Photographers’ Biographies

The photographs throughout the book, as well as on the cover, are portrait pho­tographs taken by photographers working in Mali in the 1950s—1980s. The ar­rangements (clothes, poses, accessories) are chosen by the models themselves.

Hamadou Bocoum (1930—1992) was born in in a small Peul village in northen Mali. He grew up in a family of griots (traditional oral keepers of history). He lived with his uncle in a town on the banks of the Niger river. The places along the river were visited by travelling photographers, who would set up temporary studios and darkrooms wherever they went. Later he moved to Bamako in order to be­come a schoolteacher. It was here, in the early 1950s, he learned photography. In 1956, when he was sent to Mopti, northern Mali, to teach in primary school, he opened a studio in the old part of town. For the rest of his life he divided his time between teaching and photography. He worked as a photographer until 1982, when his sons took over his studio. Throughout his life Amadou Bocoum trav­elled extensively, which brought him into contact with what was happening in other parts of the continent. His trips took him to the Ivory Coast, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Ghana and Mauretania. These trips, according to his son, contrib­uted to the expansion of his practice, providing him with new ideas.

Seydou Kei’ta (1923—2001) was born in Bamako, Mali, in the part of the town known as Medina Koura. He was trained as a carpenter, making furniture out of wood. Kei’ta’s first camera was given to him by a relative from Senegal, and he set out to learn photography through trial and error, being helped, however, by a French photographer in Bamako, Pierre Garnier. Combining carpentry and pho­tography, Kei’ta was finally able to open his own studio in 1948. At that time there were several photographers in Bamako, but Keita’s studio was well situated in a busy part of the town, and people liked his portraits. Samples of his work were exhibited on the walls of the studio, so that customers could choose the positions they liked, and there was also a choice of possible accessories, such as a watch, a fountain pen, a radio, a telephone, a bicycle, an alarm clock. Kei’ta always made a point of saving and filing his negatives, and his photographs can be dated accord­ing to the backdrop he uses: 1940—52: bedspread with fringes; 1952—55: flower pattern; 1956: leaf backdrop; 1957—60: arabesque backdrop; 1960—64: grey back­drop. From 1962, when Mali became independent, until his retirement in 1977, Kei’ta worked for the Malian government as a state photographer. Since 1991 Sey­dou Keita’s photographs have been exhibited all over the world.

Abderramane Sakaly (1926—1988) took an early interest in photography. His fa­ther was a trader from Morocco who married and settled in Saint Louis, Senegal. Abderramane Sakaly learnt the profession in the studio of Mei’ssa Gaye and Mix Gueve in Saint Louis. In 1956 he moved to Mali, setting up a studio in the Medina

Photographers’ Biographies

Koura part of Bamako, the capital of Mali. Although originally a trader in textiles, he eventually settled down to become one of Bamako’s best known studio pho­tographers. His studio, on the busy Route de Koulikoro, was visited by all the im­portant people of Bamako. Since Abderramane Sakaly’s death in 1988 the studio has been run by his son. The space has been converted into a small business with a telephone booth and a fax machine. Clients still come to have their ID pictures taken, but the era of studio photography is over.

El Hadj Bassirou Sanni (1937—2000) was born in Nigeria, getting his schooling in photography with a master of the art in Lagos. Here he worked with a plate camera in large format, and also learned the difficult art of retouching with a sharpened soft pencil directly on the negative. In 1962 Sanni settled in Mopti, northern Mali. From Nigeria he brought a fine Japanese mahogany plate camera; with this equipment he started his career. People came to his studio to be photo­graphed with a radio, a bicycle or a moped, symbols of modernity and prestige. In 1970 his business went so well that Bassirou Sanni sent for his younger brother, Latifu to come and help him in the studio and to be his apprentice in photogra­phy. In 1971 the elder brother’s friend from Nigeria, Tidjan Shitou also settled in Mopti. After Bassirou Sanni’s death, Latifu Sanni continued on his own in the stu­dio in the old part of Mopti.

El Hadj Tidjan Shitou (1933-2000) was born and grew up in Nigeria. He start­ed out as a trader, but when government regulations created problems in trade, he took up photography, working as an apprentice with a Nigerian photographer in Gao, northern Mali. In 1968 he left his master and started travelling across rural Mali, making ID photographs and portraits. Working between Mopti and Djenne, he eventually made enough money to establish his own studio. In 1971 he settled down in Mopti, northen Mali, in a small 9 m2 studio in the old part of town. Ini­tially his studio was open only at night. In the daytime he continued taking ID pic­tures down by the river. After some time he was able to work full time in his studio and became well known as a studio photographer in Mopti. According to el Hadj Tidjan Shitou himself, photography gave him everything a good Muslim wants in life. He could afford three wives, a house, and a pilgrimage to Mecca together with his friend Bassirou Sanni. After Tidjan Shitou’s death his studio was taken over by his sons, who are well-known photographers in Mopti today.

Sources, further reading (and more photographs)

www. african-collection. dk (the Sokkelund Africa Collection).

Elder, Tanya, 1997, Capturing Change: The Practice of Malian Photography 1930s – 1990s. Linkoping: Linkoping University, Sweden.

Magnin, Andre (ed.), 1997, Seydou Keita. Zurich, Berlin, New York: Contemporary African Art Collection.

Photographers’ Biographies



[1] The paper in question was first published in 1986, and again in 1988. An updated and modified version was pub­

lished in Mohanty et al. (eds) 1991, from which I quote. In a recent paper: “Under Western Eyes” Revisited (2002)

Mohanty discusses current intellectual and political challenges for feminist scholarship and organizing. Her cri­

tique in the 1986 paper remains, however, valid.

[5] Two papers presented at the Sex & Secrecy Conference in Johannesburg, 22—25 June 2003. Neville Hoad (2003) and Heike Becker (2003) alerted me to these particular Mbeki speeches.

[6] For further analysis of the Sarah Bartmann case, cf. Arnfred’s chapter.

[7] Neville Hoad’s presentation at the Sex & Secrecy Conference in Johannesburg, June 2003.

[8] Investigating issues of gender and sexuality in Mozambique in the early 1980s, I found similar customs in Manica/Sofala in patrilineal central Mozambique.

[9] In regard to gender-and-development (GAD) discourse I am referring not only to a particular line of thinking and talking, a certain vocabulary etc, but also to the institutions in which these lines of thinking are produced and the practices with which they are connected.

[10] As outlined e. g. by Judith Butler: “The very notion of patriarchy has threatened to become a universalizing con­cept that overrides or reduces distinct articulations of gender asymmetry in different cultural contexts. As femi­nism has sought to become integrally related to struggles against racialist and colonialist oppression, it has become increasingly important to resist the colonizing epistemological strategy that would subordinate different configurations of domination under the rubric of a transcultural notion of patriarchy” (Butler 1993:46).

[11] Fanon as a psychiatrist talks of ’phobia’ rather than of ’fear’—”the Negro is phobogenic” (Fanon 1952/1986: 154).

[12] Cf. the previous footnote.

[13] This chapter has benefited substantially from comments on an earlier draft made by the participants of the con­ference “Contexts of Gender in Africa”, 21—24 February 2002, Uppsala, Sweden; and during the University of Cape Town/University of the Western Cape Joint Anthropology Seminar, 28 February 2002.

[14] This commissioned study was carried out under the auspices of a collection of local and international research and development Non-Governmental Organisations (cf. NDT & CASS 1994; Becker and Hinz 1995).

[15] Efundula (pl. omafunduld) is currently used in Namibian discourse as the generic term for Owambo women’s initia­tion. More precisely, it is known as efundula in Oukwanyama, ohango in Ondonga and Uukwambi, and olufuko in most parts of western Owambo.

[16] The chapter draws on field research on various occasions from 1996 through to 1999, on archival research at the Vereinigte Evangelische Mission archives in Wuppertal, Germany and at the ELCIN (Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia) Leonard Auala archives in Oniipa in January and May 1999 respectively, and on the analysis of ethnographic and documentary film. The field research was assisted by Nangula Amoonga and Natangwe Shapange in 1996, by Piteimo Hainyanyula in 1997, Penoshinge Shililifa in 1998, and Monica Kalondo in 1999, to whom many thanks are due. The 1996 research was carried out jointly with Patricia Hayes. Nepeti Nicanor tran­scribed and translated the interviews recorded in 1996; transcriptions and translations of the later research were done by Piteimo Hainyanyula, Monica Kalondo, Sacky Shanghala and Penoshinge Shililifa. Research was sup­ported by the Sonderforschungsbereich 389 ‘Kultur- und Landschaftswandel im ariden Afrika, Entwicklungspro – zesse unter okologischen Grenzbedingungen’, University of Cologne in 1996, by the Swedish International Development Agency in 1997, the Department for Cooperation and Cultural Affairs of the French Embassy to Namibia in 1998, and the Ford Foundation in 1999.

[17] Megan Vaughan (1991:21) argues that in British colonial medical discourse male African sexuality became a signi – fier for ‘the African’, although female sexuality became an object of concern and control at specific moments, in particular in the debate on sexually transmitted diseases. Marion Wallace (1998), and Lynette Jackson in a presen­tation at the 2001 African Studies Association meeting in Houston/Texas, have shown attempts at subjecting African women to compulsory examinations for STDs in colonial Namibia and Zimbabwe respectively.

[18] I understand public culture in this context broadly as cultural strategies aimed at pulling local, national and, poten­tially, transnational communities together.

[19] Audrey Richards’ dense text on a 1931 girl’s initiation among the Bemba is still an outstanding example (Richards 1982). Victor Turner (1967; 1969) has partly drawn on Ndembu female initiation in his writings on ritual. More recent are Corinne Kratz’s work on ritual efficacy in Okiek women’s initiation in Kenya (1994), and Signe Arn – fred’s on Mozambique (1990).

[20] Patricia Hayes has critically appraised Hahn’s photography in general, and his visual narratives of initiation in par­ticular (Hayes 1998a). An exception among the Owambo ethnography is the work by British sisters Diana and Antoinette Powell-Cotton, who observed and filmed a Kwanyama efundula in southern Angola in 1937. A recent analysis of their work commended that they had made a remarkable effort for their time, “a genuine and success­ful attempt at studying women as active members of society and not merely as passive observers or even sex objects” (Davies 1987, 7).

[21] It should particularly be taken into account that there is a definite lack of relevant ethnographic accounts of west­ern Owambo. Nothing has been written on initiation in the West that is not in either Oshiwambo or Finnish. I am grateful to Meredith McKittrick (1999) for alerting me to this point.

