The Changing Status of African Women As Partial Fulfillment

Traditional Societies

The majority of women all over the world considered the second rate citizens, always at the mercy of their husbands who considered as the superior beings. It was noticeable in treating of their land and people. A French Journalist once said that he has Arabian friends whom he met on a daily basis, for twenty years; yet he has never seen one of their wives. In Africa, worst treatments were noticeable on women. Africans; are known to carry things on their heads, and do so with an exquisite sense of balance. It can be observed on the heads of walking Africans, particularly women, everything from bottles standing upright to a mattress. Small children were slung and tied at the back. Therefore, that the woman (who maybe carrying another baby in her belly) has/her hands free for other duties, such as clubbing a donkey with a stick. An observer once asked why Africans who are well off, and could afford to buy bicycles would not buy even carts for transporting heavy equipments. And they answer; “why buy when women are much cheaper and don’t need any spare parts”. What masochists they are! Why not let them carry it themselves. We can clearly see how culture had been subjecting women into such lowly positions. In Kikuyo, another African tribe, women are so much like beasts of burden. They do not carry their loads on their heads but on their backs supported by a leather loop around the forehead. By the time she reached middle age, its belt would have worn a groove across her temples. they could carry as much as two hundred pounds, specially so if she is collecting firewood from the forest grooves.

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“Like the traditional African value system, most traditional African practices are fundamentally biased against women and gender-insensitive. Little wonder, then, it is upheld as a traditional practice in many parts of Africa for girls as young as seven to be married to men old enough to be their fathers, and in some cases, grandfathers. Parents determine who marries their daughters before they are old enough to decide for themselves. Moreover, with the payment of the dowry, a girl is bought and automatically becomes the property of the man, who uses, mistreats, and dumps her when he deems fit.”Leo Igwe. Traditional African Practices

Although there are distinct role of women in Africa, yet these differ from one tribe to another tribe. Take for instance in Basutoland, the Union of South Africa and Great Britain, was seen few eternal signs of color bar where Africans  are allowed to drink, and wonder of wonders even  women may go into bars. Kikuyo. Women considered as slaves, but they have actually a well-defined rights and privileges as well as duties and play a substantial role in the affairs of their communities. This practice gives way to the rise of women in making decision and politics now a days. Aside from that, they have right to property in their own right, which even their husbands may not infringe. Women of the Kavirondo, another Kenya tribe, were not required to use an ax, because it is the man’s duty to clear the land. Women can be fierce politicians. Women have less access to education compared with African male that is why it becomes harder to teach them western standards than to teach men. Because they had less access to education, they know no language except their own. Marriage customs in Africa although have differences in tribal practices, but still it depicts the lowly situation of the female gender. Mostly all the tribes of East Africa are practicing being a polygamous, they have no limit with the number of wives a man can have.  There reason of being a polygamous are both economic and in the realm of symbolism and there superstition; Many of the Africans believe that sexual prowess and in particular the ability to procreate children have an association with the fertility of their soil. A man’s worth is not weighed by the criterion of wealth in much of Black Africa, but of fecundity. But women as a whole, are freer than women in a Moslem society. In addition, this does not mean that they necessarily have a good life, because fathers of husbands can be tyrants anywhere. However, generally speaking, a young Bantu girl is not as a package and delivered to the groom’s sight unseen by her parents, just to become a decoration in a stranger’s harem.  The woman herself can associate with young men and experience the joys of courtship and even have a say in the choice of a husband; she can throw an undesired suitor, and is seldom (at least the progressed tribes like the Chaggas) married against her will. In many tribes, bride is supposed to be a virgin, and being unfaithful, promiscuous and infidelity are frowned. Husbands in some tribes and areas, if they leave home for a trip, can practice upon their wives an operation known as infibulations that is, sewing the girl’s vagina up except for a minuscule orifice. This is carrying the antique European device like of a chastity belt, and is cruel and a painful process. All over Black Africa – for instance, among the Kipsigis – a wife forbidden by practice to conceive a child while having a suckling one. Children were weaned until they reached two years old or older as a rule to follow, and most deliveries are thus spaced out at salutary intervals. One theory to associate for this is that conception “Poisons” the mother’s milk, because of the presence of semen that has got into it. Sexual intercourse itself is not allowed and rude forms of birth control are accepted to practice.  Of course, there are an infinite number of special arrangements and taboos. Kikuyus  ( like the Japanese) do not kiss on the lips. The worst crime is incest, and being a homosexual is uncommon – in fact in other tribes (like the Kikuyu again) is unknown. In some tribe a powerful taboo does not allow any contact between a man and his mother-in-law, even as a form of sociality. Widows in most tribes expected to have a miserable time; in some the deceased husband’s next oldest brother, who is obliged to marry her, inherits a widow. Supposed to be, a woman should not be leave unprotected, and the tribe will safeguard her land if she has any. There are even places where, if there are no male relatives available, the widow will marry another woman in order to help her take care of her stock. In theory, a woman can, become the “stepfather” of another woman’s children. Other two phenomena are significant in this field, the bride price and female circumcision. “Bride Price” means what it syas; it is the agreed sum paid by a man for his wife to the bride’s family – a custom practiced universally throughout the East, Central and South Africa. A marriage cannot possibly done without it, excepted to this practice are the detribalized Africans who lived in the towns. The bride price or the price of the bride is, nine times out of ten, paid in a form of a cattle. When the man’s cattle is not available they can pay with cash, merchandise, services, or can be with the combination of all these may be given; the prospective groom can hire himself out to the bride’s father for work in the fields, and so on. A bride in Kenya can costs from three heifers up or its equivalent. Bride price should point out as more than a mere commercial phenomenon. A father’s children, together with his cattle, are the capital of the family, on which it is fair that he should have some return; if he loses a daughter, he should have an animal or two in exchange of the lost daughter. The ability to pay the bride price shows that the groom is serious to his intentions to a girl, and has reached a certain status in a society. Goods will be given on the tribe, and it is a kind of contractual augury and insurance for a happy marriage.

