561-580 of 633 Results


Women in Algeria  

Kamal Salhi

North African historiography is interested in the history of mankind, though it tends to overlook the contribution of half of humanity: women. Women are often characterized by virtues of sobriety and purity, or the conventional attributes of wives, mothers, and mistresses common in pre-Roman times. Within an erroneously interpreted Muslim tradition, prevalent since the Ottoman period, the Algerian woman was under patriarchal protection and considered a genitor, destined to perpetuate the group. It was expected that she stayed in a private, enclosed space, inaccessible to any foreign male gaze. The veil she wore created around her body an impermissible mobile believed to control her desires. In reality, the fantasizing of its representations has contributed key points to the Western—mostly French—history of women in Muslim-influenced Algeria. The haremic image of polygamy in general essentially problematizes Western Muslim societies. The Western imagination of the past, as well as that of all contemporary societies, has long nurtured the Muslim East, characterized by the appealing odalisque, far removed from any consideration and daily concerns. The examination of the contexts in which Algerian women have become hypervisible as centers of debate and protest is no less essential to the understanding of Algeria than the history of the successive roles and challenges women have taken and experienced. Political attitudes, predominantly male, led to the introduction of the restrictive Algerian Family Law in postcolonial Algeria. Women have become the focal point for a contemporary dutiful discourse that presents itself as saving Muslim women, and that can be construed to pose a dilemma to the Western emancipation model. Women’s critical role in the unpredictably rapidly developing nation has marked events and national realizations. Despite Algerian women’s participation in various struggles and the roles assigned to them in nation-building, or even the centrality of social, political, and religious life consequential in gender relations, they demonstrate predispositions for transformational roles.


Women in Angola  

Mariana P. Candido

European colonial powers established the contemporary boundaries of Angola during the Conference of Berlin (1884–1885). However, colonialism dates to the 15th century, when Portuguese merchants first contacted the Kingdom of Kongo along the Congo River and established early settlements in Luanda (1575) and Benguela (1617). Parts of the territories that became known as Angola in the early 20th century have a long history of interaction with the outside world, and as a result European primary sources provide much of the information available to historians. The reports, official correspondence, and diaries were produced by European men and are therefore problematic. However, by reading against the grain scholars can begin to understand how women lived in Angola before the 20th century. Some, such as Queen Njinga, had access to political power, and others, such as Dona Ana Joaquina dos Santos e Silva, enjoyed great wealth. Kimpa Vita was a prophet who led a movement of political and religious renewal and was killed as a result. Most women never appeared in historical documents but were fundamental to the economic and social existence of their communities as farmers, traders, artisans, mediums, and enslaved individuals. The end of the slave trade in the 1850s led to the expansion of the so-called legitimate trade and plantation economies, which privileged male labor while relying on women’s domestic contributions. The arrival of a larger number of missionaries, colonial troops, and Portuguese settlers by the end of the 19th century resulted in new policies that stimulated migration and family separation. It also introduced new ideas about morality, sexuality, and motherhood. Women resisted and joined anticolonial movements. After independence, decades of civil war increased forced displacement, gender imbalance, and sexual violence. The greater stability at the end of the armed conflict may favor the expansion of women’s organizations and internal pressures to address gender inequalities.


