For thousands of year’s pre-colonial traditional African women, in many instances, were just as powerful as their men. Many were outstanding rulers and led armies against European invasions much later in African history. They often came into power by right or by inheritance, and not as consorts of male rulers.
Some examples of this was queen Amina of the Hausas, in modern day Nigeria, Candace the queen of Ethiopia mentioned in the bible, who ruled in the 1st century AD, queen Nzinga of Matamba in Angola, Candace, the queen of Nubia, present day Sudan, who went in person to fight against the Romans and forced them to retreat without entering Nubia, in the 1st century BC, in Benin, Queen Ahangbe, as well as the famous Amazon warriors of the same country, who struck fear in the hearts of the territories surrounding them, for their superior fighting power. The amazons were often called powerful fighting machines, and there are many other examples.
In many African societies women had economic, political, social, religious and cultural authority. Many traditional African religions were matrilineal, showing God as a caring, all loving and all powerful mother, in contrast to Christianity a patriarchal religion.
Also because women developed the first system of organized agriculture, as early as 10,000 BC in Africa, they laid the foundations for the wealth, surplus and trade, which made civilization possible, as Chiek Anta Diop notes.
The drastic reversal of African women’s role came about with the defeat of Africa by the European forces. Garikai Chengu a scholar from Harvard University notes in the article: The Capitalist Origins of the Oppression of African Women, that colonialism introduced title deeds to men, displacing women of their land rights, also women’s role in agriculture was replaced by cash crop cultivation, which African men were forced to cultivate.
Also Christianity was introduced removing women from their leading place in traditional religions. In many African religions, God was female and so were the guardian spirits. Also African traditional educational systems were replaced by the introduction of western education which depicted it as inferior and irrelevant, and as a hindrance to African progress, this should be challenged.
Many Africans forget this aspect of our history, as well as our traditional educational systems, which should form the foundations for future any development. One cannot learn anything worthwhile if one forgets where one came from. There’s a need for a change of mindset of both sexes if things are to change, for the better for us.
Today international women’s day is marked every year on 8th March and the day would appear to be a ceremonial event where women dress up and have a good day off, at least in some African contexts, but I suppose this doesn’t apply universally. Around the world the status of women is marred by continuing violence, disempowerment, marginalization, discrimination and poverty, and poor education, and so on.
In Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan has put women at the height of power and governance, for the first time in Nigeria’s present day history as a nation. According to Ngcuza in the Daily Independent and in a separate article by Idike Nnenna: The Jonathan Administration And Women’s Empowerment in Nigeria, women are in decision making positions, and are in the highest levels of participation in economic, political, social and economic spheres ever.
For instance he developed the National Gender Policy, a key aspect of this is participation in politics. Representation in government has improved from 10% to 33% in 2013. Nigeria now has its first woman chief justice, first woman petroleum minister, government ministers and special advisors, and he helped lobby for the first Nigerian female representative of the OECD.
This has significant political undertones, as it appears to be the empowerment of women elite and not the poor, at the grass roots levels. 2 micro credit schemes have been set up to help fund their economic empowerment. (WOFEE) Women’s Fund for Economic Empowerment, working with the agricultural bank and state governments and (BUDFOW)
The Business Development Fund for Women, working with the bank of industry. Also 77 skills and acquisition centres have been built and equipped to increase women’s income through job creation, especially at grassroots levels. Nigeria currently ranks 23rd out of 188 countries studied in terms of empowerment, mobilization and participation in government.
There appears to be a general lack of empathy towards grassroots women by those African women in a position to initiate change and be the voice, and champion of their rights. Wealthy women don’t really seem to care generally about the fate of those less off.
They are forced to fight alone, so there is no wonder why there’s so little change, even though the problems are too fundamental to be changed overnight. Educating and empowering women and the youth, as well as the role of social media in helping to empower, inform and educate them, as well as make their voices heard internationally is crucial.
Micro credit schemes are sharks in many countries, with very high interest rates, as much as 50%, so accessing them for most women is impossible. The average African woman has so much on her hands, and operates at a very basic level, so has little opportunity of focusing on anything else.
Yet 70% of African farming is done by women who lack access to credit, land, security, education, markets, and communication and so on. Women are still discriminated against in the workforce, in the community, and in social settings, and they are often excluded from key decision making.
Women also dominate the agricultural and informal sectors, as well as the small and medium, scale business sectors. Insecurity and hence violence against women in the country makes it increasing difficult for them to work. Maternal mortality rates are amongst the highest in the world.
An enabling environment for women needs to be created by empowering, educating, enabling them to gain access to low interest credit, gain access to skills, employment, setting up their own businesses in the informal sector and the respect for women’s rights, through enforcement and effective policing, as equal participants in African and world development. This all costs money, but the benefits for the economies of African countries and their development is huge.