Among Black Africans, circumcision is not universal by any means. Some tribes – for example, the Angoni, Luo, Chewa, and Bemba – men are uncircumcised, and the Masai men are encourage to have a half circumcision, so that a flap of foreskin hangs down like a rudder. In some tribes that practice the circumcision of males, the procedure is done as a rule when the boy reaches his puberty, not in infancy, and is performed based on what is known as “age groups”.  Some of the proverbs that support and underscore these mythical postulations include, “The clitoris is a cap of prostitution which the vagina wears from heaven.”

“If we don’t clip the clitoris, it is going to be asking great sacrifices from the penis when it grows.”

“The fortune gathered by the penis is taken up by the vagina.” was done en masse – the ceremony has extremely important symbolic significance – and bots are segregated for life into classes depending on their age at that time. Analogously class groups graduates of an American university. In addition, in each group they are named for some special person or event, and these names can be highly picturesque; one in Tanganyika was recently called “Syphilis,” because of a local outbreak of this kind of disease at the time of circumcision. Others has been using Namunyu (hyena), Lumiri ( for a small bird that are the crops), il-Kupai (white swords), il-Kishumu (the raiders), and Airplane.  Circumcision on females is an ugly and complex story. That this kind of operation is possible at all, and to say nothing of the truth that it is widely practiced is a shock to many westerners. Female Kikuyus are not exempted to this practice of female circumcision; so as to Merus, Kambas, some Nandis, Hehes, Dorobos, and others. Other tribes don’t like the Zulus in South Africa. Female circumcision has two types. In the form of least revolting and least damaging, it consists of removal of the clitoris; in other tribes they amputate the labia majora and labia minora. The operation is done when a girl reaches anywhere from ten to fourteen, and it is a part of a group ceremony. Without the matter of how skillfully or aseptically it is done it may have of course the most disastrous consequences. There has been no satisfactory explanation for this odious, rude and degrading practice. Most of the time Africans deny that the operation designed for a woman is incapable of sexual pleasure, so that these women may be more docile. Clitoridectomy they say does not necessarily destroy sexual enjoyment. The Kikuyu leader Jomo Kenyatta is now in prison for alleged complicity in the rebellion of the Mau Mau tribe. He has written at length about female circumcision in Facing Mount Kenya, and he only not defends but extol in it the most lyrical terms; he describes the public circumcision ceremony sounded like a picnic at Vassar. Circumcision on Females, particularly among the Kikuyu, has been an important political problem in Kenya. And Christian missionaries are attacking the practice and had fought to throw it out. Kikuyu nationalists ( even if they are privately ashamed about the issue) resented outside pressure to make them change their own ways. As a consequence female circumcision did not only became an issue binding Kikuyus together , but it was a factor stimulating their hatred among all faces of white colonial control. Dahomey which is  the smallest province in FWA;  lies like a narrow wedge and has a bizarre history. What was most remarkable about Dahomey was their army and that it contained a large number of professionally trained women troops- the famous Amazons. So African women do not just excel in laborious works, they are indeed good spirited in terms of fighting for a cause. They could be fierce and authoritative with a good judgment that brings them to become great rulers and reformists of the modern Africa. For as conclusion, we should mention the significant fact that, Africa is a deeply patriarchal society. Men dominate the socio-economic and political machinery and organizations. Men regarded as natural leaders, who are superior and born to rule over women. Women are weaker vessels-extensions of men and secondary human beings. The pride and dignity of women are derived from and dependent on men. Hence, African societies attach more value and importance to a male child than to a female child. Ten daughters are not worth a son. No woman regarded as complete or real until she gives birth to a male. Delivering a son gives a woman pride and a place at her husband’s home. It said that every married woman stands with one leg in her husband’s house until she gives birth to a male child. Almost everywhere in Black Africa, inheritance of the ruled system is matrilineal. To some born male, the succession passed to a female member of the dynastic line, and therefore a brother or nephew can succeed rather than a son.

