Show Summary Details

Page of

Printed from Oxford Research Encyclopedias, African History. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a single article for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 19 October 2021

Women in Gabonfree

Women in Gabonfree

  • Claire H. GriffithsClaire H. GriffithsDepartment of Modern Languages, University of Chester

Summary

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.

Subjects

  • Central Africa
  • Political History
  • Social History
  • Women’s History

A Historical Profile of Gabon from Precolony to Postcolony

Densely forested, and highly urbanized, Gabon constitutes a unique case study through which to reveal the complexities and challenges that face researchers seeking to expand and deepen knowledge on women in Africa.

Over fifty African languages are in use among the fifty-three recorded ethnic groups in a population numbering just under 2.2 million. Although four in every ten Gabonese share an ethnic identity, no single language group has succeeded in dominating effectively in this relatively small country, with the result that the colonial language, French, has bequeathed to this equatorial society a degree of cultural homogeneity, at least among the elite and the urban population. This linguistic veil covers a diversity of life experiences among women that historiography is only just beginning to uncover through interdisciplinary research.

Origins

Describing Gabon’s origins, historians refer to the area that accommodates modern day Gabon as home to small prosperous communities contributing to “the celebrated equatorial tradition,” a set of cultural norms and practices that evolved over four millennia creating relatively open meritocratic societies not prone to centralization and autocracy. “Gabon’s ‘egalitarian and open societies,’ to borrow from James Fernandez’s description, lived in large villages of several clans and families (or lineages) ranked by prominence and seniority.”1

The region known as Estuaire, or estuary, is the most populous region of Gabon. It was predominantly populated in precolonial times by the Mpongwè, the one patrilineal group among the six groups that make up the matrilineal Myèné.2 The largest ethnic group in Gabon, the Fang, are believed to have migrated south from Cameroon from the 1600s, and began appearing in European records of the estuary region in the early 1800s. By the 21st century, almost 40 percent of Gabonese identified as Fang.

The first European groups appeared in the late 15th century. Portuguese traders are credited with naming the nation after the Portuguese term for a hooded cloak, gabão from the Arabic qabâ, evoked by the shape of this estuary that would become known in Europe as one of the safest harbors in the Gulf of Guinea.3

Trading, Slaving, and Settlement

From the 1500s, Gabon’s engagement in international trade, including slaving, was managed along this part of the Atlantic coast by the increasingly prosperous estuary Mpongwè, in collaboration with European partners. Trading with these Europeans became the responsibility of men in the Mpongwè merchant families. Following the Portuguese came Dutch, British, and German companies. Commerce was eventually monopolized by the French in the aftermath of the abolition of slavery in the French colonies in 1848.

Settlement by the French began in the 1830s through the acquisition of land treaties signed with the Mpongwè chiefs Denis and Glass, who ceded land that would provide the base for French colonization. Building began in the 1840s, with a focus on establishing dominance over France’s European competitors in the estuary.4 A military base, Fort d’Aumale, housed the first contingent of navy personnel stationed in the embryonic equatorial colony. As a commercial venture, the outpost was underfunded and understaffed, and by the early 1880s the enterprise had been declared bankrupt.

From 1885, French troops began what was known throughout French Africa as la conquête. It took over four decades of sustained military action to crush local resistance to foreign occupation. In a misdirected effort to make the colony “pay its way,” taxation followed but as this largely preceded wide-scale wage labor, local people were unable to pay colonial taxes. Instead, they had to pay through la corvée, physical labor that lasted for at least a week a year, and often more. As a rule, women were not forced to provide hard manual labor, but they were expected to provide food for their menfolk in the work gangs.5

From Concessions to Colonization

Still failing to make the colony pay its way, from 1899 to 1910 the French state handed over the running of Gabon to private concessionary companies. The people of Gabon were subjected to a brutalizing regime that typified the European concessionary system across Africa at the turn of the 20th century. The appalling abuses of workers, their wives, and families by the European concession agents in Gabon generated a scandal in France. The French state intervened and, in 1910, the colony of Gabon became part of the new Federation of French Equatorial Africa, known as l’AfriqueÉquatoriale française. The 1920s and 30s were characterized by a growing colonial economy around the exploitation of tropical wood, notably okoumé.6 Colonial industry typically separated men from women, and in gendering the workforce, it passed economic power into the hands of the colonizer and the bulk of wages into the hands of men.

The fortunes of Gabon changed after 1946. Following the leadership of Felix Éboué, then the governor of Chad, French Equatorial Africa sided with the Free French during World War II, earning the undying gratitude of France’s first postwar leader, Charles de Gaulle. With increased funding and resources, education developed and in the late 1940s and 1950s, a Black male political elite schooled in French language and culture led the independence movement in Gabon. The country became an autonomous member of the French Community in 1958, and following De Gaulle’s return to power that year, gained independence in August 1960. At this point it was believed that barely 5 percent of the female population had achieved functional literacy.7

Women and Education

Across French Africa secular state-funded schooling for girls came later than for African boys. However, Catholic education for girls arrived in Gabon at the very beginnings of the colony. While an American Protestant mission was dispensing primary education to boys from 1842, Catholic nuns from the order of the Blue Sisters arrived and opened a girls’ school two years later.8 Pupils were drawn mostly from wealthy Mpongwè estuary families and numbered barely three dozen in the 19th century. By the 1920s, it is estimated that no more than sixty local girls were attending school, and then only intermittently as the regime of corporal punishment and labor included in the daily curriculum were unsurprisingly unpopular.9

In essence, the nuns were trying to create generations of housewives in the image of the French monogamous Catholic household. Both men and women of the estuary had a different experience of and expectations of family life.

