One of the most notable vestiges of colonialism in third world countries has been its effect on the life of indigenous women in the former colonies. Whole new ways of doing things were transported from Europe and foisted on third world countries by various ways and means. The social and religious tenets of Europe, which the colonial rulers considered superior to what they met in the colonies, were condescendingly imposed on the hapless people of the colonies with long lasting negative consequences.
Overnight, age old ways of doing things were uprooted and replaced by ill-suited social and work ideologies and religious thoughts. Prior to the advent of colonialism, women in Africa, Asia, the Americas and Oceania had maintained harmonious relationships with their immediate world – their male counterparts, their families and the environment. For instance economic activities in most of the indigenous communities were not sequestered in the same rigid manner between female and male as was the case with Europeans of that time.
Studies on the lives of women in the pre-colonial Yoruba nation of Nigeria show that “their society considered the work the women did complementary to the work of men, and some women achieved impressive status in the economic and social realms of Yoruba life” (Rojas 1). The same was true amongst their pre-colonial counterparts in the Igbo nation as Lord Frederick Lugard, one of Britain’s colonial administrators in Nigeria, described them as “ambitious, courageous, self-reliant, hard-working, and independent. [They] claim full equality with the opposite sex, and would seem indeed to be the dominant partner. (Bookrags). One other way colonialism affected the third world’s woman was that it disorganized the erstwhile ordered view of her work expectations vis-a-vis those of the men folk in a traditional African setting. This fact was vividly articulated by Emecheta, in The Joys of Motherhood, in her story of a native woman, Nnu Ego, who could not reconcile the expectations in her native patriarchal society with the situation she found her husband as a domestic servant in the imposed society of a colonized nation where her husband was made to perform the unmanly duties of washing women underwear.
The arrival of colonial administrators from Europe, with entrenched ideologies of ‘separate spheres’ for both sexes, which were based on the life patterns of an avidly patriarchal Europe, changed the status of women in most of the conquered indigenous communities. As a consequence public policy doctrines and the direction of colonial administration in the colonies were influenced and determined by a male oriented era, thus impacting education, career development and work definitions in like manner.
The legacies left behind by this interplay of the direction of state policy and the colonial administrative preferences regarding women gave women’s work the coloration that persists till this day in former colonies. These same principles have been adopted and perfected by the owners of capital who replaced the colonialists at the advent of capitalism and neo-colonialism. The legacies of patriarchal colonial policies on women’s work
According to Mash “early Victorian gender prescriptions featured men as industrious breadwinners and women as their helpmates, (…) whereby men were figured as competitors in the amoral, economic realm while women were positioned as either decorative trophies or spiritual guardians of men’s immortal souls. ” This line of thinking permeated the structures of social and political behavior and defined the nature of administration in the colonies as Berveley argues:
The fact, however, that the post colonial state would have derived its socio-cultural characteristics from colonialism highlights the ways in which legacies of sexism have influenced contemporary understandings, and corroborates with and legitimates the argument of Linden Lewis (2002) concerning the masculinist nature of the post-colonial state in its orientation and policy.
The same colonial policy of male dominance was implemented in the colonies in Africa where April Gordon argued that “the colonial capitalist economy has been effective in embedding their colonialist values into the colonized society, and dividing labour between men and women in such a way as to give men control over women and their productive resources” (qtd. in Walker ). Colonial educational heritage and women’s work The most important agent of re-socialization used by the colonialists to redefine women work and economic endeavors was colonial education, which emphasized separateness between the sexes in school curriculum and composition.
Narrating the Jamaican colonial experience to show how the colonial administration determined women education and by extension, work, Berveley stated that “The fact that the law aided and abetted separatism and contributed to gender polarization points to ways in which the state understood Jamaican femininity and masculinity, and its use of the law in instructing both sexes in different ways. ” The end result of these colonial educational policies was that women were essentially trained for positions where they would be under the control and direction of men all through their working lives. Women’s work: The legacies of colonialism
The discriminatory practices against women in work places assumed harsher undertones as the latter day owners of capital, who replaced colonialism in much of the third world countries quickly latched on to the enormous exploitative economic potentials presented by products of the colonial educational policy – cheap female labour. For instance, despite the tremendous advances made by all classes of women in acquiring education in diverse fields as the barriers that hitherto determined their career options disappeared in the in the later part of the 20thth century, evidence of discrimination against women still persisted in work places.
According to Berveley “Despite the fact that the graduates of the University of West Indies were 79 per cent female in recent years, the majority of women seem crowded into low-wage jobs, creating a feminization of poverty and social breakdown. This suggests continued strength of ideologies that confer inferiority on women’s intellectual gains and capacities” To capitalise on these opportunities many more factories have sprung up in South East Asia, South America and Africa to harvest these cheap labour for the creation of much capital for the neo-colonialists, and more misery and destitution for exploited women workers.