[22] Interviews; Evaristus Amweelo, 12.12.1996, Ondjondjo; Fransina Kuutondokwa, 12.12.1996, Omusheshe; Peyav – ali Naliende, 14.12.1996, Omatunda; Haikali Hamunyela, 16.12.1996, Ongha; Ester Kashikuko kaNande, 17.12.1996, Onengali. In western Owambo, women seem to have been the main leaders of initiation (Meredith McKittrick, personal communication).

[23] Interviews; Julia Mbida, 16.12.1996, Odibo; Ester Kashikuko kaNande, 17.12.1996, Onengali.

[24] Only Diana and Antoinette Powell-Cotton were apparently more sensitive to androcentrism and sexism (cf. Dav­ies 1987:6-7).

[25] I refer to the area as Owambo unless specified contexts require the colonial designation, Ovamboland.

[26] NAN, NAO Vol 13 6/2/5, NC Ovamboland – Secretary SWA, 27.8.1935, cited in: Hayes 1992:303.

[27] Interview with Haikali Hamunyela, 16.12.1996, Ongha.


[28] In a study of the Basler Mission’s efforts directed at women, Prodolliet (1987, 71-75) has shown how the mission­aries’ efforts to ‘clothe’ the ‘natives’ targeted particularly women, since women were perceived as sensual and potentially sinful, which implied their alleged uncontrolled sexuality.

[29] VEM, RMG 1.658a B/c II 85; Sckar, Karl an Inspektor der Rheinischen Mission; Namakunde, 30.12.1911.

[30] VEM, RMG 2.629 C/k 5 Missionarskonferenzen im Ovamboland:Protokolle; Protokoll der Konferenz rhin. Mis – sionare in Ukuanjama. Vom 6.-9. Dez. 1913. The next efundula which had been intended for 1915 was called off when a devastating famine ravaged Owambo that year.

[31] VEM, RMG 2.518 C/h 34 Quartalsbericht der Station Ondjiva vom 1. Januar-31. Marz 1913. Absender: Hoch­strate.

[32] VEM, RMG 2.636 C/k 22; Vortrage und Aufsatze zur Ovambo-Mission von A. Wulfhorst 1910-1933.

[33] The preparation for the efundula has been described in detail by Tonjes (1911:133-136) and Bruwer (1959:115­116).

[34] Estermann (1976:70) wrote that from the early years of Christianisation among the Kwanyama of Southern Angola ‘to marry in church’ was frequently translated as okufukala m’okapela (to do the initiation rite in the chapel/ church).

[35] It appears that the 23 years of the liberation war (1966—1989) did more to discourage such events that involved all-night outdoor sessions. (Interview; Mirjam Kautwima, Shipola Kukenge, Mukwaluwala Hitombo, 18.5.1999, Ongha.)

[36] The following discussion is mainly based on the 1996 research in Oukwanyama.

[37] Interviews; Evaristus Amweelo, 12.12.1996, Ondjondjo; Fransina Kuutondokwa, 12.12.1996, Omusheshe; Peyav – ali Naliende, 14.12.1996, Omatunda; Ha. ika.1i Hamunyela, 16.12.1996, Ongha.

[38] Focus group discussion with women aged 20-29, 20.8.1998, Tsumeb.

[39] Telephone interview; Bishop Kleopas Dumeni, 8.5.1996.

[40] Telephone interview; Bishop Kleopas Dumeni, 8.5.1996.

[41] Interview; Rev. Linekela Shidute, 13.8.1998, Tsumeb.

[42] The politics of these campaigns have been questioned by anthropologists and African feminist scholar-activists on the grounds of their implicit racism and ethnocentrism (cf. Kratz 1994:341—347; Nnaemeka 2001).

[43] Several leading ELCIN clergy have expressed their respective views in conversations with myself and other researchers. I refrain from naming those who have shared their thoughts with me for reasons of privacy, but still wish to express my gratitude. Ian Fairweather’s insightful doctoral thesis on identity politics and the heritage industry in Owambo (2001), as well as our earlier conversations, have helped to clarify my thoughts on the role of efundula in identity formation.

[44] Interview; Martha Waalye, 18.8.1998,Tsumeb.

[45] It was the absence of any references to sexuality in the analytical works of Ifi Amadiume and Oyeronke Oyewumri—authors whose work I admire and which I have used a lot—that first alerted me to this general absence. I later saw it confirmed by Amina Mama (1996).

[46] According to Lindy Stiebel (2001) an early interpretation of this treasure map as a woman’s body can be seen in one of the many film versions of the book, where the map is engraved on the body of a small nude female sculp­ture (Stiebel 2001:101).

[47] The fact that they were inhabited did not really count in this context, since Africans were anyhow seen as living outside History. According to Hegel, Africa was ‘no historical part of the world, with no movement or develop­ment to exhibit’ (McClintock 1995:40).

[48] Stiebel points to the fact that Haggard and Freud are contemporaries (2001:49) noting several parallels in their lines of thinking.

[49] According to Strother, contemporary documents often refer to Baartman as Saartje, which is a diminutive of Sarah. Such diminutives were, however, often used for slaves and blacks—similar to calling a grown up black man ‘boy’. Strother therefore prefers to use the adult name Sarah, and I follow her example.

[50] Sander Gilman (1989) shows no restraint in reproducing these demeaning pictures. Considerable more concern is shown by Yvette Abrahams (1997, 1998) and Z. S. Strother (1999).

[51] Strother’s paper carries as annexes a series of documents from the court case.

[52] Title: Extraits d’observations faites sur le cadavre d’une femme connue a Paris et a Londres sous le nom de Venus Hottentote (Gilman 1989:359).

[53] Even if the exhibition of Sarah Bartmann entered into the line of ‘freak shows’ popular in England at the time, Sarah Bartmann was exhibited as a typical, as opposed to an extraordinary specimen (i. e. freaks like dwarfs, giants, porcupine men etc), cf. Strother 1999:24 .

[54] As for another difference, regarding which people like Cuvier were particularly curious, the so-called tablier (elon­gated lips of the vagina), Bartmann managed to keep this a secret until after her death, when Couvier could finally get his will with her (Strother 1999:35).

[55] This aspect of Gilman’s analysis is discussed and developed by Susanne Thorbek (1998).

[56] The line of argument taken by Ahlberg is parallel to one of the sides in the Uganda-syphilis debate, according to Vaughan (1991): That the vulnerability of the Baganda to the disease had been created by the disintegration of their traditional social and political systems brought about primarily by the introduction of Christianity (Vaughan 1991:133).

[57] These practices, as also stressed by Kendall, coexisted with the women being engaged in ‘normal’ heterosexual marriages. Women-to-women relationships were a supplement, not an alternative to marriage.

[58] The chapter is based on experiences from my anthropological fieldwork that was conducted in the Lower Casa­mance region in the Fogny area during a period of 16 months between December 1997 and July 1999. I stayed in a small village of about 400 inhabitants, in the compound of an extended, polygynous Muslim Jola family. Inter­views were conducted with people in different villages in the area, where I also attended several initiation rites for girls. The chapter is part of my PhD project financed by Sida/Sarec. A previous version of this chapter has been published in Goteborg University in Africa—.Africa at Goteborg University (Narman and Ewald 2001).

Internationally, ‘female genital mutilation’ (FGM) is the generally accepted term used by Western as well as many African activists working against the practice. Until the 1970’s, the concept ‘female circumcision’ was used, but has since come to be understood as an euphemism. However, in a local context the concept FGM is con­ceived of as insulting; no parent would agree with the statement that they are mutilating the daughters, which is why I do not use this term other than in referring to a Western context of understanding. The Jola generally refer to the practice, which among them comprises clitoridectomy, as ‘circumcision’ and ‘excision’. As this chapter is about Jola conceptions of the practice, these are the concepts I will use. It is important to note that the non-Mus­lim, foremost Christian, Jola do not practise female circumcision (Linares 1992, Thomas 1959, Friebe 1996), while male circumcision is practised by both Christian and Muslim Jola (Linares 1992, Mark 1992). This chapter deals exclusively with the Muslim Jola population..

[59] Excision has come to be associated with Islam among many practising and non-practising people. The custom predates Islam by at least 2,500 years. It is unknown in Saudi Arabia, the cradle of Islam and the majority of Mus­lims in Africa do not practise it. Female circumcision is a local tradition and not a universal Islamic practice (Kas – samali 1998). It is not mentioned in the Quran, nor in the Bible or in the Torah. It is, however, practised and commonly used as a religious marker by certain Muslim, as well as Christian, Jewish, and ‘animist’ ethnic groups in different parts of the world (Dorkenoo 1994; Toubia 1995). Considering the high prevalence of excision in the African continent, the practice is foremost an African phenomenon.

[60] See also Alice Joyce Hamer (1983).

[61] See Newsweek October 1994; New African, January 1997; The Democrat, September 26, 1996.

[62] In January 1999 the Senegalese government passed a law against female genital mutilation.

[63] In an article in Le Monde (June 2000) a male journalist writes on female circumcision in Senegal. He draws the conclusion that: “Excision… simply seems to be an expression of men’s will to control their wives’ and daugh­ters’ sexuality by mutilating them” (my translation). This sentence, written in one of Europe’s most renowned newspapers, can be seen as representing the deeply prejudiced assumptions commonly held by many in the West­ern world on practising people and, by extension, people in the Third World. The important distinction between structure and actual individuals is missing and this evokes an image of all women as powerless victims in the hands of men, who are egocentric monsters (cf. Mohanty 1999).

[64] An emic model explains the ideology or behaviour of members of a culture according to indigenous definitions, whereas an etic model is based on criteria from outside a particular culture (Barnard 1996).

[65] The Jola word for circumcision, sunnaye comes from the Arabic word sunnah which means ‘tradition’. Within Islam, sunnah is the generic term for the Hadiths (the accounts of the Prophet Mohammed’s life, his sayings and doings). Acts that are considered religiously advisable are called sunnah, which is a subject of local variation (e. g. Abu-Salieh 1999). There is no Islamic consensus on female circumcision being advisable (see footnote 1 on p.80).

[66] Christian Jola women who convert to Islam and choose to undergo excision usually have to cope with their fam­ily’s dislike, which means that their freedom of choice is relative.

[67] According to Skramstad (1990:12), solima means ‘uncircumcised person’. Weil (1976:187), who has done fieldwork in the Gambia as Skramstad, says it means ‘sexually licentious person’. Skramstad (1990) critisises him for not explaining how he comes to this conclusion. Her study does not support his interpretation and neither does mine.

