexual violence as well as street harassment. Organizations based in Congo-Brazzaville, such as Rencontre pour la Paix et les Droits de l’Homme (RPDH), are actively working for the stabilization of gender parity through law, education, and civic participation but face regular roadblocks on day-to-day activities.

Article

Jeanne Maddox Toungara

In the first two decades after independence, Ivoirian leadership had to confront the illusion of the miracle of economic development. Thriving agricultural production and cash crop exports led to misperceptions and unsubstantiated assessments of the economy. Two decades into the 21st century, attitudes toward women and their roles in developing economies have changed globally, forcing the leadership to deal with myths of women’s empowerment based on a couple of brief historical moments and take measures in the national interest to improve its deplorable ratings on gender equity. The international community’s demand for gender equity comes on the heels of a civil war that challenged Ivoirian leadership, inflicted physical and psychological damages on the population, and resulted in thousands of deaths. The nation’s inability to accept its responsibilities to women was intercepted by global demands for gender equity as reflected in the UN Sustainable Development Goals, international protocols, and World Bank ratings that were taken into account for external financing. The Ivoirian state has included gender equality as a principle in the 2016 Constitution and family law reforms. The implementation of gender policies and gendered investments in education, healthcare, employment, agriculture, land reform, and security are needed to make progress toward women’s empowerment.

Article

Susana Castillo-Rodriguez and Alba Valenciano Mañé

Women who live in the territories that today comprise the Republic of Equatorial Guinea experienced important material and social changes during pre-colonial, colonial, and post-colonial times. They faced crucial imbalances in terms of their social and political position: while Guinean women had a vital role in household management and child rearing, in most cases they did not control their income nor the circulation of goods and people within their society. While they have historic commonalities with women in other parts of Central Africa, their particular experiences during the slave trade and Spanish colonialism, including the deployment of the national Catholic colonial state during Franco’s dictatorship in the territory, contributed to their unique history and situation today. Francoist colonialism, which lasted from 1936 until Equatorial Guinea’s independence from Spain in 1968, strengthened the existing patriarchal structure of the societies living within the country. Independence did not substantially change the social and political roles of women in Equatorial Guinea but nevertheless opened up new horizons for them. Since 1968, three generations of empowered women—teachers, traders, farmers, writers, and politicians—have contributed to the creation of alternative narratives for women and increased the scope of their role in the public domain. Despite these new avenues for women, Equatorial Guinea’s current regime and economy not only relies on extracting rents from an oil-based economy but also extracting the organizing and political capacity of ordinary Guinean women. As before, they still face the challenge of managing their households without controlling their larger economic circumstances while lacking political power in the country.

Article

Meron Zeleke Eresso

There are number of Ethiopian women from different historical epochs known for their military prowess or diplomatic skills, renowned as religious figures, and more. Some played a significant role in fighting against the predominant patriarchal value system, including Ye Kake Yewerdewt in the early 19th century. Born in Gurage Zone, she advocated for women’s rights and condemned many of the common cultural values and practices in her community, such as polygamy, exclusive property inheritance rights for male children and male family members, and the practice of arranged and forced marriage. Among the Arsi Oromo, women have been actively engaged in sociojudicial decision-making processes, as the case of the Sinqee institution, a women-led customary institution for dispute resolution, shows. This reflects the leading role and status women enjoyed in traditional Arsi Oromo society, both within the family and in the wider community. In Harar, a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in eastern Ethiopia, female Muslim scholars have played a significant role in teaching and handing down Islamic learning. One such religious figure was the Harari scholar Ay Amatullāh (1851–1893). Another prominent female religious figure from Arsi area, Sittī Momina (d. 1929), was known for her spiritual practices and healing powers. A shrine in eastern Ethiopia dedicated to Sittī Momina is visited by Muslim and Christian pilgrims from across the country. Despite the significant and multifaceted role played by women in the Ethiopian community, however, there is a paucity of data illustrating the place women had and have in Ethiopia’s cultural and historical milieu.