It has now become common practice for the maquiladoras of multinational companies to hire only women (particularly young women or minors), because “it is logical in this scheme of things to want to pay $14. 00 a week in Honduras instead of $14. 00 an hour in the United States” (Zwick 1). Women resistance Expectedly these discriminatory practices have not gone unchallenged by women. Historical accounts abound of the resistance mounted by women of all classes and races over the past seventy years to confront these discriminatory colonial legacies which have consigned them to the lower rungs of work and societal ladders.
Some of these instances of resistance have been covert and clandestine, others confrontational. The Aba Women’s Riot of 1929, is perhaps one of the most notable organised resistance of indigenous women to the encroachment of colonialism on their established economic system. “This was touched off by the imposition of direct taxation and the introduction of new local courts and especially of warrant chiefs” (Boehen 79). The riots were solely organised and executed in parts of the Igbo nation of South Eastern Nigeria.
Some more recent and subtle protests have been documented by Pena (103) in his essay Like Turtles on the Line, based on the conduct of women workers in an RCA assembly line in Mexico, “We put the brakes on it all the time. As the engineers would like to say; we withdrew our efficiency. We did … what do we call it? …tortuguisma. We worked at a tortoise’s pace” However, some the protest of the women in these factories took the more dangerous routs of sabotage and disruption of work. It was after this that we decided to fight back any way we could. And so we started very cautiously and deliberately by sabotaging components … It got to the point where the girls competed with each other to see who could come up with the smartest and fastest way of messing things up” (Pena 102 ). With the factory floor as the re-learning locations, women workers learnt to amalgamate their individual strengths towards grinding work to the level of “turtles on the line” in their attempt to pay back exploitative employers.
Another narration by another female worker showed that “from the start, the group was clandestine. Our actions in the factory were invisible until the time we hit with the walkout and sabotage” (qtd. in Pena 103). Other more elaborate female activism have resulted in the enactment of positive discriminatory and protective laws in favour of women in many ‘first world countries’, ostensibly prompting the relocation of the exploitative practices of their multinational companies to third world countries where such laws are yet to take root. Conclusion
The tortuous legacy bequeathed on women by colonialism vividly tells the story of the institution of the machinery of exploitation by colonialism, and which has been taken up in many instances by the capitalist mode of operation. The activism of women which led to affirmative action and protective legislations in many parts of the world has shown as Pena noted that ‘When workers rebel, they challenge the open-ended exploitation capital seeks to impose in its Endemic “haven of productivity” (much like colonialism). The workplace is more than the sum of capitalist imperatives.
The factory is not just a collection of “dead labor – that is machinery and technology” (103). The human dimension of work should be put into consideration to avoid a re-enactment of the slave fields of the American South where women were not even accorded the respectability of womanhood, but were considered instruments of production, along with their male counterparts.
Beverley, Shirley. “No Woman No Cry: Understanding Women’s Incremental Gains and the Transformative Potential of Feminism within Twentieth Century Jamaica” GEM-IWG WP 06-17. (2006) 26 January 2007 < www. genderandmacro. rg>. Boehen A. Adu. African Perspectives on Colonialism. Baltimore. 1987 Bookrags. Ibo Women of Nigeria. 31 January 2007 http://www. bookrags. com/history/ibo-women-of-nigeria/ Emecheta, Buchi. The Joys of Motherhood. New York: George Braziller, 1979. Mash, Jan. “Gender Ideology and Separate Spheres” Gender, Health, Medicine & Sexuality in Victorian England. 28 January 2007. <http://www. vam. ac. uk/collections/periods_styles/19thcentury/gender_health/gender_ideology/index. html>. Pena, Devon. “The Terror of the Machine: Technology, Work, Gender and Ecology on the US-Mexico Border. University of Texas Press. 1997 Rojas, Maria. Women in Pre-Colonial Nigeria. African Post Colonial Litterature in English. 1990. 31 January 2007 <http://www. scholars. nus. edu. sg/post/nigeria/precolwon. html> Walker, Trina. “Colonial Inheritances: The Effects of Colonial Education on Women in Developing Nations, A Case Study in Barbados. ” 27 January 2007 <http://www-mcnair. berkeley. edu/2003journal/Twalker. html> Zwick, Mark and Louise. New Colonialism Emerging: Whither Beijing. Houston Catholic Worker 6. 1995. 31 January 2007 <http://www. cjd. org/paper/beijing1. html>
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