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African Feminism

African Feminism: The Politics of Survival in Sub-Saharan Africa

Edited by Gwendolyn Mikell
Copyright Date: 1997
Pages: 392
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  • Book Info
    African Feminism
    Book Description:

    African feminism, this landmark volume demonstrates, differs radically from the Western forms of feminism with which we have become familiar since the 1960s. African feminists are not, by and large, concerned with issues such as female control over reproduction or variation and choice within human sexuality, nor with debates about essentialism, the female body, or the discourse of patriarchy. The feminism that is slowly emerging in Africa is distinctly heterosexual, pronatal, and concerned with "bread, butter, and power" issues. Contributors present case studies of ten African states, demonstrating that-as they fight for access to land, for the right to own property, for control of food distribution, for living wages and safe working conditions, for health care, and for election reform-African women are creating a powerful and specifically African feminism.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0077-5
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-50)
    Gwendolyn Mikell

    Contemporary African women sometimes think of themselves as walking a political/gender tightrope. On one hand, they are concerned about the sea of economic and political troubles facing their communities and their national “ships of state.” On the other hand, they are grappling with how to affirm their own identities while transforming societal notions of gender and familial roles.

    Over the past two decades, states in sub-Saharan Africa have gone through many crises: the failure of male-dominated, multi-party politics or state socialism in the aftermath of independence; the onset of coups and establishment of military regimes; the economic instability that culminated...

  7. Part I. Legal Interactions in the Domestic Realm

    • Chapter 1 Changing the Meaning of Marriage: Women and Family Law in Côte d’Ivoire
      (pp. 53-76)
      Jeanne Maddox Toungara

      Women in the francophone country of Côte d’Ivoire are attempting to mobilize their forces so that they can play a determining role in setting national laws that affect their status as wives. Only through increased mobilization will they be able to register their opinions in the ongoing efforts for social change designed to modernize the country and remove vestiges of what many legislators consider outmoded ethnic gender and family practices. Former President Félix Houphouët-Boigny¹ was unmatched in his desire to create a modern polity by developing Ivoirian society in the political, economic, and social policy arenas. Indeed, the goal of...

    • Chapter 2 Wives, Children, and Intestate Succession in Ghana
      (pp. 77-95)
      Takyiwaa Manuh

      The Intestate Succession Law of 1985 is part of legislation in Ghana which seeks to resolve some long-standing issues affecting the inheritance of property and the status and rights of wives and children. Together with other laws affecting marriage and divorce, and family economic accountability,¹ these constitute an attempt at legislative reform of some aspects of the “customary law,” which has been acknowledged as causing hardship and injustice for women and children (Asante 1975; Bentsi-Enchil 1964; Ollenu 1966). The passage of the Intestate Succession Law marked a success for churches, traditional authorities,² and women’s groups³ who had long pressed for...

    • Chapter 3 Pleas for Domestic Relief: Akan Women and Family Courts
      (pp. 96-124)
      Gwendolyn Mikell

      Faced with increasing hardships among women and children during the troublesome 1980s, Ghana’s Provisional National Defense Council (PNDC), which assumed office in December 1981, moved forward with populist approaches to the country’s socioeconomic problems, opting to institute new legal norms and to encourage women to use family courts as mechanisms to obtain relief. Traditionally, Akan domestic affairs were handled through lineage mediation outside of the state apparatus. British colonial governments instituted Western as well as customary legal structures, but they were often hesitant to be involved in domestic problems of women and children unless their conditions were considered offensive to...

  8. Part II. Economic Change, Political Economy, and Women’s Lives

    • Chapter 4 Swazi Women Workers in Cottage Industries and Factories
      (pp. 127-141)
      Betty J. Harris

      Increasingly, African women in Swaziland arc at the same time mothers and women who work for wages in the industrial sector. The existence of a category of black female industrial workers in peripheral areas such as Swaziland sometimes surprises outsiders because until recently there was a paucity of research and literature on black women and work in southern Africa and considerable neglect of the family dimension. Until the 1970s, most information available to scholars and concerned readers concerned male labor migrancy to the South African gold mines. However, the 1970s witnessed a shift in focus, and social-science literature began to...

    • Chapter 5 Alcohol and Politics in Urban Zambia: The Intersection of Gender and Class
      (pp. 142-158)
      Ilsa M. Glazer

      A study of beer and alcohol production and consumption can tell us much about gender, class, and political life in urban Zambia under colonialism and during the first decade of Zambia’s independence. In fact, between 1900 and the 1960s, alcohol was one of the most salient issues defining the politics of inter- and intra-gender social and economic relations, the quality of domestic group interactions, and the political stability and class relations of the body politic.

      The changing relation between the genders and production in the modern state is well described in Etienne and Leacock’s (1980) seminal anthology on women and...

    • Chapter 6 Women’s Roles in Settlement and Resettlement in Mali
      (pp. 159-181)
      Dolores Koenig

      Women in resettlement communities in Mali have demonstrated flexible economic roles in their response to the nation’s multiple crises. Throughout the Sahel (the southern fringe of the Sahara) in the 1970s, countries had to deal with the dual shocks of serious drought and increasing energy prices linked to global inflation and recession. In addition to the economic consequences, other, social-structural repercussions were felt. These fragile countries’ dependency on the developed world increased as they sought subsidies and foreign aid to deal with their crises. Economic aid helped some over the short term, but by the 1980s structural-adjustment programs meant that...