Article

MacKenzie Moon Ryan

Women have long played a large role in the production and consumption of fashion and textiles in Africa. Women spin, weave, dye, embroider, and otherwise create textiles using specific technologies. They also adorn themselves in jewelry, beadwork, and headwear; some also choose to veil. Women serve as designers and seamstresses to tailor clothing from textiles, and the dominant buyers and sellers of textiles are women. As such, textiles and clothing play a defining role in women’s wealth. Textiles often feature prominently at momentous occasions throughout the lives of women, for example at adolescent rites, engagement and marriage, births of children, and as burial shrouds. Women use dress practices—including wrapped textiles, tailored clothing, and personal adornment—to display aspects of their identities. Research has explored women’s varied roles related to textiles and fashion in Africa since the late 19th century. Women in the colonial era used their clothing choices to take advantage of new opportunities and contest long-standing and newly introduced strictures. During the independence era, struggles for freedom and nationalism informed clothing practices. A rise of women fashion designers in the mid-20th century paved the way for contemporary proliferations in both everyday and high fashion apparel. From accessible secondhand clothing to exclusive runway collections, African women in the 21st century continue to innovate in dress practices, which demonstrates African women’s creativity and dedication to style at all social strata. Therefore, how women in Africa have dressed themselves in fashion and textiles illuminate women’s agency.

Article

Claire H. Griffiths

Gabon, a small oil-rich country straddling the equator on the west coast of Africa, is the wealthiest of France’s former colonies. An early period of colonization in the 19th century resulted in disease, famine, and economic failure. The creation of French Equatorial Africa in 1910 marked the beginning of the sustained lucrative exploitation of Gabon’s natural resources. Gabon began off-shore oil production while still a colony of France. Uranium was also discovered in the last decade of the French Equatorial African empire. Coupled with rich reserves in tropical woods, Gabon has achieved, since independence in 1960, a higher level of export revenue per capita of population than any other country in sub-Saharan Africa in the postcolonial era. However, significant inequality has characterized access to wealth through paid employment throughout the recorded history of monetized labor. While fortunes have been amassed by a minute proportion of the female population of Gabon associated with the ruling regime, and a professional female middle-class has emerged, inequalities of opportunity and reward continue to mark women’s experience of life in this little-known country of West Central Africa. The key challenge facing scholars researching the history of women in Gabon remains the relative lack of historical resources. While significant strides have been made over the past decade, research on women’s history in Francophone Africa published in English or French remains embryonic. French research on African women began to make a mark in the last decade of colonization, notably with the work of Denise Paulme, but then remained a neglected area for decades. The publication in 1994 of Les Africaines by French historian Catherine Coquery-Vidrovitch was hailed at the time as a pioneering work in French historiography. But even this new research contained no analysis of and only a passing reference to women in Gabon.

Article

Joanna Davidson

Guinea-Bissau, a small West African country, is home to a multiplicity of ethnic and religious groups with complicated historical entanglements along the Upper Guinea Coast and across European and Afro-Atlantic orbits. Generalizations about women’s lives, given both the longue durée of its precolonial, colonial, and postcolonial history and the diversity of its social systems, are quite easily countered by contradictory—or at least more nuanced—renderings. Nonetheless, it is possible to discern some broad commonalities and continuities, especially in market-related roles and activities. Guinean women have been enterprising traders—sometimes gaining economic and political prominence—since precolonial times and throughout the prolonged Portuguese colonial presence in the region. In particular, Luso-African women, known as nharas, revolutionized and dominated trade in coastal settlements from the 17th to the 19th centuries, but their political and economic autonomy was ultimately curtailed by increasingly repressive colonial policies. Guinea-Bissau’s unique struggle for independence—spearheaded by the revolutionary leader Amílcar Cabral and achieved through an 11-year military struggle against the Portuguese—opened up opportunities for women’s liberation from both Portuguese colonialism and customary patriarchal strictures. Although Guinean women participated in the Luta da Libertação in unprecedented ways, they struggled to maintain an active role in nation-building after formal independence in 1974. The Partido Africano da Independência da Guiné e Cabo Verde’s (PAIGC) rhetorical commitment to gender equality remains an unfulfilled promise in the postcolonial period, as chronic political instability, deleterious economic policies, and largely unfavorable structural adjustment programs have tended to worsen women’s overall conditions. Women have continued to carve out creative roles in an expanding neoliberal marketplace, often becoming intrepid—although always precarious—players in the informal sector. Although women have gained several protective legislative rights since independence—such as the prohibition of forced and child marriage, and easier access to divorce—these have been implemented unevenly. Guinea-Bissau’s human development indicators are among the lowest in the world, especially for women: life expectancy for women is 59 years, childbirth is the leading cause of women’s mortality, and literacy among women is at 44 percent. The failure of the postcolonial state to fulfill Cabral’s egalitarian vision has not only marginalized women’s political and economic status within the country, it may have contributed to the overall weakening of key state institutions, ultimately enticing international narco-traffickers to its shores in the early 21st century and entrenching a drug economy amidst the ruins of the country’s capital city. The gendered roots of Guinea-Bissau’s present woes cannot be ignored.

