The understanding of womanhood in Eritrea reflects the country’s complex ethnic mosaic, social divides, and stratified history. Given the paucity of sources, understanding of women in traditional precolonial society is mediated by the accounts of colonial ethnographers. These accounts tend to produce an overall image of a patriarchal society in which women had little or no power. However, studies in the early 21st century have highlighted how women also assumed important responsibilities in traditional societies, and in some cases in negotiations with colonial rulers. Indigenous women played an important symbolic role during the Italian colonial period as objects of conquest, domination, and violence. However, the economic and social transformations triggered by the colonial administration indirectly allowed Indigenous women to enlarge the spectrum of gender expectations characterizing traditional societies. Women became laborers, business owners, heads of households, and concubines playing important political and cultural roles and mediating between Indigenous and colonial societies. With the end of Italian rule and emergence of the nationalist movement, some Indigenous women became active in the arts, theater, and then the political struggle for Eritrean independence. Many women actively participated in the thirty-year struggle against Ethiopia, and this led to a revolution in the way of thinking about gender equality, womanhood, and the female body. However, this cultural shift had limited effects on wider society. Notwithstanding the important legal recognition of women’s rights after independence in 1993, society remains overwhelmingly patriarchal. While some women engaged in the struggle for independence, others became refugees in Sudan or were pioneers of international migration, supporting their families and the nation in times of crisis; Eritrean women made up the bulk of those who moved to Italy and the Middle East in the 1960s and 1970s. Since the 1990s, womanhood in Eritrea is characterized by the coexistence of contradictory models of femininity, which range from a patriarchal understanding of women as mothers and wives to a conception of women as fighters, breadwinners, and migrants.
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Women in Eritrea
Women in Ethiopia
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.
Women in Fashion and Textiles
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.
Women in Gabon
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.
Women in Ghana
Akosua Adomako Ampofo and Deborah Atobrah
The academic study of women in Ghana has received considerable attention, particularly from a feminist perspective or gender framework since the 1980s, albeit with some important studies preceding this period. Earlier studies from the 1960s–1970s mainly approached the “woman question” from an anthropological, historical, and later sociological perspective, paying attention to descriptions of women’s lives prior to colonialism and the effects of colonial rule. These studies underscored the importance of the complementary roles women and men played, submitting that colonialism was responsible for introducing forms of gender inequality and domesticity that had not existed hitherto. Prior to colonial rule, women generally enjoyed significant status from their roles not only as wives and mothers, but also as sisters, rulers, priestesses, and performers in their own right. At the same time, some accounts of women’s lives point to the hardships they suffered because they were exploited for their social and economic value, for example as slaves or pawns. Both before and during colonial rule, especially during the years of struggle for independence, women were important organizers, and not just around gender issues. Several studies discuss the important place of women in the Nkrumah-led government just prior to and immediately after independence in 1957; however, women’s relationship with the postcolonial state was not given much attention until the 1980s. After the first UN International Women’s Conference held in Mexico City in 1975, and the establishment of a women’s bureau, the National Council on Women and Development in 1986, more instrumental and also quantitative-survey approaches were employed that described women’s so-called objective status, especially in the areas of education, work, and health. In conformity with the times, a women-in-development approach to examining women’s status was favored by practitioners but also some scholars. By 1994, when the Development and Women’s Studies Programme was established at the Institute of African Studies at the University of Ghana, feminist approaches were more common and also brought with them an interrogation of the postcolonial state’s relationship with women. Women’s organizing and activism around such issues as livelihoods, access to land and other resources, and gender-based violence, took center stage as groups like the Network for Women’s Rights (NETRIGHT), the Domestic-Violence Coalition, and the Women’s Manifesto Coalition emerged. The problematics of gender roles and social relations, especially within the context of marriage, received much attention. Contestations among scholar-activists and femocrats are also discussed, as well as the institutional challenges of feminist work. Intergenerational collaborations as well as tensions occupy a significant place in contemporary theorizing and practice since 2000, especially the role of social media feminism.
Women in Guinea-Bissau
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.
Women in Kenya
Women have played diverse and critical roles in Kenya’s social, cultural, economic, and political history. Archaeological and ethnographic sources suggest how gender shaped culture, social interactions, production, and consumption in hunter-gatherer, early pastoralist, and Iron Age societies. Gender divisions of labor were flexible, with women engaging in gathering, hunting, care of livestock, domestic labor, and production of crafts and metalwork. During the 15th to 18th centuries, societies were organized by gendered and generational hierarchies, and women played a significant role in agriculture and trade. Rates of unfree labor increased significantly, and women and girls were particularly vulnerable to enslavement and pawning within the African slave systems of the interior and Islamic slave system of the coast. The 19th century brought change and upheaval, including the expansion of Islam and Christian missionary activity, ecological crises, and British occupation. The century also witnessed a dramatic increase in demand for female slaves for domestic and foreign markets. Under British colonial rule, women’s roles and status were circumscribed. Colonialism promoted a model of gender which relegated women to the domestic sphere and strengthened indigenous patriarchy. Women found their access to land and resources steadily eroded, even though their labor enabled the broader colonial capitalist system to function. They channeled their frustrations into labor protest, nationalist politics, and armed struggle. Independence brought change and continuity for Kenyan women and girls. There was a gradual expansion of women’s rights and opportunities in education and employment, alongside the endurance of widespread gender and socioeconomic inequality. Overall, there was no one experience for Kenyan women in any period: women’s experiences varied depending on their age, ethnicity, religion, culture, and status as free or enslaved persons; where some women found widening opportunities, others faced new and enduring constraints; and when some railed against gendered and generational authority structures, others enforced them.
