Women In Africa

From Egypt in the north to South Africa in the south calls for the recognition of the rights of women in each of the countries in Africa are urgent and insistent. Statistical data supports what the eye plainly sees, women throughout Africa do much more than their share of the work in many spheres of daily life. They maintain households, fetch firewood and water, work the fields, sell goods in the marketplace, and more. And yet the irony is that this work remains so invisible and undervalued that a chapter entitled “Women in Africa” still seems appropriate in a book such as
this. (Imagine a chapter or a book entitled “Men in Africa”!)

The resource materials in this chapter shine a spotlight on the enormous contributions that women in Africa make on a daily basis. At the same time they underline the fact that “women’s work” continues to be circumscribed by traditional boundaries, eve n in situations where they have been actively involved in largescale political movements such as in South Africa. Viviene Taylor, National Social Welfare Policy Coordinator of the African National Congress, notes that “Women in South Africa are in the majority and have played a crucial role in the liberation struggle, yet they are under-represented in all spheres of life except at the lower end….The political and economic empowerment of women, both as representatives of the majority…and as representatives of the most exploited and oppressed class must be given concrete form and content” (Development 1994:2, p. 36).

The books and other resource materials in this chapter also call attention to the fact that women in Africa are defining and working out their “liberation” in their own terms. Mercy Amba Oduyoye describes the unique character and trajectory of women’s liberation in Africa in these terms: “While the [UN-sponsored] Nairobi meeting was in session [in 1985], African men were still snickering. But something new had touched the women of Africa, and they began to voice their presence. Women were standing up, abandoning the crouched positions from which their life-breath stimulated the wood fires that burned under the earthenware pots of vegetables they had grown and harvested. The pots, too, were their handiwork. Standing up straight, women of Africa stretched their hands to the global sisterhood of life-loving women. In no uncertain terms, African women announced their position on the liberation struggle and their solidarity with other women.” Oduyoye goes on to describe what their position and the ir solidarity means in the African context.

Role in Society
What place should women have in society? Traditionally, a woman’s place has been inferior to that of the average man. Whatever is considered most valuable in society is placed under the direction of men; whatever is considered less valuable is given to women to care for - even when people ostensible know better.

The education of women, especially higher education, was of greatest concern from 1880 to 1900, although the issue nearly dropped from view by the turn of the century. Although there were a few scattered comments in favor of identical education fro males and females, most commentary took one of two approaches. The first supported education for women within their sphere. Women should be taught to be “teachers to their children” and better housekeepers, and they should receive “some careful instruction regarding the beauty of girlhood as shown by modesty, by unselfishness, by unostentatious care for others.”

[In 1917], an article in the King’s Business said that even though women were superior to men intellectually, morally, and spiritually, “her divinely appointed position is that of subordination and it is her ruin to fight against that which God … had ordained for her.” Women were warned that “man does not suffer as much as woman does when she gets out of place.” Many people in modern America complain that motherhood and raising children have been devalued by the feminist movement and the efforts to get women into the workplace. These same people, however, are the religious conservatives who have throughout America’s history been responsible for the actual devaluing of women’s contributions to society.

Motherhood and raising children haven’t been devalued because of feminism and women working in the corporate world; instead, they have been devalued precisely because they are seen as “women’s work” and unsuitable for men. Women who work as CEOs are unembarrassed by this fact; there continues to be some embarrassment, however, on the part of men who life as “house husbands.” Is this because of feminism? Of course not.

The same is true in the many professions traditionally filled by women. Men who worked as nurses struggled for a long time against prejudice and discrimination — not so much by female nurses, but by other men who looked down upon male nurses precisely because nursing was considered a profession for women and, hence, of little value.

Religious conservatives say that they value mothers and motherhood, but their actions over the past couple of centuries speaks much more loudly. Greater valuation of occupations like raising a family won’t be achieved by stopping feminism and taking women out of the regular workforce. It will be achieved only when women’s contributions to society, whatever form they take, are valued as much as men’s contributions. That, however, won’t happen until women are valued as much as men.

The complaints of religious conservatives about feminism not only don’t serve to achieve that goal, but in fact hinder it — just as religious conservatives have been hindering women, their education, and their rights for millennia. Changes have been a long time in coming and we still have a long way to go

1 Response to "Women In Africa"

  1. Anonymous Says:
    30 November 2011 at 03:40

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