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Saturday, May 3, 2008

Socio- Political impact

The first socio-political effect of colonialism was the concept of the Victorian woman which the colonisers brought with them.
The colonialists came with the belief that women were to remain creatures of the private domain. Women were to preoccupy themselves with domestic issues and leave the ‘real work’ of ruling and running the nation in terms of politics and economics in particular to the men. The role and position of the pre-colonial African women did not conform to this concept of a women. Hence, the implementation of policies seated in this myopic perception of women led to the erosion of women’s position in society.
Secondly, male migration profoundly affected women especially in rural areas. In Tanganyika, male migrancy nearly halved the male population such that there were nearly twice as many women than men. The removal of males form African society le to the destruction of the African family. Household no longer had father, brother, uncles and nephews thus leaving a void where the male used to reside. Male participation in their traditional roles in ceremonies, rites and rituals was distorted. The responsibility older males had of guiding and steering young males was abandoned as many went to urban areas. Women could not rely on the social support and protection men offered them and in many cases became the de facto heads of household. The problem is that the increase in women’s social responsibilities did not lead to a rise in their status, if anything it led to an erosion of their status.

Thirdly, as colonialism progressed, African patriarch’s, and the colonial government to a certain extent, attempted to restrict movement of women in a bid to control their sexuality. As Parpart explains, ‘Colonial policy pushed men into migrant labour leaving women stranded in the rural areas with an increasingly onerous workload. As rural conditions deteriorated, the cities beckoned. While women had little chance of waged employment in town, their opportunities to earn money existed.’ As a result, more women migrated to urban areas but were met with stiff opposition in the form of disapproval of African patriarchs in particular. Both they and colonial officials disliked female migration because they felt it led to moral decline and female indiscipline. African patriarchs were particularly concerned with controlling women’s movement and thus sexuality for a number of reasons. Firstly, they wanted to retain the purity of their clan. When women moved away form home, the patriarchs had less control over whom the women married or cohabited with. Thus, African males wanted to keep women under their noses so as to ensure endogamous marriage by the women. Secondly, African patriarchs discovered that if women left home and got married in her new area of residence, the groom often did not pay the bridewealth. Since there was no social pressure on couples in urban areas to pay bride wealth, African patriarchs began losing a great deal of income in the form of unpaid bride wealth.Therefore, African patriarchs become preoccupied with controlling female mobility. The colonial administration also become concerned because some African men left their employment early due to domestic problems that arose in the form of accusations of adultery and wives leaving them for other men. This caused the colonial administration to assist the African patriarchs out of (initial) mutual benefit. In Zimbabwe, the administration passed Ordinances and Laws such as the 1926 adultery ordinance which applied to married women and the 1929 Native Affairs Act, which applied to prostitutes, in an attempt to, ‘assist the kraal native to control their women’. However, it must be noted that the colonial administration was not very serious in their attempts to control the movement of women due to the observation that the men were more productive when he had his wife or a female companion around.
Nonetheless, rural women’s mobility was constrained thus limiting the social freedom they used to enjoy. In the past women had participated in activities that required quite a bit of movement. Fro example, among the Kikuyu since trading was carried out by women they enjoyed freedom of movement in order to dispense of their duties effectively. Colonialism caused some women to lose the freedom they once enjoyed.

Fourthly, due to the Victorian concept of women held by the colonialist and embraced by the African male, women were excluded from the new political and administrative system. In the past, most African societies had a dual sex political system which allowed for substantial female representation and involvement in governance and administration. The position of Queen mother seen across Africa in Ghana among the Akan, Egypt, Uganda, Ethiopia and Rwanda but to name a few, gave women prominent and visible political authority in running the nation.However, the chauvinist and misogynistic colonial officials made no provisions in the initial administrative design. It is often only with women protests as was the case of the Aba women’s war and the actions of Mekatilili was Menza, that a meagre number of woman’s positions were created in the colonial set up.This marginalisation of women led to an erosion in the position and influence of women in society. As this new status quo was maintained, African men actually began to believe that women were incapable of leading the nations. This erroneous opinion is still held by many Africans to this day and is reflected in the meagre number of appointments women receive to parliament and ministerial positions.
The discussion on the socio-political effects of colonialism on women is not exhaustive by any means. However, it is designed to give the reader a good impression of how foreign colonial domination truly led to deterioration in the status of women across Africa.
The response from African women
African women did not appreciate the new form of foreign and local patriarchal domination that was being meted out to them due to colonialism. They thus voiced their concerns in numerous acts of protest an defiance in an attempt to not only vocalise their anger and frustration and the new state of affairs, but to also improve their situation. Therefore, although colonialism led to detrimental effects in the economic and socio-political spheres, African women used these challenges to empower themselves and move forward. Colonialism increased the levels of awareness in women about their situation, their rights and the ability they themselves had to alter their environment. As Parpart explains, women used the court system in colonial Zambia to their advantage, ‘They (women) learnt the value of protest and the need to frame arguments in certain ways.’ Thus, women adapted to their new realties and gleaned methods of self-empowerment in the process.

This resilience and ingenuity of African women is seen in the acts such as the Aba women’s war (1929) where women came together in protest of certain colonial policies. Queen Sarraounia (1899) of Azna defended her nation from French invaders while Mekatilili wa Mennza mobilised her community to protest against the British. Women formed associations and unions as a statement of their unity as well as to contribute to the push toward independence. Fro example, Oyikan Abayomi founded the British West African Ladies Club in 1929 with a member ship of 500-200 women. This organisation was anti-colonial and brought women’s voices together as a powerful against colonialism.
It is evident that colonialism led to a definite decline in women economic independence as well as their socio-political status in society. Colonialism managed to instil in African men a strange feeling of superiority over women despite the fact that for centuries prior to colonialism, this unfounded feeling of superiority was generally absent in non-Islamised African states. It is evident that even today, in modern Africa, women still have to live with continued subjugation and abuse because they are women. However, it is with great joy that once more, we are witnessing a rise in women consciousness and self- confidence as women say NO to continued social scorn and disrespect. Women today, just as they had during the colonial era, refuse to accept the injustices meted out to them by men of whatever race.

May we as Africans strive to restore African women to a position of respect and dignity that even exceed that which she enjoyed in the past. For it is only when a nation respects women and treats them with dignity that true development can occur. Women are at the frontlines of humanity as mothers and primary caregivers. Therefore, in nurturing and building them, we are building the whole nation and continent.

For the Restoration of Afrika and all Her peoples at home and abroad.

Copyright © Africa Resource Center, Inc., 1999 - .

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