[68] Cf. Foucault 1976.

[69] Cf. Wilhelm Reich and Herbert Marcuse using Freud’s theory on sexual repression and neurosis for re-analysis.

[70] These findings on male resistance correspond with recent studies from other parts of Africa and from studies on

Africans in Sweden (cf. Almroth & Almroth-Berggren 1998; Johnsdotter 2000a, 2000b, 2002; Skramstad 1990).

[71] According to different review articles and a MEDLINE search conducted by us in March 2001, male circumci­sion and HIV have been discussed in approximately 40 articles since 1986, with a peak from 1999 onwards. These articles in the Lancet, British Medical Journal, AIDS, International Journal STD AIDS, Clinical Infectious Diseases, New England Medical Journal and International Journal of Epidemiology (and to some extent other media following up the medical reporting) constitute the material of this study. The debate has continued since this study was concluded.

[72] TAC is a noteworthy health movement with its emphasis on generating political mobilization in society. It deserves a more thorough examination than what is possible here (Jungar and Oinas 2003).

[73] Mainly two explanations are given as to why uncircumcised men would be more vulnerable to HIV infection. Firstly the foreskin contains HIV target cells. During intercourse the foreskin is pulled back and the highly vascu – larised part of the foreskin, which contains a high density of HIV-target cells, is exposed. The other explanation is that the foreskin during intercourse may be more sensitive to trauma, which could cause tearing and bleeding, which means additional vulnerability to HIV. Finally it is explained that circumcision may reduce the risk of STDs, which act as co-factors for HIV infection (Weiss et al. 2000; Szabo & Short 2000a).

[74] Another problematic issue is the objectification of participants during a research process. Concerning male cir­cumcision trials the researchers point out that men’s own accounts of whether their penises are sufficiently cir­cumcised cannot be trusted but their penises should be examined by experts to see whether at all, and to what extent, the foreskin is removed (Weiss et al. 2000:2368). We find such examinations extremely humiliating. They resemble examinations conducted on mine workers in South Africa, which violate basic human rights and the bodily integrity of workers (Butchart 1998).

[75] According to current medical understanding HIV infection is no longer a life threatening condition but, with con­tinuous treatment, leads to a manageable chronic disease.

[76] I use the term “Third World” pointedly to refer to those countries and societies that have overtly experienced col­onization, or covertly continue to experience different forms of exploitation. I do not use the term to denote hier­archy (the sense in which it was used in the 1970s development literature) relative to a “first” world, but rather to reflect the political, economic and cultural dominance that has divided the world, and which is implicit in many of the concepts and the discourse on population and demography.

[77] Credit to Marilyn Waring (1999) who uses the term to reflect the over-consumption and waste in the industrial­ized nations. The resultant discrepancies that thus exist between these nations and those in the Third World can­not be overlooked in analyses of population discourse.

[78] Even in Africa the trend continues. The stated goals of the revised 1994 Ghana population policy, for example, even though these include the pursuit of programmes and measures directed at promoting development, enhanc­ing the status of women, and improving not only reproductive/maternal health, but also general health and nutri­tion, still maintain a fertility-reduction focus (Population Impact Project 1995).

[79] The need for comparative fertility data on a global scale prompted the creation of demographic surveys that measure individuals’ knowledge, attitudes and practices (KAP) related to a range of reproductive issues. The first, the World Fertility Survey (WFS 1972—1984) was carried out in more than 60 countries focusing primarily on fer­tility and maternal and child health. Contraceptive Prevalence Surveys (CPS 1977—1985) were designed to quickly provide basic indicators on family planning and fertility. Since 1984, when The Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) program was established at The Institute for Resource Development, Inc. (IRD), over 100 surveys com­bining the qualities of the WFS and the CPS have been carried out in the Third World. The DHS include impor­tant questions on maternal and child health, nutrition, and HIV/AIDS (www. measuredhs. com/data/indicators/ table_builder; accessed June 18, 2002).

[80] Refers to the physiological cessation of menstruation such as during pregnancy or lactation, as well as the patho­logical absence of menstruation.

[81] Belatedly the population establishment has also conceded that women may not be using contraceptives because of opposition from male partners, hence the new call to “focus on men” (Population Reference Bureau 1996). However, even here the emphasis has often been on disagreement about using contraceptives rather than on dis­agreement about fertility preferences.

[82] Hereafter referred to simply as abortion.

[83] Some of the DHS carried out since the mid-1980s also include similar questions for smaller (sub-) samples of male respondents.

[84] There were also important political and epistemological reasons for this historical trend, which this chapter can­not take up, but which are addressed elsewhere (see Adomako Ampofo 2002).

[85] The WFS did not ask women about their desire to space births.

[86] This was found to be useful in distinguishing between women who needed temporary methods (for spacing) from those who needed permanent or long-term methods (to stop childbearing).

[87] 20 in Africa, 5 in the Near East and North Africa, 8 in Asia, and 11 in South America.

[88] In some countries, contraceptive use rates in the 1990s have remained under 5 per cent (DHS/Macro Interna­tional 1995).

[89] An important exception are the Contraceptive Prevalence Surveys carried out in the Caribbean region in which male respondents were also considered as potentially having an unmet need. Men were included in this category if they were sexually active, their partners fecund and not pregnant, they did not want their partners to become pregnant but neither was using contraception (see McFarlane et al. 1994).

[90] Sexually active unmarried adults or adolescents form another group, who have generally been neglected in the conceptualisation and measurement of unmet need. These groups, if they are sexually active, are obviously at greater risk of having unwanted or mistimed pregnancies. Westhoff himself (Westhoff et al. 1994) observes that this is a serious omission.

[91] Many useful, thorough accounts exist (see the work of Fortes, Nukunya, Oppong, Sarpong to name but a few).

[92] New babies are usually ‘outdoored’ presented to the families in ritual celebrations, about a week after they are born.

[93] The performance of initiation rites, however, has declined markedly over the last few decades.

[94] In 1958 the Native Authority Courts were officially abolished; however, certain customary laws have been incor­porated into judicial laws. Furthermore, traditional courts still have limited jurisdiction in domestic issues espe­cially pertaining to marriage and the family.

[95] See Adomako Ampofo (1999) for an analysis of the effects of these variables on what I refer to as individuals’ gender orientations, and how this is associated with reproductive decision-making.

[96] A 12th wife could not be interviewed as her schedule did not seem to make this possible, hence my ending up with 11 and not 12 dyads.

[97] A possible ninth category, “Wife not then/Husband no more” (Wife wait—husband stop) was not represented in my data.


[98] In the case of one particular couple (not discussed in this chapter) the wife indicates she wanted the child “then” during the survey but revises her position during the interview to say she did not want the child at all. What I assess has happened in the intervening period is that she believes her husband to have taken a second wife, and that this new relationship causes him to neglect his family. She now says she wishes her young daughter had never been born and insists that she did not want to get pregnant at the time.

[99] All names have been changed.

[100] There is very little accurate data on the incidence of abortions in Ghana; however, a study of complications aris­ing from incomplete abortions carried out at the nation’s major hospital in the 1980s suggests that the incidence is high among women in their late teens and early twenties (Ampofo 1993).

[101] For example Sinding and Fathalla (1995) proposed this at the ICPD (International Conference on Population and Development) held in Cairo in 1994.

[102] I write coloured, black, white or any race name in small letters but follow the usage of the students and other writ­ers when quoting. However, African, Indians or European I capitalise as I take these to be more than strictly race identities.

[103] Anlu refers to the act of female militancy.

[104] The author provides a description from Gaza where groups of girls would go to the dense bush about 3 o’clock in the morning, each of them carrying a capulana (a coloured piece of cloth, normally used as a skirt) to be used as cover once the work started, because they would be sitting like somebody giving birth to a child. On the first day they would be given instructions by the madrinhas (older women in charge) about how to procede, and after that each of the girls would continue on her own, using a certain pomade to facilitate the process. In the course of this work the madrinhas would check each one of the girls in order to see if they had been pulling satisfactorily, at the same time verifying that some of them had been doing too little work.

G-spot is a region of the wall in front of the vagina which swells during sexual arousal and is highly sensitive to stimulation.

[105] Wekker explains that ‘mati work’ is an institution in which Creole women openly engage in sexual relationships with men and with women, either simultaneously or consecutively. Mati is the Creole word for friend used by and for males and females. Mati work is called work by insiders because it involves obligations between two female partners in nurturing, social, sexual and economic spheres. In the Afro-Surinamese construct, these women share the values of a working class culture that stresses the importance of motherhood, emotional and financial savvy, and a sharp presentation of the self. And it is a culture where importantly, sexual activity is considered healthy and in itself more interesting than the gender of the object of one’s passion (Wekker 1997; also in Wekker 1992).

[106] This practice is worsened sometimes by a cutting and sewing of the large lips (labia majora). This latter procedure is called “infibulation”.

[107] Castes are social groups with lower status, resulting from a hierarchical stratification of society.

[108] Konoboli-so refers to the process of submitting the future bride to a special liquid diet, which constantly purges her, and to light daily meals.

[109] Nuptial rooms are set up as seclusion spaces in which the bride and groom are kept inside, all week long, to start their intimate life as a couple.

[110] This is Bambara terminology, which means ingredients to sweeten human relationships.

[111] Which means that the big wooden spoon, containing the concoctions served to the couple, was a lucky one.

Incense, the Malian style, is made of a mixture of flavored roots and grains, high quality Arabic gum and various perfume fragrances. The whole thing is kept tightly closed in order to obtain a strong pleasant scent.

[112] Illustrated by this common Bambara saying: “Sodon, djidon, yeredongnonkont$” (The best of all is knowing oneself!)

[113] His interest in provoking his wife into asking for a divorce was related to the issue of bridewealth (bogadi). If he demanded a divorce because he wanted to marry another woman he would have no possibility of reclaiming his marriage payments. If, on the other hand, the wife wanted a divorce because he planned to take an additional wife he might be able to reclaim his payments since taking another wife is not grounds for divorce (cf. Helle-Valle 1997:155).

[114] A small elaboration would not be out of place here. There is one category of older women who have suitors, the rich ones. Many of these have laid the foundation for their wealth by being mabelete. However, these women are most often unwilling to marry because they already possess the security, wealth and social position a man could offer. Wealth, as well as grown-up children, generate security and often also social position. The poorer, older women, on the other hand, are not desirable marriage partners since they lack all of these qualities, as well as beauty.