Women and Marriage

Documentation and evidence on the roles and statuses of women in the early precolonial era are rare. What sources there are tend to concur that girls living in the region that would become Gabon enjoyed a high degree of sexual freedom, and engaged in sexual relationships of their choice up to the point where they entered a marriage contract.10

Sources then diverge on the degree of freedom a bride would exercise in the choice of partner. In Conjugal Rights in Colonial Libreville, the most extensive study of marriage and sexuality to date, Rachel Jean-Baptiste notes that some sources confirm that the bride’s consent was necessary while others contradict this. Denise Paulme in her introduction to Women in Tropical Africa pointed to the same confusion. She alluded to “fondly held masculine myths” that characterize an African woman as a beast of burden, or a domestic and sexual slave to a despotic polygynous husband-master. Her edited collection of essays provided ample evidence to the contrary.11

Female Agency

While scholarship has confirmed the predominance of the polygynous wealthy male at the center of the Mpongwè extended family, the degree of sexual autonomy experienced by the wives of the powerful male figureheads at the center of West Central African villages is not sufficiently researched to provide conclusive findings.12 Scholars still draw on writings of adventurers and explorers such as Paul du Chaillu, whose representations of African marital arrangements and social life in general were written more to confirm the expectations of his 19th-century readership than to represent the complexities of equatorial societies at the time.13 This is the era of former naval officer Pierre Loti’s rise to fame and fortune from the sale of steamy stories of exotic women of the empire. The issue of sexual availability of African girls and women, particularly to white men, remained present in scholarship throughout the 20th century. K. David Patterson (citing male-authored 19th-century sources) is one among many to draw readers’ attention to the Mpongwè “custom” of offering sexual access to females in the family as a mark of hospitality. The role of women in this custom, if indeed custom it was and not a reaction to expectations, is not explored. Nor is the degree to which it served as a response to the sexual activities observed among European males in Africa. Indeed, the dynamics of polygynous arrangements in precolonial society, and female status and power generally within and outside of marriage, gave rise to highly varying extremist accounts. On the one hand, women are presented as an abject underclass, while on the other we have Queen Shinga, who ruled the region in the mid-17th century, and reputedly kept at least fifty lovers at any one time, though she pales into insignificance against the record of Queen Tembandumba of the Jaga. What is more credible and soberly reported is girls’ agency in testing the compatibility of a sexual partner before committing to marriage, and once married, wives taking a lover is widely acknowledged. In some male accounts, it is argued that women would only be allowed to do this subject to the husband’s permission and in exchange for material compensation being paid by the lover to the husband. Again, what conditions would determine the “permission” and compensation, and what gender dynamics governed intimate decision-making in polygynous households are unexplored.

Although scholarship remains sparse in this area, marriage conditions for men and women change as European settlement advanced. Traditional modes of sexual economy and exchange were disrupted first by the introduction of European trade, generating materials and goods not previously accessible in the region. This was followed by the introduction of colonial industry, wage labor, and monetization that resulted in escalating costs of bride wealth, making it increasingly difficult for young men to marry within their communities.

Marriage and Divorce

Exploring the marital careers of African women in the first decades of the colony, Jean-Baptiste mined multiple documentary sources, including many in Gabon, to unveil hitherto unknown documentation of female experience: “[C]ivil and criminal colonial court records housed at Gabon’s national archives are a particularly precious body of sources that allow a view into interior recesses of Gabonese households.”14 The sheer volume of documentary evidence she unearths attests to women making frequent and strategic use of the courts to resolve domestic disputes. Indeed, such was their recourse to the law that at times demand exceeded the capacity of the colonial courts to hear cases.15

The use of French imperial structures to channel female demands is a reflection of both the changing nature of marriage and the changing status of women in the colony. Early encounters between African women and European traders tended to exclude high status women, and records suggest that the deployment of female slaves for sex was part of the trading currency used by Mpongwè merchants in their dealings with European men.16 Once European men started to settle after 1840, sexual relationships between wealthy Mpongwè women and white incomers became widespread. Indeed, in the latter years of the 19th century, the colony acquired for some observers the moniker of a “black Babylon.”17

Marriage, divorce, and sexuality in postcolonial Gabon can be traced more systematically, though in many respects only indicatively, through the gathering of data that accelerated in the postcolonial period. It is notable that the incidence of marriage is lower in Gabon than in the other former colonies of France that came under the proselytizing influence of the Catholic Church. This apparent disinclination to enter into unions sanctioned by the Church or the state has been attributed to the growing economic independence afforded some sections of the Gabonese female population in the latter decades of the 20th century and into the current century. Most of those women now living economically independent lives are part of Gabon’s ever increasing urban population, where they have played a central and critical role since the founding of cities in Gabon.

Women and Urban Society

In common with many countries across the Global South a sharp distinction has emerged between the lifestyles of urbanites compared with their rural counterparts, and nowhere is this difference more sharply delineated than in Gabon where over 90 percent of the population was residing in urban environments by 2020.

The majority of these city-dwellers are residents of the capital city, Libreville, a city founded by Europeans in the mid-19th century. The town was named after its first settled population, former slaves liberated from the slaveship Elizia (or Ilizia) which had been intercepted by the French on its way to Brazil in 1846. The slave cargo of some 262 men, women, and children were initially transported up the Atlantic coast to Dakar where they spent three years awaiting their final destination. Fifty-two of them, including twenty-three women, were then transported back to West Central Africa to settle in the first French “free town.”

Far from settling into their new lives, half of the male former slaves rebelled and launched violent attacks on local residents, including kidnapping women from villages along the estuary. The men were dissatisfied with their prescribed lot. Jean-Baptiste describes them as “poor men . . . who had limited means . . . and lacked social capital” necessary to marry locally. She claims that if “the men remained unmarried, they would be perpetual minors and socially dead, failing to establish adulthood and manhood.”18 The sense of social crisis these men were articulating resonated with the social mores of a French Catholic community of the mid-19th century. Indeed, the French responded to the “urgency” of by enabling marriages to take place as a means of avoiding the “danger” of extramarital liaisons among the freed slave population. Mass marriage ceremonies subsequently took place presided over by the Catholic missionaries.19

While on the surface it appeared that the French authorities had listened to the rebels and found a workable solution to what these men were expressing as a social emergency, in practice most of the rebels perished in skirmishes with French troops. In the longer term, the French intervention laid the foundations for conservative Catholic norms to shape sexual and domestic relationships from that time onwards. Unsurprisingly “[w]ritten records are silent as to the actions and subjectivities of the women who were historical actors in these events at the town’s emergence.”20

Urban Society as a Site of Opportunity for Women

Records began to provide more demographic detail as the colony took root in the first decades of the 20th century. By the 1920s, Libreville was being described by some as “a city of women,” with an urban population ratio averaging ten women for every eight men.21 This was in stark contrast to the white population of Libreville, where in the early 20th century European men outnumbered European women by four to one.22 It has been shown that “life in Libreville afforded many women opportunities for social mobility, pleasure and self-expression . . . Women in Libreville were not homogenous, but differentiated by ethnicity, access to education, conjugal status, legal standing, generation, and wealth.”23

The urbanization of the colony continued throughout the 20th century. Urbanization is of central importance to the story of women and gender justice across Francophone Africa. Recent research confirms how higher levels of urbanization equate with unprecedented access to education and literacy for girls and young women. As discussed in the “Women in the Colonial Workforce” section, education is a critical vector through which girls and women have increased control over their personal and public lives. In addition to enhanced educational infrastructure, social and cultural benefits of economic development are also typically concentrated in the urban areas.24

Figure 1. Rapid rise in urbanization in post-independence Gabon.