Colonialism

Two main things said about colonialism in Africa, without acknowledging the various immoralities and injustices in the system. First is, it did a great deal of good and second is, it is dying. The benefits of the colonial system that was brought to Africa, even if it brought abuses too, are incontestable. Maybe much of what the white man did was the selfishness, since it was for the benefit of the white communities, but the records stands for itself. The Europeans may have ravaged a continent, but they also opened it up to the civilization. Colonialism made the today’s nationalism possible, and opened the door to democracy. The European abolished slavery and made an end to tribal warfare. They have  created communications for the Africans, improved the Africans standard of living, developed natural resources, Europeans introduced scientific agriculture, fought to control malaria and other diseases, established public health controls, they gave the natives only an inch away form barbarism stable administration and a regime based in theory at least on justice and law. The most important of all, which is the white man’s law, is they brought Christianity and western education. Though the education is not that much, but only some. In addition, to think, there had been none practically before. If the white man has done so much good, is he on the way out in large parts of Africa? Why was the old-style colonialism, the rule of the white powers, dying if not dead? There are all manner of reasons. Ethics – is the pervasive feeling that it is morally wrong for one nation to conquer and rule another nations. After all Africa is the African’s own continent. The diminishing returns – the truth that the expense of continued repressive rule outbalances the return, Force costs money. Christianity – the missionaries taught that all men are equal under God’s eyes. Woodrow Wilson – who shared and preached the determination of small Nation,. The two calamities of world war destroyed the Europeans imperial system, and gave Africans good chance to learn about the frailties of their white masters. Two hundred thousand Africans either fought in World War I as colonial troops or otherwise; five hundred thousand fought in World War II. Both the Atlantic Center and the United Nations Charter were furnished hope to colonial people everywhere. There are non-white governments who have successfully established a rule, example of this are India and Middle East. To top if all, the population ratio and the growing force of African nationalism itself.  West African practice of enslaving prisoners of war (a common phenomenon among many peoples on all of the continents) caused colonial powers to traded guns, brandy and other goods for these slaves, but this had little effect on the Arabian and African trade. The African slaves proved more resistant to European diseases than indigenous Americans, familiar with a tropical climate and accustomed to agricultural work. As a result, regular trade was soon established. The great deal of Africa is of course that they are still under colonial rule, and in the Congo, several French territories and Portuguese Africa is not likely to be upset for the years to come. But the patterns are changing. Outright repression is no longer in vogue, except in the sorest spot in the continent, which is the Union of South Africa. It is only that the white man are defensive, he is also frightened. Therefore, the major trend in much of White Africa today is a unique combination of stubborn defiance of the growing power of natives, altogether with the attempts to save the situation and prolong the colonial rule by a steady, if slow, process of amelioration and concession. Other sensible Europeans know that the price of peaceable European survival of the continent if to have a reformation. But if they go, what will take the place of the European regime? Are the Africans capable of self-government? However, never in some areas. In addition, the question has no longer has the relevance, though it seemed strange.  Today, however, some scholars assert that slavery did not have a wholly disastrous effect on those left behind in Africa and that the numbers of slaves exported were large, but so was the population from which they were drawn. At its peak, the Atlantic slave trade took about 90,000 slaves per year out of a total population of around 25 million in just Guinea, where the vast majority originated.