[115] Although most material for this chapter is from my fieldwork between 1991 and 1995, I have been in the field intermittently ever since. Grateful acknowledgement of funding is extended to the Tanzania-Norwegian AIDS project (1989-1972), the Norwegian Research Council (1992-1995), and the Nordic Africa Institute (2001-the present). Special gratitude goes to the field assistants Mrs. Elimbora Ayo Laiser, Mrs. Asinath Sumari and Mr. Jehova Roy Kaaya.

[116] All local terms are in Swahili, the national language in Tanzania.

[117] As in much of East Africa, the migrating Meru men have been slow to take their wives along to the towns (Obbo 1981; Swantz 1985; Setel 1999).

[118] Another view, cast in the urban-rural dichotomy, is, for instance, the distinction between ‘work’ (kaz), on the one hand, and ‘business’ (biashara), on the other. Whereas ka%i is perceived as hard, physical work, such as farming, and thus something that rural people engage in, biashara, on the other hand, is not proper work. Accordingly, those who do ka%i, the logic goes, get tired and thus cannot be involved in promiscuous sexual activities. Towns­people, on the other hand, who merely do biashara, do not get physically tired and thus have the energy for pro­miscuous sexual behaviour.

[119] The latest UNAIDS reported AIDS cases in Tanzania, for the age group between 20 and 24, show that whereas the infection rate for men is 7.7 per cent, the rate for women is 17.9 per cent. The AIDS prevalence is also much higher among women in the age group between 15 and 19 compared to men—respectively 4.8 per cent for women and 1.5 per cent for men (UNAIDS/WHO 2002). Thus some of these young women have most likely been infected in their teens. These statistics also point to the fact that young women have sexual relationships with relatively older men—in the literature, commonly referred to as ‘sugar-daddies’ (Haram 1995; Silberschmidt and Rasch 2001).

[120] Much research has focused on so-called risk groups, such as, prostitutes, bar-women—often neglecting the users/ buyers of sex—and long-distance truck drivers. These groups had a high infection of HIV in the West, but in much of Africa they are increasingly irrelevant in the spread of HIV (Wallman 1996; Heald 2001).

[121] The standard exchange rates for 1US$ in 1991 and 1994, were Tzs 246 and 385, respectively. In 2002 the standard exchange rate for 1US$ had increased to Tzs 962.


[122] In fact, Nora’s mother is cursing her daughter, or, as Nora explains it: “Without my daily care, my mother fears that she may die and thus, she threatens me.”


[123] Although Nora had had several partners some time back, she had never had any sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Maybe she had used the pill for too long, she worried. She resorted to all kinds of treatment alternatives including a gynaecology examination at the regional hospital and a handful of local healers. Nora was also treating herself with local medical herbs—knowledge she inherited from her father.


[124] The Swahili term mradi commonly refers to a means of supplementing income. Men and women are commonly engaged in one or more such ‘projects’. As illustrated by Rachael, women also commonly refer to a man who sup­ports them economically like any other income generating activity.

[125] Assessing the person and the (Meru) notion of personhood, the concept of tabia is central. It is also gender spe­cific, but suffice it here to say that it strongly impinges on the notion of a moral person as well as his or her sexual behaviour.

[126] Before the ICPD (Internationa! Conference on Population and Development) in Cairo, September 1994, men, their role as (responsible) partners and also their own sexual and reproductive health needs had not received much attention—in spite of men’s prominent sexual and reproductive role. The final ICPD document (1994), however, clearly recognised the need to address and involve men, in order to improve women’s reproductive health. With deteriorating sexual and reproductive health, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa, with more women than men being HIV infected (often by their own husbands), male involvement, men as responsible partners, and not the least male sexuality and sexual behaviour have become increasingly unavoidable issues on the sexual and reproductive health agenda. This was clearly reflected in the Cairo + 5 meeting in The Hague in February 1999. The ‘male issue’ is gaining in importance. This has been clearly demonstrated in the document ‘Men make a dif­ference’ (2000) presented by UNAIDS at the AIDS conference in Durban, SA (2000). Operational attempts, though, to reach men are very few, and have not yet been given high priority either by local governments, donor agencies or NGOs, or by researchers.

[127] In the 1970s, 33 per cent of the households in Kisii were still polygamous (Population and Development in Kenya 1980). Survey findings in 1986 by this author indicated that less than 10 per cent lived in polygamous unions.

[128] In the deconstruction of traditional sexology and sex research it has become apparent that these concepts are based on ideology and social coercion rather than necessity. Traditionally, sexual desire was assumed to be natural and automatic and heterosexual and universal. With the constraining frames of local marriage rules the male body responded to the presence of the female body, as if to a natural sign. In the most recent discussion of sexual desire the focus moves from inside the individual to the external environment. Rather than asking what internal forces create desire, the questions are: how is desire elicited, organized and interpreted as a social activity? Recent attempts to uncover local histories of desire have been closely linked to a fundamental concern with the relation­ship between sexual desire and identity (Gagnon and Parker 1995).

[129] Research on sexuality in recent years has examined the role of gender-power and inequality in creating the frame­work for the sexuality of women and men. While the effects of gender-power are not the same in all cultures, gen­der inequality is widespread and interacts with the sexual system of specific cultures to shape most aspects of sexual life (Gagnon and Parker 1995).

[130] I only came across one young married man in Kisii who had the guts to openly demonstrate a different type of masculinity. He was very proud to admit that he was doing women’s work (i. e. he worked together with his wife in the fields). His argument for this was that they would increase the produce and following this, their living stand­ard. However he was ridiculed by other men and excluded from their company. In their eyes, he had abandoned his prescribed role as a man—he had let his masculinity falter. His wife was seen as having the upper hand, she did not respect him, and the men in the village feared that eventually he would be completely crushed. The young man, though, did not care that he was ridiculed. Instead he pitied the other men who would never be able to increase their living standards.

. Authors’ Biographies

Kopano Ratele works in the Psychology Department at the University of West­ern Cape, South Africa, where he also teaches a course on culture, psychology and masculinity in the Women and Gender Studies Programme. He has written on masculinities, sexualities, interpersonal relationships and bodies.

Margrethe Silberschmidt is a social anthropologist who has carried out re­search in East Africa over the past twenty years. Her field of specialization in­cludes sexual and reproductive health and behaviour with particular emphasis on HIV/AIDS, gender, gender focused methodologies and policy issues. She is an associate professor at the Department of Women and Gender Research in Med­icine, Institute of Public Health, University of Copenhagen.

Authors’ Biographies

the burgeoning AIDS crisis. Her principal research interests are problems of modernization, urbanization, gender-relations and sexuality, including sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS, medical anthropology and the articulation of traditional and modern health systems. She has also done long-term field stud­ies in Botswana.

Jo Helle-Valle holds a doctoral degree in social anthropology from the Univer­sity of Oslo. He has conducted field work in Uganda and Botswana and also brief­ly in Ethiopia and Norway. After working for many years on issues of sexuality, local social organization and politics, and economy at the University of Oslo, he is now working as a researcher at the National Institute for Consumer Research (SIFO).

Katarina Jungar is a researcher in the project “HIV, knowledge and power: Rep­resentations of HIV in activism and medical discourses”, financed by the Acade­my of Finland (2002—2004). The project is an ethnographical study on the Treat­ment Action Campaign in Cape Town, South Africa. Besides her academic work on women’s activism and networks, and on questions of violence against women, she is involved in a feminist shelter and help-line project in Abo, Finland.

Mary E. Modupe Kolawole is professor of English and Women’s Studies at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria. She specialises in African women’s literature and cultural studies, African-American women’s literature and gender theory. Her books include Womanism and African Consciousness (Africa World Press 1997), which is on the reading list at universities in many countries. Mary Kola­wole has been a visiting fellow and guest researcher at a series of universities in Africa, Europe and the United States. She is the Nigerian coordinator for the Women Writing Africa project, a Feminist Press project.

Mumbi Machera is a lecturer at the Department of Sociology, University of Nai­robi. She has a Bachelor of Arts in social work and a Master of Arts in population studies and demography. She is currently in the process of finalizing her Ph. D. thesis on gender violence in Kenya. She is a recipient of several fellowship awards and has been a guest researcher at universities in Africa, Europe and the United States. She also works as a consultant, in the area of sexuality and social problems, in the East African region.

Authors’ Biographies

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Elina Oinas is currently working as acting professor in Women’s Studies at Abo Akademi University, Finland. Her research continues from the themes of her Ph. D. dissertation Making Sense of the Teenage Body (Abo Akademi University Press, 2001). Her themes are: gender, health and knowledge. Oinas’ research focuses on HIV activism in South Africa and she collaborates with Katarina Jungar. Oinas is also interested in feminist theory, methodology and teaching.

Authors’ Biographies

Akosua Adomako Ampofo has carried out research on issues surrounding women’s reproductive behaviour since the late 1980s. She is a senior research fel­low at the Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana (Legon), where she teaches courses in gender and research methods. She is also involved in activist and advocacy work on issues that affect the lives of women and young people, and acts as a consultant for local and international organizations.

Signe Arnfred is a sociologist and has specialized in gender issues and feminist theory. She is an associate professor at the Institute of Geography and Interna­tional Development Studies at Roskilde University in Denmark, and currently working at the Nordic Africa Institute in Uppsala, Sweden, where she is the co­ordinator of the Sexuality, Gender and Society in Africa research programme. Since 1980 her research has been focused on southern Africa, particularly Mozam­bique.

Authors’ BiographiesHeike Becker is an anthropologist, currently teaching at the Department of An­thropology and Sociology, University of the Western Cape. She completed her Ph. D. thesis on gender and nationalism in Namibia at the University of Bremen (Germany). From 1993 to 2000 she was based as a researcher and lecturer at the University of Namibia. Becker continues to do most of her research in Namibia. Her current interests focus on cultures of violence and memory in northern Na­mibia, and on comparative studies of cultural memory, modernity and public spheres in southern Africa.

Liselott Dellenborg is a doctoral candidate in social anthropology at Goteborg University. She has carried out extensive field work in southern Senegal. Her ma­jor research topics are gender, religion, sexuality, and initiation rituals with special reference to female circumcision.

Assitan Diallo has a Ph. D. degree from Brown University, USA. She is a sociol­ogist and a demographer and has done extensive research on the subject of exci – sion/female genital mutilation. Since the late 70s, she has taken part in many or­ganized initiatives, in Africa and elsewhere, toward the eradication of these prac­tices. As a feminist, she is also involved in other research projects and actions to­ward the empowerment of African women. Diallo is currently based in Mali as a consultant.

