History becomes "Her-story" in West Africa: Representations of the female gender's role in the past, present, & future of West Africa

Essay by Chelsea2310College, UndergraduateA, October 2003

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The history of West Africa has often been the story of men. Whether European colonial administrators or indigenous Africans, the perspective of these men dominates the context of West Africa's history from before, during, and after colonial rule. In our course "West Africa in the 20th Century," we made a point to consider the viewpoints of African women. Colonial systems of administration had profound effects on these women, yet that did not stop them from joining in anti-colonialism struggles and producing changes in gender and power relations from the colonial period to the present. Gender history does not necessarily mean women's history, but the strong-willed, influential women of Nigeria, Senegal, and Ghana have left a lasting impression on colonial administrators and African men alike.

Women were affected negatively more than positively during the run of colonialism in Africa. Changes in gender roles and statuses were felt the greatest by women who were forced to adjust to new sexual divisions of labor in agricultural, urban, and political sectors of the economy.

Author Bessie House Soremekun states that, "colonialism affected the status and authority that women had achieved in the pre-colonial era (Vol. 4, 107)." Their status and power declined because colonialism impacted basically every aspect of their lives, including economic position, family, and education. Colonial administrators believed that men should control the cultivation and production of crops because they thought they would have more success in this area than women would. For this reason, the administrators discouraged women from continuing the farming and production systems that they previously dominated. Women who did continue their pre-colonial farming practices were forced to rely on time-consuming indigenous methods of production. Men, on the other hand, were often taught the latest techniques that could be used to advance their farming and production skills.