Our knowledge of the evolution of urban society in Gabon is incomplete as a result of the destruction of the municipal archives sometime before the 1960s.25 In the middle and last decades of the 20th century, data collection on the urban population gathered pace as Gabon became increasingly urbanized (see figure 1).

By 1960, Gabon had a population a shade over half a million residents, with only 17 percent living in urbanized areas. By 2005, the population had doubled and the rural population had fallen to 17 percent of the total population. The percentage of those living in the rural areas had now dropped to below one in ten inhabitants. In addition to the socioeconomic impacts, this development has particular significance for the female workforce in Gabon. The type of modernization that has occurred in the country in the course of the 20th century has provided job opportunities for women within the export-driven economy, as discussed in the “Women and Work” section.

Women and Work

In all recorded history, it is clear that African societies have been very diverse and this has direct implications on how work is distributed and executed in the various conditions existing in subsistence economies. Some women in this region of equatorial Africa were taking responsibility for the survival of the group in terms of food production, both for the village and the family. Records suggest that unlike their menfolk, Mpongwè women did not play an active role in early trading encounters with Europeans. In Fang communities, women were engaged minimally in trading activities; they bartered surplus agricultural produce against imported manufactures.

The arrival of European settlement in Gabon coincided with catastrophic epidemics along the coast. In the first two decades of French settlement, the local population shrank by half. Contemporary French accounts from civil and church authorities sought to explain the phenomenon as resulting from the depraved and decadent lifestyles of the Mpongwè, and particularly “loose” Mpongwè women living “in sin” with multiple partners in the city of Libreville.26 In fact, European men and local women set up many households jointly, and some local women sought work as domestic servants in the households of European males. In these cases, if there was an absence of an intimate partner, sexual services could, by agreement, be provided in addition to domestic services. In this way, a female workforce was integral to the evolution of the city from its earliest years.

Women in the Colonial Workforce

African historiography has tended to represent the colonial workforce in Africa as male. This is a misapprehension of a more complex network of gender dynamics that underpinned the allocation of money, decision-making, and power in the workforce, and the categorization of value attributed to the different types of labor colonized men and women were allowed to undertake. There was, without a doubt, a hierarchy of value but this operated at the intersection of multiple factors of discrimination, including gender, race, and class. It could be argued that the hierarchy was defined in relation to local African women who, in this ideology, were constructed as the base of a highly stratified system. The binary opposites of the racial, class, and gender characteristics of a local African woman serve to define progression “up” the hierarchy to its pinnacle occupied by her ultimate “opposite”: the European, upper-class male, embodied in the colony by the governor.

Colonial normative constructions of the “African woman” that shaped the colonial class system also determined her monetary value and place in the colonial workforce. As the 19th century progressed, colonial educational curricula adapted female education to the labor demands of colonial settler society. A bifurcation of educational targets emerged training girls in domestic skills, while boys were encouraged to focus on academic achievement. In Gabon, the gendering of the colonial labor force intensified from the late 1800s and particularly in the first two decades of colonial rule, when the exploitation of tropical hard wood, okoumé, became the major export activity.

While whole families, including women and adolescents, were productively engaged in the first decade of the okoumé boom, in the second decade, from 1910 to 1920, Europeans increasingly took control of this lucrative trade under colonization. The industry workforce became increasingly male, with workers selected for their physical capacity for hard labor in these equatorial humid climes. The gendering of the wage labor force also served to reinforce colonial gender norms that concentrated financial power into the hands of males.

As colonial wage labor grew, subsistence farming lost status in the hierarchy of employment opportunities, and drew men away from traditional agricultural roles. The impact on the Fang was particularly marked. Traditional Fang communities relied on collaborative work practices: men cleared forests, defended settlements, and looked after livestock as women focused on food production and preparation.27

For African women living in the colony, the monetized economy presented challenges as it drew men away not only from agriculture but also from collaborative practices and cultures in general. The colonial regime intensified these tensions from 1910, extending the poll tax to all adult women. The tax could only be paid in currency.28

The punitive taxes imposed by the colonial administration in an effort to meet its financial deficit impoverished an already vulnerable population. The outbreak of World War I had a catastrophic impact on the fortunes of the colony and its inhabitants. Unable to trade with its major commercial partner, Germany, the economy stalled, production crashed, and famine ensued. The colonial economy picked up in the interwar era, but then stalled again as World War II placed the colony in opposition to the Vichy regime now in office in the imperial fatherland. It had to wait until 1946 to see investment and growth return to its industries.

Developing a Postcolonial Workforce

Throughout the postcolonial era Gabon has been operating an export-driven modern economy based on petroleum, wood, uranium, manganese, and other minerals and ores. It exports to developed nations, notably to the United States, and to its former colonial power, France. Independence in 1960 would see changes in the economic landscape, with sectors passing into the hands of joint French-Gabonese consortia, but with France retaining a majority interest and in some cases ownership of key industries. The French-owned Franceville uranium mines company, founded in 1958, produced over 25,000 tons of uranium before the mines were declared exhausted and closed in 1999.29 By this time, France had developed its nuclear energy industry and a nuclear military task force. As a result, 1960 to 1985 was a period of almost uninterrupted boom which served, in the eyes of many critics and observers, to create a billionaire political elite that neglected to provide the population with access to the social goods expected of a middle-income country.30

The boom was brought to an end when the price of crude oil fell in the mid-1980s, pushing the Gabonese economy into decline. During this period, businesses went bankrupt, unemployment rose, and the IMF intervened with a structural adjustment program that included cuts in social spending. This period of downturn had a particularly detrimental impact on the female workforce who not only lost paid employment but also had to step in and fill the gaps in social and family care.

In Gabon only 8.8 percent of the labor force is normally engaged in family work, the majority (over 60 percent) being employed in the small business sector. By the 21st century, Gabon’s state administration was employing a quarter of the workforce, and multinationals a further 15 percent.31 Within the last two sectors, average earnings have been high by African standards; indeed, average female earnings in Gabon exceeded $8,000 (at purchasing power parity, PPP) before the 2008 financial crisis.32 While male earnings recovered after the crash, in 2018 the UN human development program office reported a gender gap almost unprecedented in Africa, with Gross National Income per capita standing at PPP$20,825 for men but only reaching PPP$11,789 for women. Gabonese women still face considerable challenges as they seek to establish parity in the home and at work.