Authors’ Biographies
Liv Haram has a doctoral degree in social anthropology. She is a research fellow at the Nordic Africa Institute, Uppsala. Haram trained as a social anthropologist at the University of Bergen. Her doctoral study is based on research in northern Tanzania and examines gender relations in the context of rapid social change and

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Concluding notes: Locating myself in gender discourse

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I have recognized the necessity to focus on a strong theoretical framework on gender in Africa that is conciliatory in many ways. This double pull is peculiar to African researchers. Donors do not give funds for theorizing or conceptualizing, they give funds for empirical research. On the other hand empirical research tests and validates theories as being related to true life situations of women and not ab­stractions. Theories help the sensitization process too. I am directly involved in the attempt to set a relevant agenda for women’s studies in Nigeria and the West African region along with many other researchers. The best approach to re-con­ceptualizing gender in Africa is the identification of a nexus between the pure the­ory and social science-based methodology. My research has consequently high­lighted both qualitative and quantitative approaches. I have participated in base­line studies on the implications of negative traditional practices against women

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Concluding notes: Locating myself in gender discourseRe-Conceptualizing African Gender Theory: Feminism, Womanism and the Arere Metaphor

and the girl child and sensitization workshops working with grass root women. This exposure convinces me that theorizing African women cannot be an end but a means to an end. Gender theory in Africa needs to be inclusive as one thus avoids polemics. This calls for simultaneously embracing data collection, inter­views, evaluation of opinion leaders’ perceptions of gender, as well as baseline studies of socio-cultural practices that shape gender relations and perceptions. At the same time, data collection on oral myths, proverbs, folktales and women’s oral genres have provided a rich repertoire of traditional philosophies and ideologies on gender in African societies, past and present. Research into African women’s literature—novels, plays, short stories and poetry—is a rich source for charting African women’s space and a major avenue for eliciting gender concepts from Af­rican perspectives. Women’s biographies have equally enhanced gender percep­tion as many of the writers have been victims of gender injustice but many have emerged undefeated in their desire to be spokespersons for their gender.

In conducting empirical research, I have discovered that many African wom­en are passive to the reality of gender injustice and such an attitude derives from socio-cultural beliefs. Many of these women often cite myths, proverbs, anec­dotes or folktales that justify accepting their marginalization. It is considered cul­turally correct to accept marginalization in many cases and this derives from oral traditional beliefs. So an important research target has been to sensitize the wom­en by de-constructing and re-constructing proverbs, myths and other beliefs that shape the mind-set. Grass-root women are not concerned about conceptualization which is considered as an academic preoccupation by many of them. But in belief and in practice, many prefer a position that enhances women’s conditions and op­portunities for participation in development that does not alienate men, that does not jeopardize the esteemed family system, and that celebrates motherhood. This provides a meeting point between grass-root women and the scholars, between working class and middle-class women, between theory and practice, between concept and activism. Womanism seems to be the most functional and broad – based of the African gender theories as it addresses the plurality of expectations and the multiplicity of viewpoints. Many African scholars are, however, subscrib­ing to the ideals of womanism without overt recognition and realisation of, or identification with, the concept.

Concluding notes: Locating myself in gender discourseConcluding notes: Locating myself in gender discourse
In gathering together the diverse positioning of African women in search of gender re-conceptualisation, the search for African women’s voice becomes a paradigm for the quest for self-definition and self-naming. African women re­searchers see themselves as being the voice of the inarticulate majority but their role has to be culturally acceptable. As many resist the label ‘feminism’, they ac­knowledge that the essence of gender struggle is not new to Africa although pre­viously terminologies or labels were not emphasized. Juliana Nfah-Abenyi has aptly articulated this: “What this means is that before feminism became a move­ment with a global political agenda, African women both ‘theorized’ and prac­ticed what for them was crucial to the development of women, although no ter­minology was used to describe what these women were actively doing, and are

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Mary Kolawole

still practicing on a day-to-day basis” (Nfah-Abbenyi 1997:10). The lived experi­ence of African women reveals hopes and aspirations, denials and oppression but also struggles against forces that put women in the liminal position. Gender con­ceptualization has to be intertwined with development in a conspicuous desire to improve the conditions of African women. These gender concepts are encoded in the creative writings of many women writers. Abbenyi, like Aidoo, has identi­fied these gender concepts as the ‘cry’ of African women which when their mul­tiple voices are pulled together becomes a drum-beat, an outcry, a rejection of voicelessness. Scholars need to move beyond concepts to action. Scholars can help in organizing grass-roots women through sensitization. Revealing how Afri­can women in the past and currently have resisted oppression and linking them up with policy makers to include the women’s needs on national agenda in vari­ous sectors, will go a long way in making women scholars relevant. Many are al­ready working closely with ordinary women through NGOs, women’s trade guilds and town organizations. Women’s wings of political parties can also be tar­geted for collaboration as they are powerful tools for asking for women’s needs to be met like when the women’s wing of the ANC with Mandela’s government got about a third of parliamentary seats allocated to women. The drum-beat presents multiple rhythms, at times specific, at other times identical to a universal women’s outcry. This makes the positions of Abena Busia, Ama Ata Aidoo and Nfah-Abbenyi paradigmatic. The reality of their contention is that “the women’s movement has provided one of the spaces where many different drums can be beaten to many different tunes at the same time” (Nfah-Abbenyi 1997:10).

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I will advocate gender research that is inclusive and pragmatic, recognizing and borrowing from the gains of international women’s movements past and present even as the researchers learn from the wisdom of our mothers by being aware of and utilizing traditional tools used by women in African societies who have effectively resisted subjugation and oppression through concerted mobiliza­tion and bonding. Feminism is relevant to African women but there are many routes to women’s transformation from the margin to the centre, some of which are local while others are global. Gender as a category cannot be perceived as ahis – torical or acultural and gender as a concept needs more flexibility. The African woman scholar is more of a cultural and ideological hybrid than the majority of ordinary women. The former should strategize, even in a subtle way if necessary, to re-socialize these women taking class and cultural needs into consideration. One should not neglect concepts because they come from outside, but feminism is not culturally neutral in its diversities and emphasis. Researchers should use data and theoretical knowledge to move African women beyond the culture of si­lence and transcend naming. A vital link between researchers and grass-roots women will encourage them to cross the borders that hold them down. In Africa, gender strategies need to be more subtle and inclusive to avoid the wasted time and energy based on polarization which Africa cannot afford. This is where I consider womanist approaches more likely to carry many more categories of wom­en on board as well as men who are the majority in policy making sectors and are

Re-Conceptualizing African Gender Theory: Feminism, Womanism and the Arere Metaphor

needed to initiate women-friendly policies and eradicate certain traditional atti­tudes to women that are detrimental. At best, gender re-conceptualization is a tool, a means, a conduit, a way of manoeuvring, to a functional end, that of prag­matic improvement of African women’s conditions. Researchers should bring out results and work for implementations of policies that take such results on board. The challenge for women researchers is the shift from the comfort of academia, to move out to meet the women through outreaches that truly mobilize the ordinary women, who make up the majority, to the action and participation in social change, which result in the visible transformation of women’s life and roles in all sectors of society.

Re-conceptualizing gender in Africa

The dominant discourse on gender in Africa is the question of decoding feminin­ity and women’s status in a critical manner. The concepts, ‘woman’, ‘gender’ and ‘feminism’ are being constantly interrogated, and to many, this is an aspect of that quest for self-assertion. This position is further enhanced by many decades of male-biased research in the social sciences that ignored gendered approaches. More recently researchers have responded to the challenges as gender approach has become ubiquitous in African humanities. When donor agencies began to sponsor gender research, African researchers adopted western theoretical frame­works for developing nations. This is evident in the application of development theories especially Women in Development (WID) and Women and Development (WAD). With the Gender and Development (GAD) agenda, however, there was a self­conscious attempt to mainstream gender into development projects without the recognition that this is also problematic because it subsumes women’s issues un­der development and political agendas. Numerous gender training workshops, seminars and conferences were launched by African social scientists according to the agenda of the donors without adequately taking cultural contingencies into account. So, a lot of data were produced in a predominantly top-down approach. The majority of women who are the targets of the programmes distrust the re­searchers, believing that they are being used as guinea pigs for research. Others see these researchers as outsiders using them to make money from donors. This was the scenario in the nineties. At the same time, a focus on gender and feminism became dominant not by social scientists but women writers, critics and activists who were not at ease with an uncritical adoption and application of Western con­cepts.

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A school of thought upholds the deconstruction of the ideology of imposed silence as a central issue in conceptualizing gender in Africa. Many like Irene D’Almeida attempt to chart areas of African women’s audibility and power as an important process in the on-going re-conceptualization of gender on the conti­nent. The Gambian gender researcher, Siga Jajne is one such theorist who re-di­rects attention to a conscious effort by Sene-Gambian women to transgress ex­isting space designed to put women in the margin. She underscores Sene-Gambi – an women’s increasing visibility as the women transgress the culturally imposed silence by articulating a theory which takes sani baat as a point of departure. Sani baat is a traditional act of transgression as women force their voices on social dis­course. Women force their voice on existing male-dominated agendas in words and in practice. It is remarkable that many of the theorists who are attempting to re-conceptualize gender in Africa do so through a double approach, in creative writing as well as in theoretical propositions.

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In a similar theoretical thrust, Molara Ogundipe-Leslie, through her creative writings and activism, has advocated the need to enhance African women’s voice by re-discovering uncharted sources of African women’s self-expression and self re-creation. Convinced that there are areas that can reveal African women’s voice, she raises the question: “Are African women voiceless or do we fail to look for their voices where we may find them, in the sites and forms in which these voices are uttered?” (Ogundipe-Leslie 1994:11). She advocates a search for African women’s voices “in spaces and modes such as in ceremonies, and worksongs…” Ogundipe-Leslie’s concern transcends revealing African women’s voices as she advocates inclusive social transformation in her theory of Stiwanism. She is one of the scholars who recognizes the need for self-naming as an essential step to re­routing the direction of gender conceptualization in Africa. Her definition of this term reveals the direction of her thoughts:

I have since advocated the word “Stiwanism,” instead of feminism, to bypass these concerns and to bypass the combative discourses that ensue whenever one raises the issue of feminism in Africa. . . The word “feminism” itself seems to be a kind of red rag to the bull of African men. Some say the word is by its very nature hegemonic. . . “Stiwa” is my acronym for Social Transformation Including Women in Africa (Ogundipe-Leslie 1994:229).