Women in Associations and Organizations  

Alice Kang

Associations and organizations are groups of individuals who form a body to achieve an aim. Women’s leadership and membership in associations constitute a vital part of Africa’s economic, social, and political history. Women-only associations and women in dual-sex organizations protested against colonial rule; fought for independence; and mobilized for democracy, peace, and equality. Still, women in associations also supported colonial projects, fought in war, and held up postcolonial authoritarian rule. Taken together, economic, social, and political accounts of Africa are inherently incomplete if they fail to interrogate women’s participation in collective action on the continent. Women have created and joined many kinds of associations and organizations in Africa. These include secular and religious associations. Some groups represent the interests of a profession (e.g., academics, journalists, lawyers, midwives, traders) or a political party or ideology (e.g., African National Congress Women’s League in South Africa). Others explicitly try to bring together women and men from multiple status and political groups (e.g., Women’s National Coalition in South Africa). Women have formed groups of friends and family members in their immediate vicinity, at times through small-scale rotating savings and credit associations. Other associations have a national membership base. Associations further vary in their relationship to the state. Some are formally recognized, and others are informal. Whereas some groups receive state financing, others depend solely on the contributions of its members, and many fall in the middle of the spectrum. Women have also forged intra-regional, pan-African, and global networks of individuals and organizations. It is not uncommon for a woman to belong to multiple kinds of associations simultaneously and for her memberships to vary over her lifetime. The associations and organizations that women have spearheaded rise and fall, consolidate and fragment, and succeed and fail in achieving their aims, reflecting local, national, and international contradictions and dynamics. The power of women-led organizations has changed over time. Women-led organizations registered economic revolutions, political upheavals, and religious conversion on the continent before the advent of European colonization, under European rule, and in postcolonial Africa.


Women in Beauty Culture and Aesthetic Rituals  

Oluwakemi Balogun

Women and their bodies have figured prominently in beauty cultures and aesthetic rituals throughout Africa, and they are tied to specific symbolic practices, political contexts, and economic circumstances. Diverse beauty practices in Africa provide valuable insight into understanding shifting cultural logics and social structures. Beauty practices and aesthetic rituals are socially contingent and hold multiple meanings depending on the historical context that they emerge from. Moreover, women’s aesthetic choices are often heavily politicized within broader local, national, and global tensions. Specific beauty rituals illuminate the social contexts of varied communities and are often connected to rites of passage that signal maturity, fertility, and status. Beauty both reflects and constitutes social values, power differentials, and personal agency.


Women in Benin  

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.


Women in Burundi  

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.


Women in Cameroon  

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.


Women in Cape Verde  

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.


Women in Central African History  

Gertrude Mianda

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.


Women in Chad  

Eline Rosenhart and Germaine Remadji Guidimbaye

Chad, a landlocked state in the heart of Africa, encompasses an area of 495,755 square miles (1,284,000 km2) and contains a population of 15 million people, with an estimated 180 different people groups. Women have played an important role in Chad’s history and society. In the precolonial period (16th century–1900), Chadian women played an essential part in the physical labor activities that provided for the livelihood of the community, yet the majority of women held limited decision-making power. In the courts of precolonial kingdoms, however, certain women of high rank held important political functions. During the period of French colonial rule (1900–1960), no significant effort was made to promote the status of women. Moreover, certain colonial policies geared toward generating revenue inflicted disproportionally heavy burdens on Chadian women. Education for women in colonial schools was an exception rather than a rule. Nevertheless, a small number of women were able to take advantage of the opportunities they did receive to carve out a space for themselves and become leaders in independent Chad (1960– ). Those belonging to the dominant political party mostly aimed their attention at improving women’s rights, while others in the opposition focused on the larger battles against colonialism, authoritarianism, nepotism, and the blatant disregard for human rights in Chad. In early 21st-century Chad, women are still underrepresented in all spheres of public life. Sexual and gender-based violence against women has become commonplace, contributing to the mounting gender inequality that continues to pervade and shape Chad.


Women in Comoros  

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.


Women in Congo-Brazzaville  

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.


Women in Côte d’Ivoire  

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.


Women in Djibouti  

Amina Saïd Chiré

Social changes in Djibouti—from prehistoric times, through the colonial era, and into independence—have repercussions on the status of women. Despite the willingness of Djiboutian authorities and the efforts they have made, the economic and political promotion of women in the Republic of Djibouti has produced mixed results. The cultural context of Djibouti, dominated by patriarchal values, explains the top-down nature of policies designed to promote women, their poor economic and political underpinnings, the profile of women called upon to show female political leadership, and the structural and situational constraints at the root of women’s limited political engagement. Knowledge of the general cultural and historical context is necessary to understand this history. A qualitative analysis of public policies designed to empower Djiboutian women in the 21st century measures the progress made and identify the obstacles encountered.


Women in Equatorial Guinea  

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.


Women in Eritrea  

Milena Belloni

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.


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.