Women and Politics

En Afrique francophone en particulier, la visibilité des femmes en politique reste réduite alors que celle-ci s’est confirmée en Afrique anglophone. Pour prendre l’exemple du Gabon, l’accès au Gouvernement ou au Parlement relève encore d’un exploit pour une femme.33

Women’s access to roles in national politics in the Global South rose up the international development agenda after the first UN women’s summit in Mexico in 1975. By the early 1990s, governments were being required to report regularly on women’s representation in politics. The visibility of the issue reached a high point in the run up to the last of the UN global women’s summits held in Beijing in 1995.

In Gabon, as in many African states, women’s associations that emerged in the independence movements were assimilated into the ruling party apparatus after independence. Having been thus absorbed, the centralized state could then control their agenda. This was the case in Gabon when, under increasing pressure from the international development community, the Gabonese government announced it would hold a national forum on women’s affairs. This took place in 1992. Summarizing the government’s contribution to improving women’s rights since independence, the director general of the Bureau for Human Rights and Women’s Affairs pointed to progress being hampered by a lack of provincial highways in Gabon and an absence of studies on the matter.34

A proliferation of women’s associations appeared on the political scene, but the forum achieved few tangible benefits for women. In one sense, it provided a platform for one special interest group to neutralize another. The radical groups presented long lists of complaints while other conservative Catholic organizations used the occasion to proselytize for new members.35 The forum report concludes with a poem signed by a twenty-four-year-old, Justine Mintsa-mi-Eya. This extraordinary work castigates the sexism that defiles her society, one where schoolgirls are made pregnant by their male teachers, and male employers sack pregnant workers. It concludes with a call to arms: “Ma sœur, nous lèverons-nous?” [Sister, shall we rise up?]36

By contrast, there were by the early 1990s several government departments, ministerial units, and national centers ostensibly established to undertake “la promotion de la femme.”37 In addition, the percentage of seats held by women in the National Assembly of Gabon was relatively high at 13.3 percent.38 This fell dramatically after 1990, to 6.5 percent by 2000.39 The sudden drop in female representation in the National Assembly coincided with the end of monopartism. The ruling party, Parti Démocratique Gabonais (PDG), in power since 1960, had established a women’s section in 1975 from which it had selected representatives. Women were appointed to various administrative and political offices by the ruling party. This clientelist system was temporarily disrupted by the entry of new parties into the political arena in 1990. A majority of these political parties then regrouped around the PDG effectively recreating the presidential majority and recovering the status quo.40 After that, the numbers of women increased once again in the early decades of the 21st century. Indeed, female representation quadrupled in the highest echelons of government. It provides a telling example of why research that relies too heavily on numeric data alone can lead to erroneous conclusions. This increase in female representation did not coincide with greater democratization or regime change.41 Throughout the postcolonial era, political power in Gabon remained centralized and regulated by strong executive control. Although President Omar Bongo Ondimba, who ruled from 1967 to his death in 2009, was not noted for his efforts to promote gender equality, he nevertheless appointed women to high office from among his close associates and kin. The presidency of the Constitutional Court, established in 1992, is a commonly cited example. The female lawyer appointed to the post had had children with the president.42 She was also a highly qualified lawyer with a feminist agenda.43 Four years later, another political ally, also a woman, was serving both as minister for education and as spokesperson for the Gabonese government, and in February 2008 a woman held the office of president of the upper chamber for the term 2008 to 2014.44 When the new government was formed in June 2009, following the death in office of the president, the Constitution required the interim presidency be assumed by the leader of the Upper House. This ensured an uneventful transition to Madame Rose Francine Rogombe, a longtime political supporter of President Bongo who had served in the women’s section of the PDG and then as a junior minister for the promotion of women and human rights. Rogombe covered the vacancy until the end of August 2009, when a highly contested presidential election confirmed the former head of state’s son, Ali Bongo Ondimba, as the next president.

The growth in the political representation of women in parliament has stagnated since 2007, and the appointment of women to high office in the state administration failed to bring perceptible change to the political culture. Observers even noted a decline in female participation and activism in Gabon: “Depuis quelques années, nous remarquons un relâchement de l’action des organisations féminines gabonaises.”45 Table 1 indicates Gabon’s position relative to other Francophone African countries as regards to formal political representation in parliament.

Table 1. Parliamentary Seats Held by Women in Francophone West and Central African Countries.

Global IPU ranking

Country

Year of last parliamentary elections

Total number of seats in parliament*

Number of seats* held by women

Percentage of seats held by women

1

Rwanda

2018

80

49

61.3

15

Senegal

2017

165

71

43

38

Cameroon

2020

180

61

33.9

61

Mali

2020

147

41

27.9

104

Mauritania

2018

153

31

20.3

118

Togo

2018

91

17

18.7

125

Niger

2016

171

29

17

132

Guinea

2020

114

19

16.7

135

Chad

2011

162

25

15.4

140

Gabon

2018

142

21

14.8

148

Burkina Faso

2015

127

17

13.4

159

Cote d’Ivoire

2016

255

29

11.4

160

Congo

2017

151

17

11.3

173

Central African Republic

2016

140

12

8.6

176

Benin

2019

83

6

7.2

Note: ‡ IPU highest-ranked country included for comparison

* or in the lower house of a bicameral parliament

percentages rounded up and down to one decimal point

Source: The Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) “Women in Parliament” database, October 2020.

Though political activism on the streets and in the public media has been relatively rare, women’s voices have been articulating demands for change and greater equality through writing. Most recently, this has been witnessed in campaigns on private social media, but this textual voicing of dissent dates back decades. Women writers began publishing their work in the years following independence.46 This amplified with the arrival in the 1980s of a generation of feminist writers.