In her creative works of poetry, Ogundipe-Leslie thematizes diverse problems confronting African women which need practical solutions. She and others be­lieve that conceptualizing gender in Africa should not be divorced from practical efforts towards removing the obstacles to African women’s involvement in social transformation, which she describes as mountains on the back of African women. It is a dominant trend in African women’s creative writing to identify with wom­en’s oppression and advocate gender justice. But some writers transcend the level of creative writing in order to join others in the desire for gender re-conceptuali­zation. Notable among such are Miriam Tlali, Buchi Emecheta, Ama Ata Aidoo, Tsitsi Dangarembga, Zulu Sofola and a host of others. Buchi Emecheta prefers to dissociate herself from the tag ‘feminist’ in many interviews:

I write about the little happenings of everyday life. Being a woman, and African born, I see things through an African woman’s eyes. I chronicle the little happenings in the lives of African women I know. I did not know that by doing so I was going to be called a feminist. But if I am now a feminist then I am an African feminist with a small ‘f’ (Umeh 1981:178).

Almost without exception, her creative works present the dilemma of gender op­pression with the African woman as a victim and the man as the oppressor, the indolent parasite holding the woman down. Her own personal experience and battering at the hands of her husband reinforce her reaction against gender injus­tice. She has lived in London most of her adult life. Yet, she refuses to be called a feminist and each time she is questioned about this, her answer becomes more de­fensive:

Q: Why do you refuse to be called a feminist?

A: I will not be called a feminist here, because it is European. It is as simple as that. I just resent that. . . I don’t like being defined by them. . . It is just that it comes from outside and I don’t like people dictating to me. I do believe in the African type of feminism. They call it womanism

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. . . (Emecheta 1989:19).

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Mary Kolawole

Emecheta upholds gender as a means to a pragmatic end, that of addressing the specificities of African women’s ordinary problems—education, welfare, inherit­ance and other fundamental issues of existence and survival.

The Zimbabwean writer, Tsitsi Dangarembga also rejects feminism as a label of her identity: “The white Western feminism does not meet my experiences at a certain point, the issues of me as a black woman. The black American female writ­ers touch more of me than the white ones” (Dangarembga 1989:183). Ama Ata Aidoo, one of the first black African women writers, initially rejected feminism as an American ideology imported into Africa to destroy the family structure. She later shifted her position slightly by acknowledging the unifying role of feminism which also confirmed the existing beliefs of African women: “|T]f you take up a drum to beat and no one joins then you just become a fool. The women’s move­ment has helped in that it is like other people taking up the drum and beating along with you” (Aidoo 1988:183).

The South African writer Miriam Tlali prefers to be recognized simply as the voice of African women speaking on their behalf and striving to make their voice audible:

In South Africa we live under a pyramid of power, so I regard myself as the voice of the African woman who is oppressed politically, socially, and culturally. There is not enough emphasis given to the plight of the South African woman. I insist on this in my collection of short stories Soweto Stories. . . African women have no voice, no platform and nobody cares. . . Therefore I feel that I must address them in my writing” (Tlali 1989:69ff.).

Zoe Witcombe and other scholars are rather cautious about the South African sit­uation. They prioritize the need to put South African women under a global fem­inist umbrella, but black writers are interested in focusing on the need of black women along the general lines of struggle.

Another black woman who has directed attention to the issue of naming their own struggle is Chikwenye Okonjo Ogunyemi (1985/86), a Nigerian critic and theorist. Self-naming has become a very important aspect of black women’s self-re­creation. Several African-American women have problematized feminism and the view of Clenora Hudson-Weems (Hudson-Weems 1993) is cardinal in this theoretical direction. She maintains that African women’s self-reclamation hinges on ‘self-naming’. This derives from the importance of self-naming in African phi­losophy. Many African societies believe that naming affects identity and for this reason, self-naming is celebrated and naming is often accompanied by ceremo­nies based on a deep-rooted understanding of the culture and history of a family or ethnic group. It is equally believed that strangers cannot name your struggle ap­propriately (Kolawole 1997a). This is at the heart of the constant search for a new gender terminology by African women. The most outstanding alternative con­cept is ‘womanism’. This was simultaneously coined by Alice Walker and Chik – wenye Okonjo Ogunyemi in 1982. Walker believes that self-naming is an aspect of the “search for our mother’s garden” (Walker 1983:xii). Okonjo Ogunyemi ar­ticulates black womanism as an inclusive cultural concept:

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Black womanism is a philosophy that celebrates Black roots, the ideals of Black life, while giving a balanced presentation of Black womanhood. It concerns itself as much with the Black sexual

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power tussle as with the world power structure that subjugates Blacks (Okonjo Ogunyemi 1985/86:24).

Womanism appears more acceptable to many African scholars because of this in­clusive nature (Kolawole 1997a, 1998). The struggle for gender equity is insepa­rable from class, racial and other forms of oppression. The male factor is also ac­commodated as many scholars maintain that for women’s conditions to be amel­iorated, men have to be taken on-board. They constitute a large percentage of policy makers and political office holders. This touches on mainstreaming gender into development programmes. Many men and women consider womanism a more conciliatory gender theory than feminism.

Many African scholars resist the tag feminism because of the general assump­tion that it is a Western ideology that might be problematic if grafted indiscrimi­nately to an African cultural context (Kolawole 1997a). From this premise, gender research in Africa has witnessed a polarity of reactions and re-vision. Molara Ogundipe-Leslie sums up the major issues, “Some who are genuinely concerned with ameliorating women’s lives sometimes feel embarrassed to be described as ‘feminist,’ unless they are particularly strong in character” (Ogundipe-Leslie 1994:229). Daphne Williams-Ntiri reiterates the dilemma of African and black women who are dynamically engaged in gender studies and activism:

For years Africana women have found themselves in a serious ideological predicament. In the absence of viable organized women’s groups they have been invited to embrace feminism as an instrument of emancipation and as a new-found source of empowerment and status-building. Unfortunately, the majority of Africana women on public platforms have rejected feminism for a multiplicity of reasons. First, there is the unquestionable need to reclaim Africana women; sec­ond, they are perplexed over the racist origins of the feminist movement; third, they have found little solace in the doctrines and mission of the feminist movement, and fourth, the realities, struggles and expectations of the two groups remain on different planes (Williams-Ntiri, intro­duction to Hudson-Weems 1993:1).

Williams-Ntiri further affirms that global feminism is not controversial and that Western feminism cannot provide a panacea for all women’s problems across time, race, ethnicity, and class. She calls for the recognition of difference.

Oyeronke Oyewumi is a radical defender of an endogenous approach to gen­der conceptualization in Africa. According to her postulate, it is a common belief that some of the perceptions of African women’s reality are occasioned by the im­position of Western canons of gender analysis on African realities as delineated in her remarkable work: The Invention of Women: Making an African Sense of Western Gender Discourses. Oyewumi castigates the invention of images of African woman­hood to fit Western myths of black people. In her rather radical sociological study of womanhood, she rejects Western universalization of women’s reality and the imposition of ‘the woman question’ on Africa:

This book is about the epistemological shift occasioned by the imposition of Western gender categories on Yoruba discourse. . . [I]t is concerned with revealing the most basic but hidden assumptions, making explicit what has been merely implicit, and unearthing the taken-for – granted assumptions underlying research concepts and theories (Oyewumi 1997ix).

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basing gender in other cultures on Western biological determinism or what she describes as body-reasoning or bio-logic. She belongs to the group of scholars that ad­vocate cultural relevance in African gender conceptualization.

Like Oyewumi, the Cameroonian scholar, Juliana Makuchi Nfah-Abbenyi em­phasizes identity, sexuality and difference as she perceives gender in Africa as an aspect of postcoloniality. She maintains that the conceptualization of gender in Africa is male-biased and Western oriented and calls for a re-visit of African gen­der theory. She decries the politics of exclusion as scholars claim to speak for Af­rican and black women. This is made manifest in the neglect of African women’s writing. She resists Western labels and isms. She reiterates the existence of wom­en’s struggle in many parts of Africa before colonialism and advocates the recog­nition of the plurality of voices in conceptualizing gender in Africa (Nfah – Abbenyi 1997).

In the search for African theoretical re-conceptualization womanism has be­come a vital theory that has appealed to many. It is crucial to define and delineate the rationale that underlies and underscores womanism as a manifestation of self­naming. Many active African scholars resist the label of feminism and conse­quently do not make a concerted attempt to understand major issues in interna­tional feminist theorizing. Yet, any methodology that is designed to capture the specificity of African women’s reality needs to comprehend the issues in feminist concepts. Because gender is closely inter-related to cultural identity, a clear defi­nition of culture is an imperative. Womanism has been a conciliatory gender con­cept as it emphasizes cultural relevance, the family, motherhood, and the intersec­tion between various forms of oppression, social stratification and marginaliza­tion based on race, ethnicity, class and gender. The inclusive womanist approach is considered more appealing to African reality. African women exalt femininity and recognize the need to separate gender space when necessary. Many maintain that African women can use their existing, often uncharted power base and build on it instead of trying to be like men.

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Reference to ‘culture’ has become the sine qua non of African women’s oppression. Often both men and women validate and justify women’s marginality by referring to culture and even quoting traditional philosophies such as proverbs to entrench or institutionalize women’s oppression. Let me clarify this notion of culture. Cul­ture has both positive and negative dimensions, progressive and retrogressive manifestations. For example in Europe it is very normal and desirable to fossilize traditions through the celebration of antiquity. Millions of Euros are spent on vis­its to museums, castles, cathedrals—symbols that capture moments in history, as­pects of past culture/tradition and architecture in many parts of Europe. Culture here is upheld as positive. Ironically, when culture or tradition in Africa is being discussed, many scholars underscore primitivism, backwardness, stagnation, un­changing attitudes and so on. Yet, cultural understanding is germane to many sec­tors of modern cross-cultural interactions. A vivid illustration of this is an under­standing of the Japanese culture that does not allow the wearing of slippers on carpets. In trade relations, other nations need this cultural knowledge to avoid im­porting indoor slippers to Japan. I will locate myself among those who claim that culture is dynamic and protean, not static; talking about cultural relevance in this context is derived from the desire of African women to manifest their feminine attributes and their Africanness simultaneously with a call for changes in women’s conditions. Not wishing to adopt gender concepts that intercept their culturally meaningful self-definition is central to these women’s reactions to feminism. I up­hold the progressive definition of culture, not as a backward-looking sustenance of moribund past traditions or living in the past, but as a dynamic mode of self­definition that coincides with group values that I consider progressive.

