Gender in African History

“In the pre-colonial times, women in Africa were conspicuous in high places. They led armies and often played important consultative roles in politics.”

late feminist scholar Niara Sudarkasa

In pre-colonial times women were given higher positions in society and had a voice in important decisions. Being a homemaker gave them significant power. They were known as queen mothers and were involved in food production which gave them influence on men and dominance on children. Women in pre-colonial Africa often prayed to the gods for power and influence. They had several powers and rights to educate and even choose their life partner.

Status of women in pre-colonial times

Women hold important positions in political matters, decisions related to children and community, and also in agricultural activities. They followed the matriarchal family system. During the early Vedic period, women had higher positions in the family as well as in society. Queen mothers in Ghana held the center of authority in villages such as Asante. They were not even lagging in trade. Yoruba women were the best examples of long-distance trade leaders. Women had significant control over trade and culture.

Status of women in post-colonial times

Gender inequality became prevalent in Africa after colonization. Gender inequality refers to political, social, economic as well as educational inequalities. Colonialism resulted in the corrosion of women’s rights and indigenous traditions and customs of Africa. Which disarrayed the indigenous culture, economy, and political systems of pre-colonial Africa. Colonialism resulted in the demolition of matriarchal norms and introduced patriarchal norms and values. After this, women were given inferior positions in society.

The notion was established which said that women are subordinate to males and with the passing of time men held all the important positions and authority. With colonialism, laws were passed that snatched rights from women and granted them to men in society. Gender inequality and female disempowerment became widely accepted ideas. With the changes in the social status of gender, their rights and grasp among other necessities also changed. Men were offered higher positions in white-collar jobs and on the other hand, women were not provided with better education and employment. As a result, females with less education worked in traditional informal economies. With time, there existed a comparison between men and women as well as between working women and homemakers.

Colonial laws and rules snatched women’s access to property and other resources. In a sense, colonialism eroded the prestige and beneficiaries of women which resulted in their exclusion. Widow inheritance was made restricted or illegal in many parts of Africa. All this resulted in diminishing indigenous African culture. Europeans included their Westernized gender ideologies because of which protection of women became a prominent issue and their political and societal power were bounded. However, the gender gap gradually decreased during the late colonial times. In colonial institutions, more recognition was allotted to men compared to women.

Hence, in the pre-colonial period, women had higher positions and voices in most of the talks and decisions. Which were eroded after colonialism and the establishment of European ideas and ethics. Resulted in the demolition of women’s rights and their prestige.