Women and Literature

While documentary research on women in Gabon faltered in the 20th century, there has been a massive growth in interest in and publishing on African literature written in French, resulting in a wealth of material on women writers. These women are almost invariably from elite and educated classes, but many have used their pens to engage with sexism in their communities. Angèle Rawiri, Justine Mintsa, Sylvie Ntsame, Chantal Magalie Mbazoo-Kassa, and Honorine Ngou are among a generation of writers who engage directly and unflinchingly with the social challenges women have inherited in contemporary Gabon.47

A number of women-centered themes have emerged in their writings, including teenage pregnancy as a metaphor for social and familial disintegration in a rapidly modernizing society. This theme serves as a central story line in Justine Mintsa’s short novel Histoire d’Awu where the expulsion of a pregnant twelve-year-old, Ada, from her family home exposes the fallibility of some of the mythic narratives underlying colonial literature of Africa.48 It also engages with the mythic status of Western medicine, specifically in the context of maternal and infant health care:

While the mere suggestion that a village birth is safer and more desired in Gabon than a hospital birth may seem shocking to Western ears, this is precisely an example of a conclusion that Mintsa hopes to challenge by infusing oral narratives into her novel.49

Same-sex desire is another theme explored in fiction while absent from social discourse and published scientific enquiry, as Jean-Baptiste attests: “I mined documentary sources for and asked interviewees about same-sex desire. Informants vehemently denied same-sex desire as manifesting in Gabon; nor could I find traces of homosocial sexualities in colonial reports.”50 First among the women writers to admit the existence of homosexuality in Gabon was Angèle Rawiri (1954–2010), who broke the taboo around this subject in her third novel Fureurs et cris de femmes published in Paris in 1989.51 Notwithstanding the occasional foray into lesbianism, the dominant theme in this body of writing explores the tensions that beset relations between men and women in Gabon. Indeed, one of the most enduring themes in the literature is domestic violence against women. University professor and novelist Honorine Ngou is particularly known for her studies of male violence against women, explored both in fiction and nonfictional accounts.52

Domestic violence, along with maternal mortality, remains among the greatest threats to women’s health and well-being in Gabon.

Women and Health

While life expectancy is not recorded in precolonial Gabon, and no sustained enquiry was maintained during the colonial era, like most of Francophone West Africa, Gabon has seen a steady rise in life expectancy for women throughout the 20th century. However, that steady increase stalled in the 1990s. The average life expectancy of a Gabonese women rose from fifty-four to fifty-six years in the early 1990s, but dropped in the last years of the century as the impact the HIV/AIDS pandemic hit this equatorial country.53

Although the disease spread rapidly in most of sub-Saharan Africa since it was identified there in the 1980s, West Africa was largely spared the devastating impact on women’s lives seen in East Africa and throughout the southern regions. However, Gabon, like its neighbors in Central Africa, registered levels of infection many times higher than that of the least affected countries.54 By the end of the 1990s, it was estimated that around 10 percent of the Gabonese population were infected.55 The primary source of infection in Africa was through heterosexual sex. The most vulnerable to infection were female professional sex workers, and the female partners of men who maintained multiple sexual relationships throughout the pandemic. Over 60 percent of people living with HIV/AIDS in Gabon are women (around twenty-seven thousand).56 UN sources revealed that in Gabon the highest incidence of infection was identified in the population of young women aged fifteen to twenty-nine.57

Maternal Mortality

While the rate of increase of HIV/AIDS cases in Gabon slowed in the first decade of the 21st century, the specific health risks faced by women continue to give cause for concern, notably maternal mortality. Maternal mortality rates are particularly revealing of quality of life in a middle-income, modernizing economy and not difficult to trace in a female population of just over one million.58 Deaths in childbirth were estimated at five hundred per one hundred thousand live births in 1990.59 By the end of the decade, the reported rate was four hundred deaths.60 By 2020, the rate dropped below three hundred but is notably high for a middle-income country with a small, highly urbanized population.

One of the prime stated objectives of the French colonial medical service in Africa was to tackle the high maternal and infant mortality rates across these regions.61 The health service was introduced in the years leading up to the Second World War. In common with all aspects of life in colonial Gabon, the war years saw hardship and a scarcity of goods and services. The services built up again in the aftermath of war when Gabon was both trading with industrialized nations again and receiving funding from the French government.

The ways colonial health services tackled women’s health issues were passed on to postcolonial regimes in Francophone Africa; with its focus on medicalized infant and maternal health care, Gabon has invested extensively in this area.62 Health personnel in Gabon attend nine out of ten births. However, maternal mortality exists at the intersection of multiple factors including the issue of child marriage. Currently 22 percent of young married women, aged under twenty-four, are reportedly married before their eighteenth birthday.63 Early motherhood presents significant medical challenges for the health services and the well-being of women.

Conclusions

The impact of marriage on education and life chances both today and in its historical context feature among a number of areas that require further research. Of pressing concern to current researchers is the exceptionally high number of assaults on women and girls committed by an intimate partner. Half the adult female population has experienced domestic physical abuse according to current UN data.64 The UN human rights office reported in 2015 that

[r]epresentatives of civil society organizations from Gabon expressed concerns about persistent gender-based discrimination in laws and practice, gender-based violence, and access to justice for women. Women in Gabon undertook 95 per cent of farm work and yet there were persistent legal barriers for women in realizing their equal rights to land and property.65

The report’s signatories concluded that while the Civil Code continues to attribute the status of head of household to the husband and domestic law includes discriminatory provisions, particularly regarding inheritance, those barriers to equal rights remain.

Given the gaps that persist in the historiography of women in Gabon, along with the absence of scholarship on their statuses in relation to men and in society now and throughout the making of modern Gabon, these questions will continue, at least in the immediate future, to present important and challenging fields of enquiry for researchers of women in Gabon.66

Discussion of the Literature

Historians of Africa frequently encounter lacunae in the search for textual sources. Scholars of central and equatorial Africa writing on Gabon have faced significant challenges in retrieving the period before the start of colonial record-keeping in the 1840s.67 Writing in 2019, French historian Florence Bernault cautions in a section entitled “Writing through Gaps and Knots” that “[h]istorians of Africa, like others, need to work through gaps and holes, tenuous evidence, and the fierce elusiveness of the past.”68 She also notes that colonial binaries continue to undermine such efforts and thwart the need to obviate the colonial racial separations between Europe and Africa in the realm of the imaginary: “historians sometimes forget to criticize the dichotomies enforced by colonial racism.”69

For those retrieving the history of women, the colonial dichotomy of gender creates perhaps an even greater barrier intersecting as it does with race. It permeates not only the historical archive, but also a large part of contemporary historiography. What Anne Hugon bemoaned earlier this century as “l’absence de réelle légitimation de l’histoire des femmes et du genre dans la discipline académique” persists.70 Writing in 2014, Rachel Jean-Baptiste notes “[r]esearch on women’s history in Francophone Africa, published in English or French, remains embryonic.”71

Research and data on women emanating from Gabon in the post-independence era has been relatively rare and intermittent in comparison to far less well-endowed countries in the region. Up to the 1990s, there was an acknowledged lack of information.72 In-country research in the late 1990s revealed that despite its considerable resources to fund advanced-level research, the Gabonese state had still not sponsored any governmental reports or studies on the subject of women’s social and political history or the gendered experience of life in modern Gabon since independence from France in 1960.73 Independently, the universities in Gabon have contributed a small number of academic theses on topics related to women and gender but, as is so often the case with quality gender research produced in the Global South, particularly in the pre-internet era, it remains largely unpublished and inaccessible to the international academic community.