Re-Conceptualizing African Gender Theory: Feminism, Womanism and the Arere Metaphor

It is this recognition that necessitated the United Nations’ decade of culture, providing a forum for identifying the centrality of culture to positive develop­ment. This included revisiting the place, validity and relevance of culture in many sectors especially in gender issues. The definition that emerged from the World Conference on Cultural Policies in Mexico City in 1982 fits into the theoretical thrust of this chapter:

Culture may now be said to be the whole complex of distinctive and intellectual features that characterise a society or social group. It includes not only the arts and letters, but also modes of life, the fundamental rights of the human being, value systems, traditions and beliefs (Sagnia 1997:7).

In a UN workshop on culture, gender and development in Addis Ababa in 1997, Burama K. Sagnia further defined the dynamic nature of culture:

It is being said that culture is both evolutionary and revolutionary. Culture goes through an in­ternal evolutionary process involving growth, greater heterogeneity and coherence. It also goes through a process of change and adaptation as a result of contact with other cultures, the influ­ence of a dominant culture. . . influence of mass media or communication technologies (such as internet) etc. As a result, culture must be seen as a dynamic mechanism that must adjust and adapt to external and internal conditions of existence. As an adaptive mechanism, culture must therefore, have the capability to provide the means of satisfaction of human, biological and so­cial needs (Sagnia 1997:8).

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This conceptualization of culture is very important in gender issues in Africa as Sagnia’s poser underscores:

If we accept the postulate that culture is an adaptive mechanism that constantly adjusts to satisfy human, biological and social needs, shouldn’t we then ask ourselves whether the best way for­ward for Africa is to marginalize the role of culture in development frameworks and process or to use it as a platform or springboard for development (Sagnia 1997:8).

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There has been a consensus that culture has to be taken into account in develop­ment issues and that a close affinity exists between gender and culture. One area of cultural mediation on gender is the traditional belief in the muting of women’s voices in many African societies which is justified by proverbs and traditional ide­ologies that shape the mind-set of men and women. It is considered culturally in­correct for women to be a focal participant in social structures. Such ideologies and beliefs call for decoding of culture to unpack gender myths and philosophies that keep women in liminal spaces, as well as recoding of new ideologies. Many African women literary writers and critics have emerged as gender theorists, con­vinced that gender perception in Africa has to be inclusive, taking on-board cul­tural idiosyncracies and the male factor. There was an initial attempt to problem – atize gender by probing the extent of women’s oppression and disempowerment through an analysis of women’s voicelessness in many African societies. One of the scholars who has focused on this is Irene D’Almeida. D’Almeida is privileged as a Francophone African scholar and an American professor. She has advocated breaking the culture of silence and her theory is based on the experience of Fran­cophone African women, especially how they are advocating a rejection of this ideology of voicelessness. She identifies the ‘culture of silence’ as a major obstacle to African women’s empowerment by a discussion of the works of Francophone

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women such as Calixle Beyala, Werewere Liking and Miriama Ba (D’Almeida 1994). She bases her perception on a progressive effort by many Francophone African women to use the literary tool to unveil women’s voices. She maintains that eliminating women’s voicelessness is a fundamental aspect of gender concep­tualization in Africa. The attempt to encourage African women’s audibility as a symbol of their empowerment, has remained on the front burner of African gen­der theorizing.

The challenges posed by a tradition of muting women’s voices can be more vividly perceived through an important Yoruba metaphor as it provides a re­newed insight into the struggle to speak out and defy intrinsic or externally im­posed muting. The arere metaphor presents the dilemma of African women’s at­tempts to speak out and assert themselves in a cultural cosmos that still some­times considers women’s vocality as an anomaly even in the most enlightened space, academia. Probing socio-cultural ideologies, philosophies and practices provides an indigenous platform for looking at African gender concepts because much of the traditional attitude to women in Africa emerges from traditional be­liefs which shape the people’s mind-set and enhance the traditional philosophies that validate and institutionalize women’s marginalization and/or oppression. Arere is a tree that grows along the coast of West Africa. The metaphor of the arere among the Yoruba people of Nigeria is a paradigm in the question of women’s self-expression and dynamic participation in social issues. The unique character­istic of the arere tree is significant because it emits an extremely offensive smell and is not normally allowed to grow around urban or rural dwelling places such as cities and villages. The tree symbolizes the extreme significance of the separa­tion of space. It grows out there in the wild. There is a Yoruba proverb that re­veals the tension between women’s voices and muting through the metaphor of the arere tree: Ile ti obinrin ba ti nse toto arere, igi arere ni hu nibe. The meaning comes out as ‘Any home where a woman is vocal /loud/influential through self-expres­sion, will have the arere tree growing in the courtyard.’ The implication is that in certain quarters, it is still unwomanly to be vocal, loud and assertive; it is even an anomaly that gives off an offensive odour like the arere tree. Most of the conten­tions about gender conceptualisation derive from this platform of vocality-visibil – ity. The fact that the arere is a threat to men because of the strong smell, which cannot be controlled, held down or stopped, provides an alternative reading of African women’s alterity.

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Traditional ideologies are sometimes replete with contradictions when wom­en’s issues are being centred. The same Yoruba worldview presents women as garrulous/talkative in nature. But the socialization process recommends wom­en’s silence through proverbs such as the arere ideology. I have worked on similar proverbs among Yoruba and non-Yoruba people as well as the folktales that in – sititutionalize and normalize women’s space in the social periphery. Many women writers are transgressing this location of presumed silence to re-inscribe the strong African woman. Women writers in contemporary settings are more vocal and unapologetic than earlier writers. We see the normalization of women’s vo-

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cality as a transgression of such an ideology in the works of some twenty Nigerian women writers in the anthology of short stories entitled Breaking the Silence (Ade – wale and Segun 1996). So one way of reconceptualizing gender in Africa is the re­inscription of women’s space by literary writers. Akachi Ezeigbo (1996) re-writes Igbo women on the eve of colonial incursion by decoding the sub-text of Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. The latter institutionalizes male heroism and wom­en’s marginalization but this is a contradiction of history. Igbo women mobilized themselves in the early part of the twentieth century to fight against colonial rule, oppression and taxation that affected women and men.

An important focus of some African gender theorists is, therefore, to question the source, transmission and acceptability of such an ideology—the ‘culture of si­lence’ that treats women’s audibility/visibility as an aberration. Although prov­erbs are an aspect of the essence of traditional wisdom and oration, one needs to situate such proverbs in a modern socio-historical context. In many parts of Af­rica, proverbs are words of wisdom of the elders that carry respectability and au­thority. But a great majority of African people, especially the urban dwellers and the younger generation, neither know proverbs nor allow them to shape their mind-set. One can also say that proverbs are more male-oriented in usage and composition, and the majority of women may know only very few proverbs. In­deed, this proverb is not a true reflection of the dynamic roles of Yoruba women who are empowered in specific areas especially the economic sphere.

The truth of the matter is that research reveals Yoruba women’s historic voice, visibility and power, in a self-conscious way as documented in the mobilization and revolts of Abeokuta women in the early part of the twentieth century. Cur­rently there are many parts of the Yoruba community where women have the ul­timate authority in market and economic issues, crown the king or veto the can­didature and crowning, stand in as ruler when a king dies as we see in the regents of many communities in Ondo and Ekiti areas of Yorubaland (Awe 1992; Kola – wole 1997a). In Nigeria, Abeokuta women were mobilized to resist colonial as well as traditional rulers’ oppression. Many modern African women are equally vocal as mouthpieces for their families, gender and community as we see in the traditions of omo osu, iyalode and iyaloja among the Yorubas and umuada among the Igbos. The omo osu (women of the same extended family or compound) still have important roles in settling family quarrels or acting as public relations agents on family matters. The focus of the present chapter does not allow detailed studies of this and other examples but Aba women’s riot and the history of the dynamic role of Kikuyu women in Mau Mau struggles are paradigms (Ngugi wa Thiong’o 1967).

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Women’s voicelessness is therefore a paradox that is imposed by socialization. The quest for a re-conceptualization of gender theory has embraced the rejection of the culture of silence and the unfolding of areas of women’s audibility in both traditional and modern societies. D’Almeida’s gender conceptualization derives from conscious efforts by African women writers to break the culture of silence through the creative process. A majority of African women writers are spokesper-

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sons for their gender and are re-creating women’s space in a self-conscious way. Many African women theorists believe that this is an important channel for en­hancing African women’s self-esteem and participation in development.

12. Re-Conceptualizing African Gender Theory: Feminism, Womanism and the Arere Metaphor

Mary Kolawole


Sexuality and gender issues in African societies have often been subsumed under various discourses, local and international, that do not adequately recognize the complexities and specificities of the reality of African societies. Gender as a cate­gory is equated with women such that gender studies are mostly assumed to focus on women’s problems. The emphasis on women’s problems also derives from the assumption that African women’s refusal to speak loudly about oppression and inequality is an acceptance of marginality and minimalization. The question of the interface between men’s and women’s spaces and the dynamics of gender rela­tions is crucial to the ways in which gender is conceptualized in African societies and this is also significant for the ways in which culture is considered central in gender discourses about Africa. This paper will foreground a dynamic definition of culture, recognizing that culture needs to be deconstructed critically as op­posed to being simply connected to gender discourse as a catchall phrase. A de­rogatory definition of culture is still being underscored by many scholars with specific reference to Africa and the Third World. As Edward Said (1993) ob­served, many Third World societies are designated in exclusionist terms. Trinh Minh-ha (1989) brings this reality closer to gender issues in her observation that Third World women are treated in modern scholarship as an outgroup to be spo­ken for by a mainstream ingroup, in her emphasis on the philosophy of otherness.

African women researchers are located in gender discourse at the intersection of resisting the politics of appropriation and finding their own voice, but as con­tributors to modern scholarship. This chapter is aimed at problematizing these various layers of gender determinants and interrogates the ambivalent attitudes to the gender question in and about Africa. The chapter is also an attempt at evalu­ating the diversities of attitudes and approaches to gender conceptualisation by African female scholars. It gathers together various issues that are predominant in the search for new concepts regarding gender constructions, gender relations and gender research in Africa. Some of the concepts touch on the question of sex­uality and how women and the society deal with it.

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The chapter further seeks to problematize the traditional basis for gender in­equality, by revealing the limitation of the attempts to mute women’s voices. Some female scholars take off from this muting of the voice or culture of silence to reveal how African women are dealing with it and transcending it. Others empha-

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size the anomalous nature of silencing women but also interrogate modern fem­inisms in terms of cultural relevance.

