Women focused on the political economy of the household – how power and authority are
mobilized during the colonial period. However, not the first time there are concerns about
ownership and authority over resources.
No generic African woman- predicament of women varied according to their social status
and political setup within their particular areas as well as the modes of production w/in
Whether women were ever equal to men – even during the pre-colonial period?
Equality – having the same relationship to resources of society – equal access? Ineq –
means of production are owned by a certain segment of the community, largely to the
exclusion of the other. Pre-colonial situation not that cut and dry, even in communities
where key econ resources were in the hands of men, were other secondary economic
activities that enabled women to access where men were not interested in or though little
Pre-col African societies that are largely agricultural – land tended to be entrusted to men.
Actions of individuals limited by the community. Men had land, would distrib land to
various wives (often did not distrib all of the land), wives had right to utilize the land and
hold the land as custodians for their sons when they were old enough to have their own
homesteads. Father then would redistrib land among these sons.
Livestock other major resource- circulated amongst elders esp in the form of bridewealth.
Fine – transact whole range of activities. Tended to be owned by men, but women could
own a certain portion bc given to mother of the bride. Tangentially, a woman would come
to own a herd of livestock. However, under normal circumstances did not.
Power dynamic – man was head of household, transacted all activities in the outside world.
Even in matrilineal societies, wealth, status, still transmitted through males, but through
maternal uncles. Boys inherited land not from father, but maternal uncle.
Man had responsibility to provide adequate land for his wives. Highland, lowland (almost
swamps) depending on crops. Ie. arrowroot only could be grown in swamps.
Generalize pre-col soc – most egalitarian were hunting and gathering. Everybody’s input
was necessary for the family to survive. Men hunted big game, but women did hunt smaller
animals like rodents and did the gathering of roots and tubers.
More premium put on protein from hunting, even though only constituted 20% of diet.
Hierarchy only becomes prominent after property comes into play. Women assume less equal status to men after property becomes issue – men own key
resources like land and livestock.
Even when women in positions of authority, these women were quite separate from others
and this did not translate to more liberties for women at large.
Women who were spirit mediums – ppl would defer to that women (inc kings, queens).
W/in household, motherhood was a vehicle for earning respect and status, as well as age.
Mixed econ – bulk of resources owned by men.
Pottery, basketry, mining, trading – women could engage in pre-col set up
Colonialism was a very gendered process, need to factor in gender as an analytical concept.
Grand colonial scheme- understood men to be the ones who would be a part of the
productive process. Production was gendered male, reproduction was gendered female.
Peasant sector – commodity production for the market – tasks carried out by women bc
men are already away as migrant laborers
- colonial government view urban areas as male domain bc area for labor, and labor
Women do not have an option for wage employment for the most part, but depended on
Ie. where white settlements – native women would participate in domestic labor. (ie. South
Broadly in claiming the colonial process was very gendered- impact men and women
differently. Colonial government put certain measurements in pace to make sure the
colonial government unfolds and develops according to what the colonial government
State, Capital, Patriarchs, Retainers including the chiefs/headmen
Establishment of judicial system – LNC, Courts, Native courts/tribunals
3 groups acts as custodians of women - state capital patriarchy
Christian mission groups – help in the formulation of the lives of women.
Urban space- considered no mans land, place characterized by multiple cultural practices.
Women seize the opportunity to evade some of the restrictions that they were subject to in
rural areas. Mission spaces- also refuges for some women running away from various situations.
Another alternative space, not to say did not face other regulations and issues.
Maintenance of colonial law and order –
Men would be colonial spaces that were presided over by the colonial state or by capital in
urban areas; anticipated that women would remain in rural areas and engaged in
subsistence agriculture or cultivation of staple crops
Ward of the state- taken care of the state, state responsible for their day to day existence.
Ie. in foster care
African women in colonial period were wards of many custodians.
Capital and state did not provide services for women, children, sick, ill etc. State and capital
only interested in those who are fit and working.
Women were seen as that group which is going to hold down land in rural areas.
1) Land - to keep claim on land, need to be seen as active occupation of the land. For family
to keep ahold of the land, a woman needed to stay back in the rural areas and be seen
utilizing the land.
3) Bridewealth – fear among elders that they would lose access to major resources if their
daughters migrated to urban areas
4) Discipline – easier to keep an eye on someone who was in the vicinity, rather than
someone who had migrated many miles away
5) Remittances- if young wives followed their husbands. Elders would lose access to money
if their daughters in law moved to other areas. Women are caught in between.
Even when it came to extension services or training – new skills and way of doing
agriculture- tended to ask for the man of the house. Cash crops were emergent and
expected to be men’s crops.
Women were very involved in the economic activities of the household regardless where
they are located – urban or rural
Wages for men insufficient to even support themselves – paid “single” wages.
Men would hunt, buy from local areas – even got subsidies of food from rural areas Beer brewing was lucrative