Women in Late Antique North Africa (in the Writings of Augustine and Other Church Fathers)
Cassandra M. M. Casias
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.
Women in Law and Justice
African law and justice systems in the early 21st century are the result of over a thousand years of religious and cultural influences and political change on the continent. As customary and Islamic laws became reinterpreted and formalized by colonial states, women experienced the effects of successive periods of religious and political conquest as an entrenching of patriarchal control in the family and personal law sphere. The 20th century saw African women’s resistance rise from the grass roots as an important force for national liberation. African women’s legal activism grew after political independence and African women lawyers were part of global feminist movements. In the wake of dramatic political changes across Africa, Latin America, and Eastern Europe, the global sphere of rights post-1989 became an enabling frame for women’s legal activism. Political transitions to multiparty democracy, the liberalization of African economies, and a wave of constitutional reforms strengthened women’s rights and gender equality guarantees. The 1980s and 1990s saw the founding of regional and pan-African women’s legal activist organizations, including the Action Committee of Women Living Under Muslim Laws and Women in Law and Development in Africa as well as the adoption of the Maputo Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa in 2003. In the 21st century, while social, economic, and legal inequalities persist in spite of many gains for women’s rights, some African women lawyers have risen to occupy the highest echelons of the judiciary in several countries and in international courts.
Women in Lesotho
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.
Women In Liberia
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.
Women in Madagascar
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.
Women in Malawi
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.
Women in Mali
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.
Women in Mauritania
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.
Women in Mauritius
The Indian Ocean Island of Mauritius has a population made up of the descendants of migrants from France, India, Africa, and China. Mauritius has a multicultural and multi-ethnic population and these divisions impact upon Mauritian women’s rights and political mobilization in the country. Women were expected to support the men of their community and, in the mid 1940s, female suffrage was proposed by men from the elite and wealthy groups to win votes for their communities. There is no evidence of a women’s lobby for the franchise. Despite the controversy surrounding female suffrage, Mauritius had two women members of parliament following the election after proclamation of female suffrage. Under 19th-century Mauritian law the state treated women as the inalienable property of their husbands. The “Code Napoleon” or “Napoleon’s Civil Code of 1804,” adopted in 1808 in Mauritius, imposed the status of “minor” on a married woman and was characterized by severe patriarchalism, restricting women to the private domestic sphere. Despite these restrictions, women were not passive and they were drawn into the economic and political struggles of the early 20th century. One of the most vivid memories is that of Anjalay Coopen, a female agricultural laborer who was among the people killed during an uprising on the sugar estates in 1943. Mauritius became independent in 1968 and the role that women played in the negotiations leading to independence remains unclear to this day due to a paucity of research in this area, male domination of the political and historical writings of the country, and the fact that the Mauritian population was highly divided over independence. Women’s-movement activism peaked in the mid-1970s. This was when women’s organizations grouped together on common platforms to lobby for changes in the civil code and laws governing marriage and the Immigration and Deportation Act, which allowed for the deportation of foreign husbands of Mauritian women but not for foreign wives of Mauritian men. Women from different communities rallied together for equal rights for women, generating a strong national women’s movement.
Women in Modern Egypt
Women in Egypt have always played key roles in society in different historical eras. In the modern period, women were at the forefront of the modernization project that gained momentum at the end of the 19th century and the first decades of the 20th century. “The woman question” occupied center stage in debates about the new modern nation in the making and against the background of colonial domination as Egypt became a British protectorate in 1882. The period from the 1920s to the early 1950s is noted as a period that was particularly vibrant in the history of the women’s movement and witnessed rapid developments in women’s participation in the public sphere. Women founded magazines, established civil society organizations in all fields, joined the national movement for independence, and contributed to key ongoing debates on the modernization project. In 1952, the Free Officers Revolution resulted in a radical shift in the political sphere: the end of British colonialism, the transformation of Egypt from a monarchy to a socialist republic, and the start of a new era. The new order promoted women’s education and access to the labor market but restricted political rights and freedoms in general, a new reality that inevitably impacted the development of an independent women’s movement. In the 1970s, women’s rights assumed center stage in international politics, a development that had an impact on women in general and Egyptian women in particular. Egyptian women entered the diplomatic corps and participated in drafting international conventions, in representing their country in international forums, and in joining international civil society campaigns for women’s rights. They also established a new generation of civil society organizations that advocated for women’s rights both locally and on the international stage. The year 2011 marks an important moment in the history of Egypt. The wave of revolutions that swept the Arab world resulted in the opening of the political sphere in an unprecedented manner. Women’s rights activists rose to the challenge, and more and more women were active participants in the movement for change. Women joined new political parties that were established in the aftermath of revolutions; they were active participants in numerous political and social initiatives and movements; and they played a prominent role in marches for political and social freedoms. In sum, women in modern Egypt have played key roles in the making of modern Egypt. The story of their contributions and achievements is the story of a movement for change toward a better future.