There is an observable polarity in the approaches of African women to femi­nism, ranging from acceptance, to questioning or rejection. Some African women are searching for alternative gender concepts to evade the controversies around and resistance to feminism. One such area of controversy derives from the ab­sence of direct talk about sexuality, as well as from the problems of some African societies’ attitudes to women’s bodies and sexuality. Until recently, many African societies encouraged traditions that suppress sexuality through female circumci­sion and similar rites. But other traditions enhance sexuality, for instance in Southern Africa and in Mali, and in many areas of Africa female circumcision is not practised at all.

Another focus which is central to this paper is the recognition that gender in Africa needs to transcend the question of naming or self-definition, which are ba­sically preoccupations for the academic women and not for the majority of ordi­nary non-literate African women. The latter is a category of women who live through the reality (and not the abstraction) of oppression. But African women’s experiences are not monolithic, nor are their struggles to resist oppression recent. History confirms that they have struggled for their rights in incredibly radical ways since pre-colonial times according to the exigencies of the time and place (Kolawole 1997a; see also Machera, this volume).

The main thrust of the present chapter is an evaluation of the varying reac­tions to gender as a category and the dynamics of gender relations and how these impact the attempts at definition. Some scholars are sceptical, cautious or indif­ferent; others have recognized the need to revisit gender concepts in a process of re-definition and re-envisioning of what feminism means to African women. I uphold conceptualization as a conduit for pragmatic transformation of African women’s space, rights and self-realisation and not as an end in itself. Women cre­ative writers and critics have focused more on the qualitative dimension of re­search through theorising as an understanding of women’s struggles, their local histories and global contexts as a pre-requisite to strategizing and relocating or empowering women. The social scientists have been more involved in quantita­tive data collection with minimal theoretical emphasis. Both aspects of research are inter-related but the thrust of this paper is more tilted to the qualitative per­spective.

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Many women social scientists on the continent have been preoccupied with empirical research by using Western tools, concepts and methodology. They have researched into women’s lives and empowerment according to the donors’ agen­das. Concepts such as Women in Development, Women and Development, and Gender and Development have been very influential in African women’s dealing with gender as a category and gender relations and women’s role in development. In more recent years, donors and researchers have recognized the limitations of these concepts as effective tools for changing African women’s lives, for empowering them and for advocating for gender justice. This is likely to be the case unless cultural fac-

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tors and the male factor are also taken on board. International efforts in the Dec­ade of Women, the Decade of Culture, during the Beijing conference and in sub­sequent platforms for action have created a new attitude and a re-thinking of gen­der by mainstreaming gender into development policies. This coincides with the increased interest of African gender theorists who believe that the African wom­an’s voice is subdued in international gender discourse. Probing the traditional ‘culture of silence’ has provided a raison d’etre for constructing new gender con­cepts.

There is a visible ambivalence in the attitude of many of these women to the issue of gender conceptualization. The issue has been polarized—some scholars accept global feminism(s) as an umbrella for women’s struggle that has motivated and encouraged African women. Others reject the politics of appropriation and otherness implied in feminism as they also decry any deliberate act of self-efface­ment deriving from tradition or externalized ‘isms’. I locate myself in this dis­course in the domain of deconstructing feminism, traditional ideologies, mal­estreaming and mainstreaming strategies of gender intervention, as opposed to the adoption of ‘gender’ theories that are exclusive and essentialist, treating Afri­can women or the category of gender as monoliths. The celebrated image of Af­rican women as passive victims, marginalized without a voice as presented in some feminist critiques needs to be unpacked. African women scholars are adopt­ing the role of gender mouthpieces, interrogating gender concepts, confirming ar­eas of commonality and difference, in order to unfold new concepts that are ac­ceptable to African specificities. I have postulated this and stressed the need to see gender struggle in Africa as an aspect of larger struggles, to see women’s rights as human rights. It is true that African women have been long treated as the voiceless subaltern. But this image is changing gradually in many places, through sensitization moves by empirical scholars and theorists. This is a pre-requisite to shifting African women from the other side of the track and progressively relo­cating them on a new level of awareness. The challenges for African women re­searchers include re-articulating gender concepts and matching it with actions and activism for positive self-restoration. But we need to recognize the interplay of class, culture, ethnicity, religion and politics and the attendant result that Afri­can women’s progressive gender consciousness differs from one African society to another.

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My research has focused on gender theory from an inter-disciplinary perspec­tive, striking a balance between qualitative and quantitative research. I recognize that empirical research deriving from social science tools is functional and useful in grounding the theoretical gender assumptions on concrete premises. I have found useful the treasured information on African concepts of womanhood, gen­der ideologies and philosophies, that defines gender relations and constructions stored in oral literary genres such as myths, proverbs, female genres and folklore among others. Equally, a majority of women’s written literary texts, especially bi­ographies, provide avenues for implicit and explicit gender conceptualizations. Many African women interested in gender theorizing contend that African wom-

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en did not learn about gender only from the global movement. Some have been motivated by the historical accounts of women’s mobilization in Africa. These in­clude individual women giants who transformed their societies in pre-colonial times, such as Nehanda of Zimbabwe, Nzinga of Angola, Nana Asantewa of Ghana and others (Sweetman 1984; Kolawole 1997a). Research also reveals the catalogue of women’s activism and dynamic collective mobilization against colo­nial oppression, traditional repression, voicelessness and injustice (Mba 1982; Kolawole 1997a). Much of this was not adequately documented until recently. Many are therefore calling for taking these into account in African gender con­ceptualizing. This explains the ambivalence and shifting positions of scholars and authors such as Ama Ata Aidoo of Ghana, the Nigerian writer Buchi Emecheta, Tsitsi Dangarembga of Zimbabwe and the South African writer Miriam Tlali in identifying with feminism. Most African women scholars agree that African women’s muting or invisibility is not desirable or justifiable, irrespective of ideo­logical polarity and diversities in conceptualizing gender. I consider naming a means to a pragmatic end the task of empowering African women and moving them from the margin to the centre of social transformation.


In order to understand men, masculinity and sexuality in rural and urban East Af­rica it has been necessary to locate men and women within the complex and changing social, political and economic systems. As my research from both rural Kisii and urban Dar es Salaam shows, sexuality and sexual behaviour do not occur in a vacuum but in (changing) social contexts where men and women are submit­ted to prescribed gender roles, norms, values and expectations. However, though still anchored in traditional values, present norms and values have become con­flicting and contradictory and men have difficulties in maintaining their expected role as head of household and provider. Ideologically, men are the dominant gen­der and women’s position is clearly subordinate. In practice, however, and as al­ready observed a decade ago in Kisii, men’s dominant position is slowly being wa­tered down—contrary to that of women (Silberschmidt 1992).

Men in my research studies are perfectly aware that they are in a process of los­ing control over women. In this situation, and faced with increasing demands for women’s empowerment and rights, including their sexual and reproductive rights, most men are not welcoming the traditional safe sex messages, including ‘sticking to one partner’. Therefore, strategies to empower women and improve their deteriorating sexual and reproductive health are only meaningful if they are balanced against efforts to deal with men’s increasingly frustrating situation. This, I shall argue, is a major development issue that has so far remained unnoticed both on the development agenda and also in the existing efforts to ‘involve men’.

Returning to the question raised at the beginning of this chapter: ‘Are disem – powered men in East Africa motivated for responsible sexual behaviour and HIV/AIDS prevention?’, the immediate answer is ‘no’. With present masculini­ties still being strongly rooted in the past, with men faced with increasing disem – powerment, I argue that men will not willingly let go of their previous privileges. Men seem to cling to their previous positions of power. And as demonstrated above, they do this through irresponsible sexual behaviour. As long as men con­form to hegemonic masculine values and behaviours not only women’s health is at serious risk but their own health is at stake.

Consequently, there is first of all an urgent need to analyse in more detail the commonly accepted notions of male domination and women’s subordination. While the patriarchal ideology may be embodied and expressed in the lives of men and women, this does not mean that all men are successful patriarchs or that all women are submissive victims. In actual fact, as demonstrated above, matters work out very differently in practice. Nevertheless, to a large extent such stereo­types still underlie today’s HIV/AIDS prevention efforts by international agen­cies and local NGOs.

Most HIV/AIDS prevention campaigns today target women. Obviously women are in an exposed and vulnerable situation— there is no doubt about that, in particular as reagards their sexual and reproductive health. Even if many wom­en have acquired control and even power in many spheres of their life, they are also exposed and victimised in their sexual relations—much more than in any

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Margrethe Silberschmidt

other relationships. It is my argument, however, that more attention must be paid to men.

Efforts to address men, however, are charged with considerable difficulties. First, men’s interest in maintaining patriarchy is defended by all the cultural ma­chinery that exalts hegemonic masculinity. Consequently, a focus on male sexual and reproductive behaviour addresses and threatens established male privileges in societies that are strongly patriarchal. Second, an understanding of support to men as being a support to women is seriously lacking. Instead, there seems to be a profound fear that activities aimed at men might result in being at the cost of those aimed at meeting women’s urgent needs. Third, men’s changed roles, their disempowerment and the consequences for their sexual behaviour seem to have escaped general attention among local governments and also donors. Fourth, nei­ther policy makers nor information, education and communication (IEC) cam­paigns deal with the fact that sexuality and reproduction in East Africa are sym­bols vested with different, often opposite meanings for men and women.

Based on my research findings, I want to argue that HIV/AIDS preventive ef­forts need to be based on an understanding of the cultural and social context in which sexuality occurs; an understanding that recognises that sexuality is deeply rooted in male gender identity and that men and women engage in sexual relations for different reasons. ‘Male involvement’ requires specific education and services addressing the reproductive health needs of men and not only those of women as is the case today. My findings strongly indicate that male involvement cannot take place unless men’s self-interest is addressed (cf. Bandura 1997), and men feel that they themselves will also benefit from such involvement, that involvement and male responsibility in sexual matters do not mean losing their masculinity but the opposite. This being said, I also support the following notions of Baylies and Bujra based on their studies from Tanzania and Zambia:

While self-interest needs to be highlighted, it is crucial that the mutuality of interests of men and

women be kept at the forefront of anym strategy. It is gender relations, the position, interaction,

rights and responsibilities of both women and men, which are pivotal (2000:23).

Thus in order to best meet the needs of women and to improve their sexual and reproductive health, men must be addressed in the same way as women and with efforts that are appealing to men—for women’s sake.