Researchers studying the history of women in Africa generally have witnessed a growing body of information since the late 1980s. The impulse has been twofold: from the academy, which has nurtured a flourishing in women’s studies from the late 1970s and gender studies from the late 1980s, and from the international development community. The incursion of gender studies into the French-speaking parts of Africa has been less marked than in the English-speaking areas. As a result, there has been a far greater reliance on gender-related documentation produced by the international development community in these regions.

In Gabon this was reflected in activities and research undertaken by a few bilateral missions, with the bulk of printed output being international agency-led and funded.74 The results have been quantitative reports that are strong on statistics and on the whole weak on historical context, theorization, and cultural interpretation.75 The lack of sustained local gender and development research over time, and the lack of internationally accessible quantitative and qualitative information makes Gabon a uniquely under-reported nation compared with its statistical infrastructure and potential for supporting scholarship in the field.76 Women’s creative writing, on the other hand, remains a rich and largely untapped mine of information for both social scientific and historical research.

Primary Sources

Archives Nationales de Gabon, Libreville, Gabon.

Archives de la Maison Mère des Sœurs de Notre-Dame de l’Immaculée Conception de Castres (Sœurs Bleues), Libreville, Gabon.

Centre d’Archives d’Outre-Mer (CAOM), Aix-en-Provence, France.

The CAOM’s modus operandi and in its classification and retrieval systems at its headquarters in Aix-en-Provence will appear to some redolent of an earlier colonial era. The center has to date provided digital access to very few primary written sources on our subject. By contrast, there are several visual dossiers presenting colonial life through the medium of European colonial images. One entitled “Femmes parées” presents a series of photographs of anonymous non-European women of the colonies in their vestimentary finery. A similar “dossier” presents stereotypical cartoon images from the 1940s of colonized women. Notwithstanding, CAOM provides access to the most comprehensive set of French colonial records in one location.

Further Reading

  • Bernault, Florence. “Suitcases and the Poetics of Oddities: Writing History from Disorderly Archives.” History in Africa 42 (2015): 269–277.
  • Coquery-Vidrovitch, Catherine, ed. Femmes d’Afrique. Paris: Broché, 1998.
  • Goerg, Odile, ed. Perspectives historiques sur le genre en Afrique. Paris: L’Harmattan, 2007.
  • Griffiths, Claire H. “Gabon: Beyond the Data Profile.” In Globalizing the Postcolony: Contesting Discourses of Gender and Development in Francophone Africa. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2011.
  • Imam, Ayesha, Amina Mama, and Fatou Sow, eds. Genre, sexe et société. Paris: Karthala, 2004.
  • Ngou, Honorine. Féminin interdit. Paris: L’Harmattan, 2007.

Notes

  • 1. Florence Bernault, Colonial Transactions: Imaginaries, Bodies, and Histories in Gabon (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2019), 12–14. See also Bernault’s compelling study of mid-century Gabon, Démocraties ambigües en Afrique centrale: Congo-Brazzaville, Gabon, 1940–1965 (Paris: Karthala, 1996).

  • 2. There is debate about whether Mpongwè were originally matrilineal and became patrilineal from external cultural forces or marrying into cattle farming families (see Clare Janaki Holden and Ruth Mace, “Spread of Cattle Led to the Loss of Matrilineal Descent in Africa: A Co-Evolutionary Analysis,” The Proceedings of the Royal Society B 270, no. 1532 (December 2003): 2427).

  • 3. James F. Barnes, Gabon: Beyond the Colonial Legacy (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1992), 8.

  • 4. See Christopher John Gray, Colonial Rule and Crisis in Equatorial Africa: Southern Gabon, c. 1850–1940 (Rochester: University of Rochester Press, 2002), for a history of early European settlement.

  • 5. Rachel Jean-Baptiste provides an excellent overview of these beginnings in her introductory chapter to Conjugal Rights: Marriage, Sexuality, and Urban Life Colonial Libreville, Gabon, 1849–1960 (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2014).

  • 6. The okoumè boom faltered in the early 1930s in response to the Great Depression but revived in the mid-1930s, and Gabon remains the world’s primary producer of okoumè used widely for veneer and plywood.

  • 7. Fidèle Ibouili-Nzigou, “Les problèmes posés par l’interférence des systèmes éducatifs au Gabon” (PhD diss., University of Lyon, 1983), 11 (consulted at the National Archives of Gabon, Libreville, Gabon).

  • 8. Jean-Baptiste, Conjugal Rights, Introduction.

  • 9. Claire Helena Griffiths, “Education in Transition in Francophone West Africa,” in Education in Transition: International Perspectives on the Politics and Processes of Change, ed. Rosarii Griffin (Oxford: Symposium Press, 2002), 241.

  • 10. Catherine Coquery-Vidrovitch’s seminal text, Les Africaines, presents a general view of women from this area as wholly subjected to male domination from that point. However, historical evidence from ethnic groups in this region has not been conclusive. See discussion in Claire Helena Griffiths, Globalizing the Postcolony: Contesting Discourses of Gender and Development in Francophone Africa (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2011), 129.

  • 11. Annie M. D. Lebeuf, “The Role of Women in the Political Organization of African Societies,” in Women of Tropical Africa, ed. Denise Paulme (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974), 93–119.

  • 12. Jan Vansina, Paths in the Rainforests: Toward a History of Political Tradition in Equatorial Africa (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1990).

  • 13. Paul du Chaillu joined his trader father in Gabon at the age of seventeen and completed his schooling at the American Mission school at the time that Libreville was just being established. He then engaged in a series of travels leading to his famous pseudoscientific publication on equatorial Africa in 1861. As later scholarship confirmed, Du Chaillu’s methods and findings were of dubious scientific credibility. However, as Stuart McCook has observed: “no other accounts existed by which Du Chaillu’s accounts could be judged” (see Stuart McCook, “It May Be Truth, but It Is Not n’t Evidence,” History of Science Society 11 (1996): 177–197, 192). Savage Africa by Winwood Reade, published in 1864 on Reade’s return from “Gaboon” and equatorial Africa, was conceived as a witness account to test Du Chaillu’s exaggerations. The 455 pages of Reade’s account of his travels in the footsteps of Du Chaillu include tales and interpretations as astonishing, racist and, in relation to his observations on the “negress,” as contradictory as those found in Du Chaillu’s work.