Women in Mozambique
Liazzat J. K. Bonate and Jonna Katto
Mozambique is divided into matrilineal north and patrilineal south, while the central part of the country has a mixture of the two. Both types of kinship organization have important implications for the situation of women. Women in matrilineal societies could access land and political and decision-making power. They had their own property and their children belonged to their matrikin. In patrilineal societies, women depended on their husbands and their kin groups in order to access farmland. Children and property belonged to the husband’s clan. During the colonial period (c. 1890–1975), women’s position in Mozambique was affected by the Indigenato regime (1917–1961). The native African population (classified as indígenas) were denied the rights of Portuguese citizenship and placed under the jurisdiction of local “traditional habits and customs” administered by the appointed chiefs. Despite the fact that Portuguese citizenship was extended to all independent of creed and race by the 1961 Overseas Administrative Reform, most rural African areas remained within the Indigenato regime until the end of colonialism in 1974. Portuguese colonialism adopted an assimilationist and “civilizing” stance and tried to domesticate African women and impose a patriarchal Christian model of family and gender relations. Women were active in the independence struggle and liberation war (1964–1974), contributing greatly to ending colonialism in Mozambique. In 1973, Frelimo launched a nationwide women’s organization, Organização da Mulher Moçambicana (Organization of Mozambican Women, OMM). Although women were encouraged to work for wages in the first decade after independence, they remained largely limited to the subsistence economy, especially in rural areas. The OMM upheld the party line describing women as “natural” caregivers. Only with the political and economic liberalizations of the 1990s were many women able to access new opportunities. The merging of various women’s organizations working in the country during this period helped to consolidate decades-long efforts to expand women’s political and legal rights in independent Mozambique. In the early 2000s, these efforts led to the reform of the family law, which was crucial for the improvement of women’s rights and conditions in Mozambique.
Women in Muslim Northern Nigeria
Beverly B. Mack
Women’s roles in Muslim northern Nigeria have been shaped by both pre-Islamic traditions and Islamic customs dating to the earliest introduction of Islam into the region around the 11th century. Contemporary women in the region draw their identities from a legacy of illustrious 19th-century Muslim women teachers, scholars, and authorities who in turn acknowledged a historic legacy of titled, renowned pre-Islamic women in the region. The more consolidated Islamic period, which resulted from the 19th century Sokoto Jihad (1804–1808) of Islamic reformation, pushed back against syncretism to establish orthodox Sunni Qadiriyya Islam in its place. The Sokoto Caliphate (1804–1903), which developed in the Jihad’s wake, spread orthodox Islamic practices and principles widely in the region. Instrumental in this spread of Islam was the ‘Yan Taru (“the Associates”) extension program of women’s Islamic education. This grassroots program was begun by Nana Asma’u bint Usman ‘dan Fodiyo (1793–1864), a daughter of Jihad leader Shehu Usman ‘dan Fodiyo (1754–1817). (This surname has variants, including Fodio and Fudi.) Asma’u, a multilingual scholar, poet, and teacher, was just one of a multiplicity of women who were well educated and led activist lives. The ‘Yan Taru’s efficacy was enhanced by its incorporation of Nigerian pre-Islamic women’s authoritative roles and titles. Since its founding in the mid-19th century, the ‘Yan Taru has served the needs of urban and rural women, literate and illiterate, providing Islamic cultural literacy in an oral society. The late 20th century saw a rise in Muslim women’s organizations modeled on the ‘Yan Taru template. An understanding of women in Muslim northern Nigeria depends upon attention to early Islamic, pre-19th-century women’s titles and authority; the 19th-century reformation period; and a post-independence period, in which 20th- and 21st-century women define their identities in the framework of Nigerian women’s historical legacies.
Women in Namibia
Women have had a significant role throughout Namibian history. Prior to colonization men were generally dominant, but certain women of high rank attained powerful positions. Namibian societies and politics became thoroughly gendered during the German and South African colonial periods. After independence the postcolonial Namibian state drew on the intensive involvement of women in the liberation struggle and adopted a legal framework and policies that emphasized gender equality. Nonetheless, little real improvement has been achieved for the majority of women in postcolonial Namibia. The country’s high level of social inequality continues to be profoundly gendered. Namibia’s independence in 1990 followed prolonged colonial rule by South Africa, which ruled the country, named “South West Africa,” as a de facto fifth province. Post–World War II South Africa retained the full range of apartheid legislation and policy in Namibia until about 1980, when the apartheid state’s colony became a laboratory for social engineering geared toward limited change. Namibia was divided into two distinct zones in 1907 and throughout the South African colonial period. Southern and central Namibia were governed similar to South Africa and the northern regions experienced colonial rule more akin to the British doctrine of indirect rule. Both colonial projects were profoundly gendered. Thus anticolonial resistance was both varied and gendered, including its defiance of apartheid.