Women in Africa

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A Congolese woman defends and promotes the rights of women via a message printed on the fabric she wears, 2015.
A Congolese woman defends and promotes the rights of women via a message printed on the fabric she wears, 2015.

Women in Africa are women who were born in, who live in, and are from the continent of Africa. The culture, evolution and history of African women is related to the evolution and history of the African continent itself.

Numerous short studies have appeared for women's history in African nations.[1][2][3][4] [5][6] Several surveys have appeared that put the sub-Sahara Africa in the context of women's history.[7][8]

There are numerous studies for specific countries and regions, such as Egypt, Ethiopia, Morocco, Nigeria.[9] and Lesotho.[10]

Scholars have turned their imagination to innovative things for the history of African women, such as songs from Malawi, weaving techniques in Sokoto, and historical linguistics.[11]

History of African Women[edit]

Female soldier of the PAIGC liberation army playing cards, Guinea-Bissau, 1973

The study of women's history in Africa emerged as a field relatively soon after African history in general became a widely respected academic subject. Historians like Jan Vansina and Walter Rodney forced Western academia to acknowledged the existence of precolonial African societies and states in the wake of the African independence movements of the 1960s, though they mainly focused on men's history. Ester Boserup, a scholar of historical economy, made waves among historians in her 1970 book Women's Role in Economic Development, which demonstrated the central role women had played over centuries of African history as economic producers, and how those systems had been disrupted by colonialism. By the 1980s, scholars had picked up threads of African women's history across the continent, including, as just a few examples, George Brooks' 1976 study of women traders in precolonial Senegal; Margaret Jean Hays' study of how economic change in colonial Kenya affected Luo women, published the same year; and Kristin Mann's 1985 study on marriage in Nigeria. Over time, historians have debated the role and status of women in precolonial vs. colonial society, explored how women have dealt with changing forms of oppression, examined how phenomena like domesticity became gendered, unearthed women's roles in national struggles for independence (Shikola, 1998; Presley, 1992), and even argued that the category of "woman" in some cases cannot be applied in precolonial contexts (Oyewumi, 1997). Women have been shown to be essential historical, economic and social actors in practically every region of Africa for millennia.

During the 1962 Algerian War of Independence, Algerian women fought as equals alongside men. They thus achieved a new sense of their own identity and a measure of acceptance from men. In the aftermath of the war, women maintained their new-found emancipation and became more actively involved in the development of the new state.[12]

Traditional roles[edit]

From the 1940s until Moroccan declaration of independence from the tutelage of France in 1956, Moroccan women lived in family units that are "enclosed households" or harem, The tradition of their harem lifestyle for women gradually ended upon Morocco's independence from France in 1956.[13]

The traditional division of labour in Senegal saw Senegalese women as responsible for household tasks such as cooking, cleaning, and childcare. They were also responsible for a large share of agricultural work, including weeding and harvesting, for such common crops as rice. In recent decades, economic change and urbanization has led to many young men migrating to the cities, such as Dakar. Rural women have become increasingly involved in managing village forestry resources and operating millet and rice mills.[14] However, in traditional societies located in what is now Senegal, women of the nobility used to be influential in the political scenes. That's partly due to the fact that matrilineage was the means for prince to be kings (particularly in Wolof kingdoms). Such lingeer as Yacine Boubou, Ndate Yalla and her sister Njembeut Mbodji are hailed as inspirations for contemporary Senegalese women.

More Women Rights[edit]

A group of women from Limuru in central Kenya, 2010.

Algeria is regarded as a relatively liberal nation and the status of women reflects this.[15] Unlike other countries in the region, equality for women is enshrined in Algerian laws and the constitution.[15] They can vote and run for political positions.[16]

Woman from liberated Guinea-Bissau, 1974

The state of the rights of women in Benin has improved markedly since the restoration of democracy and the ratification of the Constitution, and the passage of the Personal and Family Code in 2004, both of which overrode various traditional customs that systematically treated women unequally. Still, inequality and discrimination persist. Polygamy and forced marriage are illegal but still occur.[17]

Women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo have not attained a position of full equality with men, with their struggle continuing to this day. Although the Mobutu regime paid lip service to the important role of women in society, and although women enjoy some legal rights (e.g., the right to own property and the right to participate in the economic and political sectors), custom and legal constraints still limit their opportunities.[18] From 1939 to 1943, over 30% of adult Congolese women in Stanleyville (now Kisangani) were so registered. The taxes they paid constituted the second largest source of tax revenue for Stanleyville.[18]

Since independence, Libyan leaders have been committed to improving the condition of women but within the framework of Arabic and Islamic values.[19] Central to the revolution of 1969 was the empowerment of women and removal of inferior status.[20] In Niger, many of the laws adopted by the government of Niger to protect the rights of Nigerien women are often based on Muslim beliefs.[21]