  • 14. Jean-Baptiste, Conjugal Rights, 12.

  • 15. Rachel Jean-Baptiste, “‘The Option of the Judicial Path’: Disputes over Marriage, Divorce, and Extra-Marital Sex in Colonial Courts in Libreville, Gabon (1939–1959),” Cahiers d’Études Africaines 187–188 (2007): 643–670.

  • 16. Willem Bosman, A New and Accurate Account of the Coast of Guinea (London: Cass, 1698), 406, cited in Jean-Baptiste, Conjugal Rights, note 60.

  • 17. Jeremy Rich, “‘Une Babylone Noire’: Interracial Unions in Colonial Libreville, c. 1860–1914,” French Colonial History 4 (2003): 146.

  • 18. Jean-Baptiste, Conjugal Rights, Introduction.

  • 19. Archives Nationales du Sénégal, 6G6, Sénégal et Dépendances, Comptoir du Gabon, Commune de Libreville, Procès verbal d’urgence pour le mariage des noirs de Loango (provenant du négrier de l’Eliza) habitants du village de Libreville au Gabon, October 6, 1849, cited in Jean-Baptiste, Conjugal Rights, Introduction.

  • 20. Jean-Baptiste, Conjugal Rights, 11.

  • 21. Census reports held in the Centre des Archives d’Outre-Mer, AEF/GGAEF: 4 (1) D 28, Rapport Annuel du 1924; 4 (1) D 33, Rapport du Quatrième Trimestre, 1927; 4 (1) D 35, Rapport Annuel du 1929, reproduced by Jean-Baptiste, Conjugal Rights, Figure 2.1, which shows that for the years available (between 1918 and 1927) women outnumbered men in Libreville.

  • 22. Guy Lasserre, Libreville et sa région (Paris: Colin, 1958).

  • 23. Jean-Baptiste, Conjugal Rights, Conclusions, 3.

  • 24. See Claire Helena Griffiths, “Gender and Literacy in Francophone Africa,” Francophone Africa Archive, University of Chester, 2020, focusing on the growth of urbanization and literacy in the former French West African nations during the postcolonial era. Comparable new research on equatorial Africa is underway and findings will be published in the same location.

  • 77. See Claire Helena Griffiths, “Gender and Literacy” for a fuller picture of the relation between urbanisation, gender and access to education and literacy across Francophone sub-Saharan Africa.

  • 25. Catherine Coqury-Vidrovitch’s doctoral thesis director, Hubert Deschamps, reported this gap in archival resources during fieldwork in Libreville in the 1960s.

  • 26. K. David Patterson, “The Vanishing Mpongwè: European Contact and Demographic Change in the Gabon River,” Journal of African History 16, no. 2 (1975): 217–238.

  • 27. Christopher Chamberlin, “The Migration of the Fang into Central Gabon during the Nineteenth Century: A New Interpretation,” International Journal of African Historical Studies 11, no. 3 (1978): 429–456, esp. 432.

  • 28. Bernault, Démocraties ambigües en Afrique centrale, 33.

  • 29. Compagnie des mines d’uranium de Franceville, known as COMUF. Total national uranium production for this period is estimated at approximately 30,000 tons.

  • 30. Several of these were operating in exile especially after the mid-1980s when the opposition experienced a clampdown from the authorities following revelations in the international press of the state’s mismanagement of the nation’s finances. Indeed, in the run-up to the first United Nations Social Development Summit, in 1995, Gabon was revealed as having the worst national income to social-development ratio in the world (see Griffiths, Globalizing the Postcolony, 100).

  • 31. Minette Ntsame Engonga and Jean-Pierre Zima Mefe, Comment appréhender l’emploi au Gabon (Libreville, Gabon: Ministère de la Planification, République du Gabon, 2007), cited in Griffiths, Globalizing the Postcolony, 139.

  • 32. Purchasing power parity (PPP) is a term used in development economics to describe local currency values in relation to the purchasing power of one US dollar.

  • 33. “Unlike Anglophone Africa, few women have been appointed to governmental posts in Francophone Africa. In Gabon, for example, just getting a seat in government or parliament would be a major feat for a woman” (quote from Pierrette Oyane Nzue, “Femmes et participation politique: L’exemple du Gabon,” Communication au Forum Régional du ROFAF, Lomé, Togo, March 23–26, 2009, 1), author’s translation.

  • 34. Rapport General du Forum National, Allocution du Directeur Général des Droits de l’Homme et de la Condition Féminine, République Gabonaise, 1992, 15–16.

  • 35. Rapport General du Forum National, 21–22.

  • 36. Rapport General du Forum National, 125.

  • 37. I came across an example of this during a visit to the government’s Centre de documentation sur la condition feminine in Libreville. The official keeping guard over the facility was there to ensure no one gained access to the collection. When word came down from a senior administrator that the gatekeeper could allow me access, I found it housed back issues of a government-produced glossy magazine, Femmes gabonaises, and documents of rather tangential interest to la condition feminine.

  • 38. Gabon operates a bicameral system modeled on the French National Assembly and Senate.

  • 39. Inter-Parliamentary Union database.

  • 40. These client parties were known as les partis gazelles in Gabon.

  • 41. Omar Bongo Ondimba (OBO) acceded to the presidency as Albert Bongo in 1967. He ruled unopposed until 1990. Pressure from within and from France led to the introduction of multiparty elections. OBO stood for what would be his final term in office in December 2007 and died in Spain of cardiac arrest in June 2009 having ruled Gabon for forty-two years.

  • 42. Marie-Madeleine Mborountsou, known familiarly as MMM.

  • 43. Six years into her presidency, in an interview with the author, Marie-Madeleine Mborountsou highlighted multiple obstacles that stood in the way of improving gender equality through the law, not least the opposition she faced from men, and resistance to implement laws in the case of some male chiefs in rural communities.

  • 44. Madame Paulette Missambo, interviewed by the author on gender as it mediates access to government roles.

  • 45. Reporting in March 2009 on the work of l’Observatoire des droits des Femmes et de la Parité to the Regional Forum of ROFAF (Reseau des organisations féminines de l’Afrique de l’Ouest), Pierrette Oyane Nzue noted this lack of progress towards gender equality in Gabon. This is in spite of the number of women in high office and a long tradition of structures attesting to the country’s engagement with gender and development issues (see Pierrette Oyane Nzue, “Femmes et participation politique”).