Article

The lives of women in late antique North Africa were shaped to a large extent by legal status and family roles. Enslaved women experienced frequent sexual exploitation at the hands of their male enslavers, who saw these encounters as proof of their masculinity. Married women, meanwhile, endured the double standard of close supervision and suspicion over their potential infidelity, as well as the physical abuse that could result. In Christian writings about mothers, the mother-child bond is seen as powerful enough to threaten the pursuit of a religious life. Widows, due to their high status in African churches, enjoyed such influence in Christian communities that unmarried women and women with living husbands attempted to join their ranks. Although consecrated virgins were thought to receive the highest rewards in heaven, the constant threat of the loss of their physical purity justified a higher degree of surveillance over them, by either their families or their bishops. To varying degrees, nearly all women were vulnerable to domestic or sexual violence. The African Church Fathers Tertullian, Cyprian of Carthage, and Augustine of Hippo—along with the prison memoir attributed to Perpetua of Carthage—provide a vast collection of texts about late antique women, but there are limitations to the use of these sources for historical information about women’s lived realities.

Article

Scott Rosenberg

During the pre-colonial period, women were valued for their productive and reproductive abilities. When women married, their parents received bohali (bridewealth) from the man’s family. During the colonial period women became increasingly responsible for running the household while men were away. Although this gave women more power on a daily basis it also led to increasing domestic violence. In order to support themselves and their families, women have sought out domestic economic opportunities as well as participating in migrant labor. Historically, beer brewing and sex trafficking were two of the economic opportunities available to women in Lesotho and South Africa. Today, women make up the overwhelming majority of labor in the textile factories. Although Lesotho is a patriarchal society, women have made gains in terms of being elected to parliament and serving as regents, yet they are still not allowed to serve as a chief in their own right. The HIV/AIDS pandemic has hit women in Lesotho especially hard.

Article

Mary H. Moran

Liberia is a small country on the west coast of Africa, lying within the monsoon tropical forest belt and recording some of the highest annual precipitation rates of any place on earth. Early agriculturalists adapted rain-fed rice to the forest clearings and the alternating wet and dry seasons, with women providing the majority of the labor in food production. Regional trade routes have historically linked this area with savannah polities to the north and west, exchanging products such as gold, salt, hides, and dye woods across multiple environmental and climatic zones. Europeans who arrived by ship beginning in the 1460s redirected some of this trade toward the coast, making access to the sea strategically important and creating a new source of employment for male laborers as longshoremen and mariners. In the early 19th century, the coast became a site of settlement for free people of color from the United States, and Liberia declared its independence as a republic in 1847. As in other West African countries, documentary sources on women’s lives are minimal, yet Liberia stands out for the impressive number of women who have achieved international distinction in the 20th and 21st centuries. This small country of fewer than five million people has produced the first woman president of an African national university, the first African woman to chair the United Nations General Assembly, and the first woman elected president of an African country. Liberian women in the past and the present have used their position as breadwinners, as mothers, as community leaders, and as ritual specialists to shape events and assert authority over others. In the early 21st century, they have become known especially for their success in peacemaking, resulting in two Nobel Peace Prize winners in 2011. Comparing the careers of some prominent Liberian women over the decades shows that willingness to reach across lines of ethnicity and language and the ability to coordinate resources from both rural and urban areas have been key factors in explaining this success.

Article

Faranirina V. Rajaonah

Lineage and rootedness in ancestral lands shape the course of women’s lives in Madagascar. Women certainly benefit from this situation, but it also constrains them. Despite the diversity of situations within the social spaces inherited from former kingdoms, women across the island play an essential role in their lineage. Some women have influenced the course of history, at times in ways that extend beyond their social sphere, in the capacity of queens, while others have voiced their disapproval of sovereigns’ decisions. Madagascar has witnessed accelerated change since the 19th century, brought about by the island’s increased integration into global markets dominated by the West, and represented by traders, missionaries, and colonial administrators. Upper-class women and their families have been able to choose from among the novelties offered them in the form of material goods, careers, education, and religion. Women of lesser means have likewise tried to find their way within an enlarged horizon, including through emigration, while their country, since independence, has been confronted by increasing challenges.

