In traditional Africa, women had recognized and vital roles in the economic well being of their communities.Among the Kikuyu of Kenya, Women were the major food producers and thus not only had ready access to land but also had AUTHROITY of how the land was to be used and cultivated. Therefore, the value of Women’s productive labour in producing and processing food established and maintained their rights in the domestic and other spheres. Nowadays, although Women still are major food
producers either directly or through employment, they do not receive the recognition and respect that they used to. Colonialism profoundly negatively affected the role and status of Women in African society. There is a section dedicated to colonialism an its impact on the status and roles of Women in Africa.
Moreover, in much of pre-colonial Africa, bridewealth gave women a certain amount of economic independence and clout. In the past, African women in some societies retained a measure of control over their bridewealth which economically empowered her to a certain extent. Sadly, with the new financial constraints experienced by males due to colonialism, especially in the form of heavy taxation, bridewealth became a source of income that males sought to control. Thus, once more, women were excluded from cultural that had previously given women some measure of economic independence. www.africanwomenculture.blogspot.com
Among the Egba of Nigeria, women were the economic powerhouses of the nation due to the trade and market system they had developed. Among these people from West Africa, women dominated the trade and merchant exchange of goods of their community. Women were responsible for a number of things including: setting the rules of trade among themselves i.e. market taxes and tariffs; organizing and managing the market system; agreeing on lucrative terms of trade with outsiders; holding meetings to discuss how to improve their trade and marketing system and more. These women had highly developed business acumen which they used for the economic upliftment of their community. Keep in mind that many of these women were taking over the business from mothers or aunties of the same profession. Therefore, the economic knowledge they implemented had been honed for centuries. In short, they knew what they were doing. To this day, women still dominate the local market scenes in Africa but almost none can be found in the ‘formal’ Western-styled economic institutions that have developed in Africa since independence. Perhaps the absence of women, and thus the absence of ancient African economic knowledge is contributing to the LACK of economic organization and power in many African nations.
In ancient Africa, women were often the most powerful spiritual figures in the land. Women were often in charge of the spiritual system in the land. This group of women were a select group, and not all women were allowed to join the ranks of spiritual leadership. Nonetheless, the positions of spiritual and religion power in most African traditional societies were dominated by women. These were responsible for announcing dates and times of ceremonies, rites and rituals. These women were oracles, spirit mediums, knowers, seers and advisors. These women had the power to place and remove curses.African people are known for their spiritualism and love for religion. Therefore, we can see how a dominant feminine energy in the spiritual sphere helped o ensure that women were respected in society.
We will begin with a intimate type of governance system used by African women. In parts of pre-colonial Nigeria, newly-married women of a given town would form an organization designed to look out for their interests and those of their families. Among the responsibilities of this body was the governance of their husbands! If one of the members came to the group with a serious and valid complaint about the behaviour of her husband, the group would find this mad, confront him with the allegations and keep and eye on him until his behaviour improved. This method was highly effective because it did away with the often destructive and frankly, Western notion, that a marriage (or serious relationship) if only the business of the two involved. This system of inter-personal governance ensure that BOTH the man and woman were accountable to each other and treated each other with respect and dignity. www.africanwomenculture.blogspot.com
In terms of macro-political organization, 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.In most cases the Queen Mother was older than the King and was biologically related to him. She often had her own land, from which she gained revenue through tax and her word was law o the land she owned. She had her own courts complete with courtiers and staff. It is only through her courts that decrees, especially death sentences, made by the King could be annulled. Therefore, although the King had the technical power of the lives of those in his kingdom, the Queen Mother could often give someone back their life.
The Queen Mother among the Akan of Ghana also had very important role in terms of ensuring the well-being of the women and children of the nation. Therefore, she and her staff were responsible for designing and implementing the educational system of the land. As you can see, the nation was entirely comfortable with the Queen Mother and her staff being in control of the structure, organization, some content and day-to day running of the educational system which ALL their children were affected by. We as modern African women should remember that not too long ago the minds of all nation were moulded by the vision women.Often the Queen mother also in charge of childbirth, coming-of-age and marriage ceremonies.In some nations, the role that the Queen mother played was also played by the King’s wife. For example among the Baganda of Uganda, the Kings wife had considerable power. But usually, the King’s wife either had as much power as the Queen mother but usually had less.