Post Colonialism

At the 2001 World Conference Against Racism in Durban South Africa, African nations demanded a clear apology for the slavery from the former slave-trading countries. Some EU nations were ready to express an apology, but the opposition, mainly from the United Kingdom, Spain, Netherlands, Portugal, and the United States blocked attempts to do so. A fear of monetary compensation was one of the reasons for the opposition.

November 28th, 2006 Tony Blair made a partial apology for Britains role in the African slavery trade. However African rights activists denounced it as “empty rhetoric” that failed to address the issue properly. They feel his apology stopped shy to prevent any legal retort”. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/African_slave

“The prospects for our future are very good, living as we do on the most materially and humanly endowed continent on the planet earth. Besides, we have had too much experience with pain even hesitate about choosing about a different tomorrow. We have nothing to lose by envisioning and creating a new future, and we have every reason to want something different for Africa in the 21st century. So whatever we take from the past, let us be very discriminating and take only that which will enable us to shape an agenda, an identity that will reflect new ideals and new traditions. Let me warn you, as an older feminist-and I hope the goddess will keep me until I am more than a hundred years old-that the backlash will be real and difficult to withstand. It is vicious and ever-present: patriarchy can be so hegemonic and overwhelming…the isolation, the threats, the violence, in some cases the murder of feminists…the Otherness and the marginalization.”

Today, we could say that Africa is witnessing enormous and appreciable changes in the perception and status of women. Many African women have been consistent and courageous in their demand for justice and equality with men. At last they were already aware of their rights as women with capacities and traits to be recognized in society. They want recognition and respect for their right to marry the mates of their choice, whenever and wherever they wish. They want their rights to reproductive health and integrity respected. They want the right to divorce and to own property. Therefore, with this we hope that the dark ages of ignorance will be eradicated in the African Women society. As the new African women have been into politics and leadership, showing they have the same if not more endowed talents and good judgment than the male counterpart, let us say onward to freedom for all African women. The liberation struggles, particularly in Southern Africa, ushered in two new eras — independence and the subversion of gender roles. Liberation wars in Southern Africa, has caused traditional gender roles to be over turned when women participated in the struggle for independence by going to the battlefront. These women wore military fatigues, just like their male counterparts, They, undergo trainings in guerrilla warfare and took up decision-making posts. The significance of women’s participation in the struggle is being felt through events unfolding in this day, particularly in relation to gender issues. Female participation challenged power structures based on patriarchy. The struggle for independence in Zimbabwe, for instance, thrust women in decision-making roles and today, women rightly demand their share of participation in socio-economic and political activities. When women demand their rights in independent Zimbabwe, this interpreted not as mischief but as an attempt to transform the wartime experience into peacetime empowerment. Analysts and female activists have argued that women had to become aggressive to push for equality because immediately after the liberation struggles, women’s issues were generally not on national agendas. Bureaucratic sabotage also compromised programmers aimed at female advancement. The liberation struggles had demonstrated that women were active agents of political, economic and social change. They want to shake off the contradictions of social and political progress that had started during the liberation wars. After the wars, many women were, by implication, forced to go from the bush to the kitchen. What women are demanding is meaningful participation in policymaking and resource utilization. They want to benefit substantially from both public and private resources and services in the countries they helped liberate. They aimed to enjoy equal status in constructing peace and prosperity. Women are now focusing on activities and laws that compensate for gender disparities in rights, education, resources and power. Their starting point is women’s rights, and rights start from the individual up to the national and international levels. The ANC of South Africa, Frelimo of Mozambique and Zanu-PF have been cited by analysts as parties that have, to a considerable extent, recognized the importance of having women in top decision-making positions. Take for example Rwanda, it had been hailed as the country with the highest number of women representatives in the world after the 2003 parliamentary elections in that country when women had 49 percent of the seats. However, women are also pushing for societies to ensure that their political rights fully exercised. One problem they face is social attitudes by many. The trend, as analysts note, is that people criticize or question the qualifications of women in political positions while ignoring men who in some cases are under-qualified. Some of the men tend to be under-performers as well. Most laws that are repealed or replaced in independent States; have institutionalized gender inequality. And some of the new laws that cause a lot of controversy attempt to reflect the new era in terms of the advancement of women. However, analysts have noted that legislation in independent states can promote the advancement of women while gendered practices continue to haunt even those women who actively participated in liberating the country.

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