P183 – Beyond a Rock and a Hard Place? African Women’s Movements Designing Visions about Gender Roles
8 July, 16:00-17:30

Daniel Antje / University of Bayreuth (Germany)


Persisting images of African women are controversial and depict women both as victims of their environment and/or as powerful agents of change. For instance, the 1970s development nexus postulated that development without the empowerment of women is impossible, while at the same time designing an image of African women as “poor, powerless and pregnant” and in need of assistance to access gender justice. Almost simultaneously women from the South opposed the allegedly exclusive white feminism that dominated the UN World Conferences on Women, conceiving it as upper-class and ethnocentric. African female scholars thus reacted by developing their own pan-African concepts of feminism such as womanism or Islamic feminism. African women condemn feminism as western, imperialist and not suitable to local realities. Beside, local churches, media or politicians influence gender roles. In this contradicting field, women’s movements oppose, adopt, appropriate and reinterpret images and gender roles. Looking at these contradictions, we ask how women’s movements develop their visions of gender roles? How do women’s movements legitimate their own visions in relation to their communities, societies and state’s norms, laws or discourses? Do they change the widely shared stereotyped image of African women and how? Against this backdrop, the panel focuses on the relation between endogenous and exogenous dynamics and images and visions of women and gender roles within the women’s movements.

Entre a espada e a parede. Movimentos de mulheres africanas desenhando visões sobre papéis de gêneros
Imagens persistentes de mulheres africanas são controversas, e retratam as mulheres tanto como vítimas de seu meio como também poderosas agentes de mudança. Por exemplo, o nexo de desenvolvimento da década de 1970 postulava que desenvolvimento sem o empoderamento das mulheres era impossível, enquanto ao mesmo tempo delineava uma imagem da mulher africana como sendo “pobre, impotente e grávida”, e precisando de assistência para obter acesso à justiça entre os gêneros. Quase que simultaneamente, mulheres do Sul se opuseram ao feminismo branco, alegadamente exclusivo, que dominou a Conferência Mundial sobre a Mulher, realizada pelas Nações Unidas, julgando-a como etnocêntrica e pertencente à classe alta. Assim, mulheres africanas dentro da acadêmia reagiram desenvolvendo seus próprios conceitos pan-africanos de feminismo, tais como mulherismo ou feminismo islâmico. Mulheres africanas condenam o feminismo como sendo ocidental, imperialista e inadequado às realidades locais. Além de igrejas, os meios de comunicação ou políticos também influenciam papéis de gêneros. Nesta área controversa movimentos de mulheres se opõem às imagens, papéis de gêneros, assim como os adotam, se apropriam deles e os reinterpretam. Considerando-se estas contradições no painel, perguntamos como movimentos de mulheres desenvolvem suas visões sobre papéis dos gêneros ? Como é que elas modificam a imagem estereotipada, amplamente compartilhada, da mulher africana, e como? Em oposição a este pano de fundo, este painel concentra-se sobre as relações entre dinâmicas endógenas e exógenas, imagens e visões das mulheres e os papéis de gênero dentro dos movimentos de mulheres.

Paper 1

Regina do Nascimento Santos Aurea / State University of Piauí (UESPI) and Federal Institute of Piauí (IFPI)

Algemira de Macedo Mendes / State University of Piauí

Conceptualizing Gender and Constructing Identity in Oyeronke Oyewumi’s

This paper aims to explore the ideas presented by the US-based Nigerian theorist Oyeronke Oyewumi in her book “The Invention of Women” where she argues that gender has not historically been an important organizing principle or a first order issue in Africa. Her central thesis is to deny that gender is a fundamental social category in all cultures.
Oyewumi attributes the idea of biological differences to the vision of European intellectual history. Privileging the visual facilitates an emphasis on appearance and visible markers of difference. She concludes that the entire western concept bases its categories and hierarchies on visual modes and binary distinctions: male and female, white and black, homosexual and heterosexual, etc. According to Oyewumi, the physical body is therefore always linked to the social body.
Based on her theory, this paper tries to answer the following questions: can gender, or indeed patriarchy be applied to non-Euro-American cultures? Can we assume that social relations in all societies are organized around biological sex difference? Is the male body in African societies seen as normative and therefore a link for the exercise of power? Is the female body inherently subordinate to the male body? What are the implications of introducing a gendered perspective as a starting point for the construction of knowledge about African societies?