    • Chapter 7 Ethiopian Rural Women and the State
      (pp. 182-205)
      Tsehai Berhane-Selassie

      This chapter documents changes in the relationship between the Ethiopian state and rural women’s work over time; particular emphasis is placed on experiences under the revolutionary government (1974–91) and during the transitional period that followed. Of concern here is the way rural women’s work, as well as their perceptions of it, has varied as other ideological changes have occurred within the state.

      The Ethiopian state has undergone several transitions, but throughout history it has effected laws and institutions that have had a major influence on women’s use of time, labor, and resources. During the twentieth century, this influence was...

    • Chapter 8 Women and Grassroots Politics in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire
      (pp. 206-231)
      Carlene H. Dei

      Experience tells us that as the political process is being transformed and “decentralized” in Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) and many other African countries, we can look forward to a new recognition of the important roles that women will play in this process. During the 1970s and 1980s, the experience of women in Abidjan provided sufficient evidence to challenge the myth that African women take an apolitical stance, and to challenge “conventional wisdom” that decrees African women’s political power to have been destroyed by colonization, urbanization, and the difficult postindependence. Certainly these factors, in addition to failed attempts at industrialization, did...

    • Chapter 9 Kenyan Women in Politics and Public Decision Making
      (pp. 232-254)
      Maria Nzomo

      Achieving men’s and women’s equality in the political realm is a goal toward which Kenyan women have moved with considerable difficulty over the past few decades (Nzomo 1989:9–17; Midamba 1990), but women made measurable strides in that direction through their political organizing during the 1990s. The vision of basic rights and support for diversity in the roles of African women was well captured by the publication Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN) in the mid-1980s.¹ This is a vision that many Kenyan women have clearly identified with in the 1990s as they began to enthusiastically and...

  9. Part III. Surviving Crisis in the Community

    • Chapter 10 “Our Women Keep Our Skies from Falling”: Women’s Networks and Survival Imperatives in Tshunyane, South Africa
      (pp. 257-275)
      Shawn Riva Donaldson

      This chapter examines the networks used by women to make health-care decisions in a rural community called Tshunyane, which is located in the northwest province formerly known as the Tswana “independent homeland” of Bophuthatswana in South Africa. It was impossible to examine the health of women and children in Tshunyane in the mid-1980s, apart from the wretched apartheid politics of South Africa in general and the homeland policy in particular, because these women’s responses to health crises were framed to a large extent by the hostile political and economic reality of their existence. During the study, the South African state...

    • Chapter 11 Technology and the Fuel Crisis: Adjustment among Women in Northern Nigeria
      (pp. 276-297)
      D.J. Shehu

      The issue of women and fuel usage in developing countries has become significant in the wake of the world fuel crisis of the 1970s and 1980s. Because of its plentiful oil supplies, Nigeria became highly dependent upon revenues from oil exports, and this created social transformations within the country. While elite men and women could continue to “modernize” during the boom, the rural folk and the “popular classes” experienced greater suffering.¹ The subsequent fall in output of Nigerian crude oil due to the oil glut and the economic recession in the United States and Europe created a fiscal crisis for...

    • Chapter 12 Swazi Traditional Healers, Role Transformation, and Gender
      (pp. 298-309)
      Enid Gort

      Women, who constitute a significant segment of the group of traditional healers in Swaziland, are increasingly exposed to the economic and social forces of the global system. Because of the combination of global, national, and local influences, traditional healers are no longer able to perform in accordance with classic roles, nor do they maintain their historic gender relationships. This analysis shows how female and more recently male healers in this small southern African country are adjusting their patterns and practices to conform to the socioeconomic imperatives that connect them to the modern world.*

      An understanding of classical healing roles is...

    • Chapter 13 AIDS, Gender, and Sexuality during Africa’s Economic Crisis
      (pp. 310-332)
      Brooke Grundfest Schoepf

      AIDS has spread rapidly across the globe, with cases reported in 162 countries, including 47 in Africa. Twelve million Africans are estimated to have been infected since the start of the pandemic through 1994.¹ That number may double by the year 2000 as infection continues to spread. The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes AIDS is transmitted from infected persons by sexual intercourse, blood, and from mother to infant during pregnancy, birth, and lactation. In Africa, where heterosexual transmission accounts for more than 80 percent of infections, women outnumber men among both HIV-infected (seropositive) persons and identified AIDS cases.² Ten...

    • Conclusions: Theorizing and Strategizing about African Women and State Crisis
      (pp. 333-346)
      Gwendolyn Mikell

      Our case studies demonstrate that within transitional and crisis-ridden polities such as African states, women’s roles often display numerous contradictions, partially reflecting the disjuncture with other political, economic, and social processes.¹ Because of the pressures that African women experience, they now seek to bring their domestic and public roles into some coherent alignment. It should not surprise us that this alignment emphasizes cultural approaches that they anticipate may empower women. Nor should it surprise us that most African governments have proven unable or unwilling to listen, although it is troubling. In general, African state leaders have resisted pressures to involve...

  10. Appendix
    (pp. 347-348)
  11. List of Contributors
    (pp. 349-352)
  12. Index
    (pp. 353-361)