Article

Anika Wilson and Sitinga Kachipande

The status, rights, and roles of women in Malawi have been in constant flux since at the least the mid-19th century. In the pre-colonial period, principles of matriliny organized social structures within many communities in Malawi, affording women rights to land, property, products of labor, and children, and influence in group decision-making. The mid-19th century ushered in a period of disturbances and social transformations that led to changes in economic, political, religious, and familial practices. Changes in key institutions impacted women’s access to land and their influence in governance. Women in Malawi were excluded from new commercial and political opportunities as long-distance commerce increased in the region. Increasing commodification of people endangered women within intensified trade and military conflict. Patterns of increasing exclusion and endangerment of women continued beyond the mid-19th century after the slave trade was challenged. In the period immediately preceding colonial rule and also during the colonial period, women actively sought to maintain rights and influence through their involvement in Christian institutions, their appeal to courts, public protests, and through their subversive expression in songs, stories, and possession cults. In post-colonial Malawi, women did not gain the freedom that they had struggled for during the anti-colonial movements. Kamuzu Banda marginalized women from access to power and decision-making. He maintained a paternalistic approach to women’s issues which included controlling every aspect of their lives. The constitution adopted in 1994 with democratic reforms laid a strong foundation for women achieving rights and improving their socio-economic status. However, women still faced obstacles in fully realizing their rights and continued to be marginalized by Banda’s successors. Women’s participation in leadership was limited to showing support for the president. The election of Joyce Banda as the first female president did little to improve the status of women. Backlash against her ascendance to the position eroded women’s access to decision-making posts in the government. In the first two decades of the 21st century, the government of Malawi responded to pressures from women’s rights advocates to legislate against gender-based violence and child marriage. However, there has been little evidence of sustained and coordinated women’s movements and activism aimed at improving women’s socio-economic status. Much of the work women do to improve their position and that of their families and communities takes place on a small scale or involves cooperation with precariously funded nongovernmental organizations and community-based organizations.

Article

Madina Thiam

Over centuries, a variety of decentralized societies and centralized states have formed in territories across the western Sahel and southwest Sahara, and along the Niger and Senegal river valleys. Women have played central yet often unacknowledged roles in building these communities. By the late 11th century, some were rulers, as tombstones from the Gao region seem to suggest. A travelogue describing the Mali empire, and a chronicle from Songhay, tell stories of women who plotted political dissent or staged rebellions in the 14th–16th centuries. By and large, everyday women’s reproductive and productive labor sustained their families, and structured life in agricultural, pastoral, fishing, or trading communities. In the 1700s in Segu, women brewed mead, cultivated crops, dyed textiles, and participated in the building of fortifications. In Masina in the 1800s, girls attended qurʾanic school, and a woman was the custodian of the caliph’s library. Women also suffered great violence stemming from conflicts, forced displacement, and slavery. By the end of the 19th century, they made up a considerable portion (at times the majority) of enslaved individuals in the region. After the European conquest and creation of the French Soudan colony, the French administration imposed an export-oriented wage economy, in which women worked to supply crops and sustain infrastructure projects. From the regions of Kayes, Kita, and Nioro, many migrated to groundnut- or gold-producing regions of Senegambia. While women’s labor and migrations were seldom accounted for in administrative records, their attempts to leave unhappy marriages or escape enslavement do appear in court records. However, colonial domination was gendered: the administration ultimately shunned women’s emancipation efforts, seeking to channel its rule by reinforcing patriarchal authority in communities. In 1960, the Republic of Mali achieved independence. Under the democratic and military governments that followed, women built pan-African and transnational alliances. In 1991 and beyond, they fought to achieve more rights, and greater political power and representation. Their labor and migrations have continued to sustain a large portion of the economy. Post-2011, they have been both active participants in, and victims of, the conflicts that have engulfed the country, suffering displacement, loss of livelihood, and sexual violence, for which many have yet to receive justice.

Article

Katherine Ann Wiley

Women in the Islamic Republic of Mauritania have significantly influenced their country’s social, economic, religious, political, and artistic realms. How they have done so has been affected by the country’s nomadic past, severe droughts, history with slavery, and rapid urbanization following independence. Women have participated in trade, influenced politics, made decisions for their families, shaped their marriages, and contributed to religious scholarship. Mauritanian women have also exercised significant power as compared to some of their counterparts elsewhere in the Muslim world, being able to initiate divorce, speak publicly, and act as heads of household. Despite such influence, their gender has also disadvantaged them, making it difficult to access many of the opportunities that are available to men. Likewise, women’s varying social ranks, socioeconomic statuses, ethnicities and regional locations have affected their abilities to maneuver and assert power.