Claire Wallace, Christian Haerpfer and Pamela Abbott write that, in spite of Rwanda having the highest representation of women in parliament in the world, there are three major gender issues in Rwandan society: the workloads of women, access to education and gender-based violence. They conclude that the attitudes to women in Rwanda's political institutions has not filtered through to the rest of Rwandan society, and that for men, but not women, there are generational differences when it comes to gender-based attitudes.[22]

Women in Seychelles enjoy the same legal, political, economic, and social rights as men.[23] Seychellois society is essentially matriarchal.[23][24] Mothers tend to be dominant in the household, controlling most current expenditures and looking after the interests of the children.[23] Unwed mothers are the societal norm, and the law requires fathers to support their children.[24] Men are important for their earning ability, but their domestic role is relatively peripheral.[23] Older women can usually count on financial support from family members living at home or contributions from the earnings of grown children.[23]

The women of the Republic of South Sudan had also been active in liberation causes, by "providing food and shelters" to soldiers and by "caring for children" and by "caring for wounded heroes and heroines" during their political struggle prior to the country's independence. An example was their formation of the Katiba Banat or "women battalion.".[25]

Sudan is a developing nation that faces many challenges in regards to gender inequality. Freedom House gave Sudan the lowest possible ranking among repressive regimes during 2012.[26] South Sudan received a slightly higher rating but it was also rated as "not free".[26] In the 2013 report of 2012 data, Sudan ranks 171st out of 186 countries on the Human Development Index (HDI).[27] Sudan also is one of very few countries that are not a signatory on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).[28]

Despite all of this, there have been positive changes in regards to gender equality in Sudan. As of 2012, women comprise 24.1% of the National Assembly of Sudan.[29]

The roles of Ugandan women were clearly subordinate to those of men, despite the substantial economic and social responsibilities of women in Uganda's many traditional societies. Women were taught to accede to the wishes of their fathers, brothers, husbands, and sometimes other men as well, and to demonstrate their subordination to men in most areas of public life. Even in the 1980s, women in rural areas of Buganda were expected to kneel when speaking to a man. At the same time, however, women shouldered the primary responsibilities for childcare and subsistence cultivation, and in the twentieth century, women had made substantial contributions to cash-crop agriculture.[30]

Women in the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic are women who were born in, who live in, or are from the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) in the region of the Western Sahara. In Sahrawi society, the women share responsibilities at every level of its community and social organization.[31] Article 41 of the Constitution of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic ensures that the state will pursue "the promotion of women and [their] political, social and cultural participation, in the construction of society and the country's development".


Since the founding of Sierra Leone in 1787 the Women in Sierra Leone have been a major influence in the political and economic development of the nation. They have also played an important role in the education system, founding schools and colleges, with some such as Hannah Benka-Coker being honoured with the erection of a statue for her contributions[32] and Lati Hyde-Forster, first woman to graduate from Fourah Bay College being honored with a doctor of civil laws degree by the University of Sierra Leone[33]

Women in the workplace[edit]

Women in Chad are the mainstay of its predominantly rural-based economy and they outnumber the men.[34]

The Senegalese government's rural development agency aims to organize village women and involve them more actively in the development process. Women play a prominent role in village health committees and prenatal and postnatal programs. In urban areas, cultural change has led to women entering the labour market as office and retail clerks, domestic workers and unskilled workers in textile mills and tuna-canning factories.[14] Non-government organizations are also active in promoting women's economic opportunities in Senegal. Micro-financing loans for women's businesses have improved the economic situation of many.[35]

Women in leadership[edit]

Embet Ilen (c. 1801-1851) was a woman important in Eritrean politics.[19]

Sexual harassment and gender-based violence[edit]

In Benin, enforcement of the law against rape, the punishment for which can be up to five years in prison, is hampered by corruption, ineffective police work, and fear of social stigma. Police incompetence results in most sexual offenses being reduced to misdemeanors. Domestic violence is widespread, with penalties of up to 3 years in prison, but women are reluctant to report cases and authorities are reluctant to intervene in what are generally considered private matters.[36]

Female genital mutilation is also practiced by many of the ethnic groups in Ethiopia.[37]

See also[edit]

North Africa[edit]

West Africa[edit]

Central Africa[edit]

East Africa[edit]

South Africa[edit]


