By Winnie Barake,
The culture, evolution, and history of women of African descent reflect the evolution and history of the African continent itself.
Numerous studies regarding women’s history in African nations have been conducted, focusing on their historic roles and status in specific countries and regions, such as Egypt, Ethiopia, Morocco, Nigeria, Lesotho, and sub-Saharan Africa. Recently, scholars have begun to look at the evolution of women’s status in African history; focusing on less common attributions such as songs from Malawi, weaving techniques in Sokoto, and historical linguistics.
African women have always been active in agriculture, trade, and other economic pursuits, but a majority of them are in the informal labor force. In 1985, women’s share in the African labor force ranged from 17 per cent, in Mali, to 49 per cent in Mozambique and Tanzania (1989). African women are guardians of their children’s welfare and have an explicit responsibility to provide for them materially. They are the household managers, with the responsibility to provide for their families, as well as taking care of them.
As a mother, a woman has a privileged relationship with her son, regardless of who/how he turns out to be. This privileged ascendancy enjoyed by the son is long-lasting and the mother can use her prerogative to advise or even command her son. In most cases, the son listens to his mother more than he does to his father. She is the foundational pillar upon which all family and community structures rely. The African mother is more than a domestic cook; in charge of managing the household. In a way, she manages the entire community and is more efficient than any “First Lady.”
The African mother indirectly exercises her power through her motherly attributes. There is an African depiction of decision-making processes where the role of the woman as mother is omnipresent, as opposed to the Western traditions of power relationships. In her capacity as the most influential person in society, she is respected, and feared, as well as, honored and admired. In traditional Africa, the role played by queen mothers in the foundation of the empire and the establishment of civil peace is noticeable. Nowadays, socially empowered women still play a deciding role in the structuring and development of their society. Similarly, some African societies are represented/recognized by matriarchy where the obvious political influence of a mother, as the source and principle of power, is recognized.
As a spouse, the African woman is not just a “female”, but also, a partner equally involved in the process of building the family as the nucleus of the community. The subjugation she suffers from today on the grounds of her being the “weaker sex”; is falsely determined by the difference in the so-called gender roles.
The third specific attribute of the African woman is her role as an educator. Education entails not only the teaching of human and cultural values but as mothers and educators, women lead their sons and daughters on the road to a good life. Genuine education involves the shaping of character through the example of the educator. This challenging aspect of the role of the African woman requires that she lives a life worthy of imitation. In African tradition, women are the first pedagogues in the sense that they are the first to lead their children. It is this attribute that explains why African women are capable of doing anything they can to sustain a disrupted family.
Traditional organizational structures have changed so much in African society due to colonial legacy. Women, traditionally in the shadow of power, can no longer play the discreet but efficient role assigned to them. Nowadays, they are too often overshadowed by powerful men known as dictators. Their presence must be more visible.
Their status, claim some rights to be recognized as favors for the woman. Most importantly, what matters is the question of recognition de facto of the prevailing situation: There can be no development of African societies when women who are the agents of this policy of well-being are left out.
The role of African women in the context of violence is to restore peace. The survival of African societies depends mostly on women in recognition of their role as life-givers and peacekeepers.
Only women can champion developmental policies by scrutinizing whether the proposal of a better life by development theorists does promote life in Africa. Therefore, the argument is to provide for African women socio-political structures and spaces where they can result in conflict resolutions.
Because they know the price of life more than anyone else, they would do whatever they can to protect fragile lives. And in times of peace, when development is possible, women manage the dying organizations with their practical marketing skills for the benefit of the whole national community.
Women can use their ability as peacekeepers to play other important roles only if their places as a mother, spouse, and educator are recognized. It is only by recognizing the feminine role with its specific primacy on life issues that the development of African nations will be effective.