Women in African culture
Nowadays we live in times of women emancipation. Men and women are equal in their rights and any display of gender discrimination is punishable by law. However, such situation was not common less then hundred years ago.
The role of women in any society is hard to reevaluate. Women give birth to new people, they take care of their relatives, are homemakers and muses. Moreover, in era of women emancipation they run business and even rule countries. Such statements especially true for women in developed countries. Let us find out women’s position in Africa.
At the beginning of the nineteenth century, African continent was colonized by European countries. Afro-Americans were not considered as full members of society and were used and cheap workforce. At that time, to be a person with black color of your face meant never to have any freedom of actions and feelings. Slavery was blossoming all over the world. Especially difficult situation was for Afro-American women. Their rights were not respected and even not considered to exist. Europeans developed a theory according to which Afro-Americans were regarded as an inferior race approximate to primates. Many scientific and medical researches proofed that Afro-Americans were not people in the full sense of the word. Such theories, of course, were developed with one purpose – to justify the development of slavery. In order to confirm my words, I would like to give an example of Saartjie Baartman's Story. Saartjie Baartman was an African women who was placed in unhuman living conditions and was at a huge interests because of her appearance. She got the name “Hottentot Venus” because she had large buttocks and unusually long labia fomina. Because of such features she was sent to a human zoo where European people had a possibility to ascertain the racial differences between Europeans and Africans. Moreover, Saartije Baartman was involved to demonstrate the racial differences on many conferences at that time. People were watching her naked and considered her to be an animal not a women with her own feelings and rights to be respected. After her deaths, her body was displayed in museums in London and Paris. More than two centuries after, in 1995, “President Nelson Mandela himself made personal requests on behalf of the South African people for the return of the woman’s remains to her ancestors for a humane burial” (Qureshi ). This example vividly illustrates the roles in colonized world on the nineteenth century.
Decolonization in Africa began after the World War II. By the year of 1960, almost all African countries got its independence. It was a huge step in history towards humanity and respect of civil rights. Nevertheless, in new independent African countries role of women had hardly changed. Women got almost no rights and were dependent on their family member’s men. The era of colonization was end, but women still suffered from the oppression of their rights. African women fought together with men for the independence of their countries. Nevertheless, after independence wars, they had images of “all-enduring wife, mother and domestic provider whose self-sacrificing labor in both field and home was taken mostly for granted and so went unvalued and largely unacknowledged” (Chapter seven, 108). The novel Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga illustrates what was the position of women in African Society at the mid of the twentieth century. The main points are that women always feel their vulnerability and had to do their best to stand for your rights.
“African feminism as a movement stems also from the liberation struggles especially those in Algeria, Mozambique, Guinea, Angola and Kenya where women fighters fought alongside their male counterparts for state autonomy and women’s rights” ( MSAFROPOLITAN). One of first feminists in African was Adelaide Casely Hayford (1868-1960). She was a wife of a famous nationalist Joseph Hayford. Adelaide Hayford established a school for African girls where they were taught to respect their African heritage and dignity. In addition, that school gave girls many useful skills to protect their rights and support themselves. Such women as Adelaide Hayford has shown to African women the pleasure to be not only a housekeeper but also a citizen.
As any phenomena, feminism has two sides of the coin. So does African feminism. Many people believe that African feminism is not a native African phenomena but worship of Western culture. It is a well-known fact that African culture differs from European. Together with different colors of face, Africans and Europeans have different cultural values and norms of life. In this case, when African women want to adopt a Western lifestyle, they are losing their individuality. Popularization of Western culture has a result that original African culture goes into oblivion.
In conclusion, I would like to say, that it is very important to keep balance in any situation. Without any doubt, civil rights of every person in the world are to be respected and protected. Everybody must be free of any type of discrimination: racial, gender or any other. However, at the same time, we should remember that people are different. Each of us has its own desires, goals and ambitions. It is wrong to impose one type of lifestyle. When we speak about women, no matter African or European, we should remember that it is up to every women what to choose: to become an independent and powerful business women or to become a housekeeper. Both variants are to be respected. The goal of modern society and international legal norms is to give everyone the right to choose.
Baartman, Saartije. “Saartjie Baartman's Story (Part 1/2)”. Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 17 Apr. 2012. Web. 28 March 2016.
Qureshi, Sadiah. “Displaying Sara Baartman, the ‘Hottentot Venus’”. Christ’s College, Cambridge. (2004). Web. 28 March 2016.
Chapter Seven: “Regurgitating Colonialism: The Feminist Voice in Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions”. New Directions in African Fiction. (108-122).
“A brief history of African feminism”. MSAFROPOLITAN, 2 July, 2013. web. 28 march 2016.