  • 46. Wilfried Idiatha, “Naissance et évolution de la littérature féminine gabonaise de 1960 à nos jours,” La Revue des Ressources, September 17, 2018.

  • 47. For an extensive study of this literature, see Cheryl Toman, Women Writers of Gabon: Literature and Herstory (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2016).

  • 48. Justine Mintsa, Histoire d’Awu (Paris: Gallimard, 2000).

  • 49. Cheryl Toman, “Fang Culture in Gabonese Francophone Women’s Writing: Reading Histoire d’Awu by Justine Mintsa,” Research in African Literatures 41, no. 2 (2010): 121–132, esp. 128.

  • 50. Jean-Baptiste, Conjugal Rights, 11.

  • 51. Angèle Rawiri, Fureurs et cris de femmes (Paris: L’Harmattan, 1989).

  • 52. See, for example, Honorine Ngou’s academic study, published as Mariage et violence dans la société traditionnelle Fang au Gabon (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2007) and, more recently Ils ne pensent qu’à ça: roman (Rungis: La Doxa, 2017), exposing sex-trafficking and rape in Gabonese urban society.

  • 53. By 2010, life expectancy had regained levels achieved before the AIDS crisis. The UN population division currently reports life expectancy as 66.2 years with women outliving men by an average of three years.

  • 54. In Senegal, the Catholic Church, not known for a proactive stance on HIV/AIDS elsewhere in the world, provided advice and counselling on HIV transmission through its Centres SIDA from as early as 1992. Senegal experienced the lowest levels of infection and led the Francophone regional initiative to strengthen a coordinated HIV/AIDS strategy for West and Central Africa for the second decade of the 21st century.

  • 55. Statistics on HIV/AIDS prevalence vary for Gabon, ranging from 5.9 percent to 11.5 percent. The higher end is considered more accurate.

  • 56. Data are drawn from UNAIDS country profiles. Gabonese government data suggest an even higher percentage of women living with HIV/AIDS compared with men: “Les résultats de l’EDS 2012 donnent un taux de prévalence du VIH de 4,1% pour l’ensemble de la population gabonaise . . . il apparaît que les femmes sont plus touchées avec 5,8 % de séroprévalence par rapport aux hommes dont le taux est de 2,2%” (République Gabonaise, Ministère de la Santé, Direction Générale de la Prévention du Sida, Rapport National sur la Reponse au VIH/Sida, March 2013, 5).

  • 57. The Human Development Reports did not track the evolution of the pandemic in data disaggregated for gender. Researchers used the UNAIDS database for this information.

  • 58. The population is approximately 2.21 million, 51 percent of whom are female.

  • 59. United Nations Population Division, Charting the Progress of Populations (New York: United Nations, 2000), 86. These data are obviously not gender-comparative as men do not have a mortality rate in childbirth, so these variables are not included in a gender-comparative table. They are nevertheless very relevant to a woman’s well-being insofar as this depends upon her state of health.

  • 60. UNDP, Human Development Report (2000), Table 9, 188.

  • 61. Denise Savineau and Claire H. Griffiths, La famille en AOF: condition de la femme 1938 (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2007). See “Introduction” for an essay on French on colonial policy and women in French Africa; and for a related discussion, see Claire H. Griffiths, “Engendering Humanism in French West Africa: Patriarchy and the Paradox of Empire,” International Journal of African Historical Studies 46, no. 3 (2013): 353–372.

  • 62. UNDP, Human Development Report (2005), Table 6, 238. Data for the period 1995–2003.

  • 63. Human Development Report, Statistical Update 2018.

  • 64. Human Development Report, Statistical Update 2018/country profile/Gabon.

  • 65. Legal Monitor Worldwide, “Civil Society Representatives brief CEDAW on Situation of Women in Gabon, Azerbaijan, Ecuador and Tuvalu,” Gale General OneFile, 2015.

  • 66. Christopher Gray pointed to the political and material constraints that have beset the production of academic history in Gabon in “Who Does Historical Research in Gabon? Obstacles to the Development of a Scholarly Tradition,” History in Africa 21 (1994): 413–433.

  • 67. Catherine Coquery-Vidrovitch, Le Congo au temps des grandes compagnies concessionnaires, 1898–1930 (Paris: Mouton, 1972); Bernault, Démocraties ambigües en Afrique centrale; Vansina, Paths in the Rainforests; Gray, Colonial Rule and Crisis in Equatorial Africa; and Jeremy Rich, A Workman Is Worthy of His Meat: Food and Colonialism in the Gabon Estuary (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2007).

  • 68. Bernault, Colonial Transactions, 18

  • 69. Bernault, Colonial Transactions, 5.

  • 70. “Women’s history and gender studies have yet to acquire academic legitimacy [in France]” (quote from Anne Hugon, ed., Histoire des femmes en situation colonial (Paris: Karthala, 2004), 5), author’s translation.

  • 71. Jean-Baptiste, Conjugal Rights, Introduction.

  • 72. Rapport General du Forum National, 15. As reported by the Gabonese government’s director general of women’s affairs to the first National Forum on Women held in Libreville in 1992.

  • 73. Fieldwork published in Claire Helena Griffiths, Social Development in Francophone Africa—The Case of Women in Gabon and Morocco (Boston: Boston University African Studies Paper No. 211, 1998); Griffiths, “Education in Transition in Francophone West Africa,” 239–258; and Griffiths, Globalizing the Postcolony, Chapter 8.

  • 74. Fieldwork in Gabon revealed that the Embassy of Canada has been the most active bilateral agency in commissioning gender research in Gabon. The documentation resulting from these studies was published in small print runs and accessible solely through the agencies themselves and in the locality.

  • 75. The most comprehensive agency reports from Gabon date from the early 1990s coincide with the big push at that time to fill statistical gaps, see Fanta Diallo Maïga, L’Accès des filles à l’éducation de base au Gabon (Dakar, Senegal: UNESCO, 1993); and UNICEF, Analyse de la situation des enfants et des femmes au Gabon (Libreville, Gabon: UNICEF, 1995), document interne.

  • 76. Entries for Gabon in international information sources are littered with “n.d.” (no data) where social statistics appear for other countries in the region but are absent for Gabon. Fieldwork in the country revealed that extensive and sophisticated statistical accounting does take place. Furthermore, local statisticians and academics were almost invariably prepared to help in locating or even producing information in situ. For a summary, see Gabon’s 6th report to the UN on eliminating discrimination against women: Gabon Report to CEDAW, 2012.