  1. ^ For a brief guide to the historiography see HIST 4310, Twentieth Century African Women's History by J. M. Chadya
  2. ^ Nancy Rose Hunt, "Placing African women's history and locating gender." Social. History (1989) 14#3, 359-379.
  3. ^ Penelope Hetherington, ."Women in South Africa: the historiography in English." International Journal of African Historical Studies 26#2 (1993): 241-269.
  4. ^ Kathleen Sheldon, Historical dictionary of women in Sub-Saharan Africa (Scarecrow press, 2005).
  5. ^ Margaret Jena Hay, "Queens, Prostitutes and Peasants: Historical Perspectives on African Women, 1971-1986," Canadian Journal of African Studies 23#3 (1988): 431-447.
  6. ^ Nancy Rose Hunt, "Introduction: Gendered Colonialisms in African History," Gender and History 8#3 (1996): 323-337.
  7. ^ Catherine Coquery-Vidrovitch, African Women: A Modern History (1997)
  8. ^ ; M.J. Hay and Sharon Stitcher, Women in Africa South Of the Sahara (1995).
  9. ^ Bolanle Awe, Nigerian women in historical perspective (IbDn: Sankore, 1992).
  10. ^ Elizabeth A. Eldredge, "Women in production: the economic role of women in nineteenth-century Lesotho." Signs 16.4 (1991): 707-731. in JSTOR
  11. ^ Kathleen Sheldon, 'Women's History: Africa" in Kelly Boyd, ed. (1999). Encyclopedia of Historians and Historical Writing, vol 2. Taylor & Francis. pp. 1308–11. 
  12. ^ Amrane, Djamila; Abu-Haidar, Farida (1999-10-01). "Women and Politics in Algeria from the War of Independence to Our Day". Research in African Literatures. 30 (3): 62–77. ISSN 1527-2044. doi:10.1353/ral.1999.0003. 
  13. ^ "Women in Morocco". THIRDEYEMOM. Retrieved 9 November 2013. 
  14. ^ a b "Culture of Senegal". Retrieved August 13, 2011. 
  15. ^ a b Lowe, Christian (6 August 2009). "Algeria's women police defy danger and stereotypes". Reuters. Retrieved 29 January 2012. 
  16. ^ Slackman, Michael (26 May 2007). "Algeria's quiet revolution: Gains by women". The New York Times. Retrieved 29 January 2012. 
  17. ^ "Human Rights Violations in Benin". ALTERNATIVE REPORT TO THE UNITED NATIONS COMMITTEE AGAINST TORTURE. Retrieved January 11, 2013. 
  18. ^ a b  This article incorporates public domain material from the Library of Congress document: Alden Almquist (December 1993). Sandra W. Meditz and Tim Merrill, ed. "Zaire: A country study". Federal Research Division. The Status of Women. 
  19. ^ Helen Chapin Metz (2004). Libya. Kessinger Publishing. pp. 111–115. ISBN 978-1-4191-3012-0. 
  20. ^ "Libya", Peter Malcolm, Elizabeth Losleben. Marshall Cavendish, 2004. ISBN 0-7614-1702-8, ISBN 978-0-7614-1702-6. p. 73, 76, 78
  21. ^ "Islam and Women in Niger". The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System. Retrieved 7 November 2013. 
  22. ^ Abbott, Pamela; Haerpfer, Christian; Wallace, Claire (Winter 2008). Women in Rwandan politics and society. International Journal of Sociology. 38. M. E. Sharpe (Routledge). pp. 111–125. doi:10.2753/IJS0020-7659380406. 
  23. ^ a b c d e Tartter, Jean R. "Status of Women". Indian Ocean country studies: Seychelles (Helen Chapin Metz, editor). Library of Congress Federal Research Division (August 1994). This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  24. ^ a b Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Seychelles (2007) Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (March 11, 2008). This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  25. ^ Mabor, Beny Gideon. Women and Political Leadership in Africa: A demand In South Sudan transitional democracy, Sudan Tribune.
  26. ^ a b "Freedom in the World 2013: Democratic Breakthroughs in the Balance" (PDF). Freedom House. p. 17. Retrieved April 13, 2013. 
  27. ^ MDG, Report (2009). "Assessing Progress in Africa toward the Millennium Development Goals". Economic Commission for Africa. 
  28. ^ CEDAW. "Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination". United Nations. 
  29. ^ Human Development Report (2012). "The Rise of the South: Human Progress in a Diverse World". United Nations Development Programme. 
  30. ^ Uganda country study. Library of Congress Federal Research Division (December 1990). This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  31. ^ Donati, Simone. Saharawi, Terra Project Photographers.
  32. ^ Hafkin, Nancy Jane (1976). Edna G. Bay, ed. Women in Africa: Studies in Social and Economic Change. Stanford University Press. p. 218. ISBN 978-0804710114. 
  33. ^ Fyle, Magbaily C. (2005). Historical Dictionary of Sierra Leone (New ed.). Scarecrow. p. 71. ISBN 978-0810853393. 
  34. ^ "Rural Poverty in Chad". Rural poverty portal. International fund for agricultural development. Retrieved 11 November 2012. 
  35. ^ "Senegal's women find a way out of poverty". Toronto Star. 18 April 2010. Retrieved August 13, 2011. 
  36. ^ "2010 Human Rights Report: Benin". Us Department of State. Retrieved January 11, 2013. 
  37. ^ Abate, Yohannis. "The Role of Women". A Country Study: Ethiopia (Thomas P. Ofcansky and LaVerle Berry, editors). Library of Congress Federal Research Division (1991). This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.[1].

External links[edit]