Paper 2

Abdel Rahman Abu Baker / Bayreuth University/Bayreuth International Graduate School of African Studies

Consequences of the African Womans Silence in being childless: The Voice of Perceived Infertile Women in Tamboul town- Sudan

The paper will answer the question of how some local systems of marriage such as ‘aiwad and early marriage lead to female infertility. For example, ‘aiwad marriage is is the system in which a girl is married to the husband of her late sister. Early marriage is noted in the area where many young married women are wed to older men. Some of them use contraception without the knowledge of their husbands. Accordingly, they will be viewed socially as infertile. In addition, husband’s absence is one of the major causes of secondary infertility. Men of Tamboul work abroad. Especially in Arabic Gulf countries. Women are complaining because their age of fertility is very limited biologically. Contrary, men have chances to marry other wives if they need more children. Many stories of how early marriage can cause infertility were reported by women, midwives, and some unwed girls. People of Tamboul define infertility socially. If the woman failed to conceive, while women who got marriage with her at the same season have given birth. This because marriage in Tamboul takes place during specific religious occasions such Id-Alfitr (Feast after the fasting month Ramadan). Some types of these marriages such as early marriage are against human rights, while they are practiced and accepted by the Sudanese law and the Islamic Sharia’a. This is a challenge to activists to change regulations.

Paper 3

Somda Dominique / Reed College (USA)

Le pouvoir de servir. Les femmes luthériennes et le féminisme au sud-est de Madagascar

Je souhaite discuter les conditions d’émergence d’un activisme politique parmi les femmes luthériennes de Manambaro, un grand village situé au sud-est de Madagascar. En 2007, un groupe de femmes, emmené par la charismatique Madame Rose, ancien cadre de l’Eglise luthérienne de Madagascar, fondèrent une association résolument féministe. Il s’agira éclairer les efforts de ces femmes à la lumière d’une longue tradition de service parmi les femmes luthériennes du sud malgache, notamment dans le domaine du soin médical et dans celui du soin spirituel et de l’exorcisme. Dans ce contexte, j’explorerai l’éthique chrétienne et luthérienne du diakonia (un terme grec qui désigne le service charitable). Le service humble et chrétien des femmes luthériennes fut, en effet, conçu comme un mode possible d’émancipation pour des femmes malgaches dont les missionnaires regrettaient les conditions de servilité et de dépendance extrême. L’ambiguïté du projet était renforcée par la relation complexe existant entre le concept de diakonia et la notion tanôsy de service (fanompoa), celui que les inférieurs doivent à leurs supérieurs. La présentation révèlera certaines contradictions persistantes dans la politique luthérienne de promotion de l’égalité des genres et analysera leurs implications dans l’émergence des figures politiques féminines dans le sud de Madagascar.

Paper 4

Hofmann Elisabeth / LAM, Université Bordeaux Montaigne

Francophone African Activists’ Visions about Gender Roles and Feminisms – Questioning the Secificity and the Importance of Linguistic Divides in Africa

This paper focuses on visions about gender roles that are shared widely amongst the francophone civil society engaged in defending womens’ rights in sub-Saharan Africa. Taking into account interactions with the international scene, the weight of colonial heritage and the place panafrican aspirations take, we focus on members of the womens’ movements in francophone African countries. Based on literature and interviews with women activists in French-speaking Cameroun, we analyse the common points and the differences in the visions about gender roles from anglophone and francophone Africans. The role of the diaspora and other local, national and international actors in forging perceptions of gender roles is considered and individual factors are taken into account, including migratory episodes in the life-cycles of the interviewed women. The research shows that the transnationalisation of visions about gender roles in sub-Saharan Africa is partially absorbed by the still significant linguistic barriers between francophone Africa and the rest of the continent.

Paper 5

Mageza-Barthel Rirhandu / University of Frankfurt

Towards a New Gender Politics: African Women’s Movements & their Afro-Asian Encounters

Feminism has long been a contested terrain. It has accommodated diverse approaches and ideas around gender roles and politics from women coming from various regions as well as political persuasions. For women in the global South emancipation and liberation questions have mostly centred around development issues; the latter have been regarded as critical to improving their living conditions. Women’s movements across the continent have sought to represent African women’s interests by mobilising for changes in their respective status. And African governments too have installed gender machineries to integrate women’s issues in official politics. In their encounters with international partners – at the state and non-state level – ideas how gender politics might be enacted differently evolved.
When comparing African women’s movements, their strength varies considerably: some have been vibrant, and others stilted. Several pressures, including local expectations and demands, have been brought to bear on them. Like other international relations, Afro-Asian encounters have taken place over recent decades. They have been noteworthy, because they occurred during significant political transitions and have been maintained ever since. During these exchanges new perspectives on how gender politics might be conducted have been elaborated. The paper thus explores how African-Chinese relations have figured in selected cases of African gender politics and asks about their accompanying notions.

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