A very important role that the Queen Mother, and sometimes also the wife of the King had was that of either selecting or endorsing the King’s successor. In some cases, the Queen was responsible for nominating the King’ successor and it was up to her to convince a panel of advisors to agree with her choice. In other cases, others nominated the Kings successor and it only with the Queen’s consent that the heir would be allowed to rule.Women also directly ruled many African nations. We should remember that this was the exception rather than the rule, however, women did rule their nations. At the end of this booklet you will find a list of women from whom we can draw inspiration, courage and self-confidence. Many of these women were Queens. African Queens had supreme power and authority over all inhabitants of her Queen-dom. Her word was law and no man or woman could defy her. She had supreme military, political, spiritual and economic power.
In the book Black Africa, Cheikh Anta Diop explains bicameralism, a type of governance some of our ancestors used to rule their people. Before Africa was under the dominance of any foreign powers, women had a position of influence in society. In African bicameralism women participated in the running of public affairs within the framework of a women’s assembly. This assembly sat separately to the man’s assembly but the two shared influence and power. The resistance against foreign invasion and occupation of West African nations such as Dahomey and the Yorubas is said to be a result of the women’s assembly meeting at night. African bicameralism allowed the blossoming of both males and females and allowed the full use of both the feminine and masculine mind. Bicameralism is an ancient example of African democracy that put full to use the human resources of society in a manner that supported and encouraged everyone.
So let no one fool you that in traditional Africa, women were even worse off than they are now….the question is…what happened? Today African women are dealing with systems that stifle, disrespect, abuse and even kill her…We will discuss that in the next post….in the meantime check out these examples of SLAMMING African female leaders! These examples (and others that will be posted in due course) are taken from the book In praise of Black Women: Ancient African Queens by Simone Shwartz-Bart.
The kingdom of Kush so renowned and honoured in ancient times was headed by Queens know as the Candaces. The Black Kingdom of Kush was born about 3,000 years ago and lasted until 350 AD. In the year 750 BC, the kingdom expanded north along the Nile and conquered Egypt founding the 25th dynasty, the illustrious dynasty of the Black pharaohs.However in 666 BC the Assyrians invaded Egypt and defeated them. The final battle took place in Thebes which the Assyrians burned to the ground.Tautaomon is the name of last black pharaoh to rule Egypt, he fled to Napata (Maraw) after the fall of Thebes. Napata was then the capital of the Kingdom of Kush. Of the Queens of Kush, the Candaces, two names stand out. The first is Amanireans, the Queen of Kush when the Romans followed the Nile south after the defeat of the last Pharaoh Cleopatra. She is described as a ‘very masculine woman who had lost an eye in battle’. Masculine probably meant courageous. www.africanwomenculture.blogspot.com
Remembering her Pharaoh ancestors she went down the Nile to meet the Romans and defeated them at Aswan where her soldiers broke all of statues of Emperor Augustus. Although the Romans formulated a counteroffensive in the form of a strong army that stormed the kingdom of Kush up to Napa, it failed. This army was thoroughly humiliated by Amanireans and her army. The Roman army was withdrawn back to Egypt. Finally giving up the conquest of Kush, the Romans suggested that Candace ask for peace which the Emperor Augustus granted.The second Candace is mentioned in the Bible in Acts 8. The story explains how the apostle Philip heard a voice telling him to go to Jerusalem from Gaza. On his way he met a eunuch, who was a Minister to Candace ‘Queen of Ethiopia’ (Kush was called Ethiopia by this time). The story goes on to detail how Philip told the eunuch of ‘the good news of Jesus Christ’. The eunuch was baptized and went o back to Kush filled with a desire to share the news he had been told. It appears that Candace was the first in Africa to embrace the faith. As a result Christianity went down the Nile reaching the area we now call Ethiopia. The biblical Candace and Amanrenias, the brave lady with the missing eye, give us a glimpse into our buried African past.
To this day most of the soils where the Kingdom of Kush lay have yet to be prodded and explored. Those soils which have been explored, lay stones with mysterious inscriptions on them. These inscriptions which hold essential information about Africa have yet to be understood. An important part of Africa’s past remains untouched, concealed in these stones.
Copyright © Africa Resource Center, Inc., 1999
4 Response to “African women’s role in Society and Governance”
- Anonymous Says:
3 May 2011 at 14:41im a 6th grader doing research,very cool article 🙂
- Bradly Jones says:
9 June 2011 at 21:15Thanks for the post. It’s like five years of not being in Nigeria has finally made me out-dated for this to be news to me. The change is amazing. Great blog!
- Galeri Foto Universitas Islam Indonesia says:
8 July 2011 at 09:15Artikel yang menarik..
Salam dari sahabat di Jogja…^_^
Universitas Islam Indonesia
- Anonymous Says:
29 November 2011 at 08:15where was this article from?