African Women: A Modern History

By Catherine Coquery-Vidrovitch; Beth Gillian Raps | Go to book overview

14
Women and School

About girls' education in traditional society I will say no more than has already been sketched. Little girls were raised by their mothers, aunts, and sisters in their image. Their place and role in society varied; their initiation and religious practices differed according to where they were and in what era. This essay is not an anthropological study; our problem is instead to understand, given the heritage that we now have some sense of, what changed with colonization. We might have guessed that women were not the favorites of colonial schools, both because of their inheritance from their own cultures and because of that imported by the colonizers.


Congolese Conformism

The Belgian Congo is a caricature of excess. In British-colonized countries, the influence of the Protestant Reformation favored individuals' advancement and mitigated at least some of the period's conventionality. The principles of equality emerging from the French Revolution and the tendency toward assimilation in the Portuguese-colonized countries had the same effect. None of these advantages were obtained in the Belgian Congo, where at independence there was one female high-school graduate--Sophie Kanza, daughter of the mayor of Leopoldville, who had graduated from Sacred Heart High School in June 1961.

The colonial authorities tried as they might to blame families for rejecting modern schools for their daughters. It is true that in the early days of colonization parents were wary of their daughters' conversion, which went along with school attendance. They most feared that the young woman would draw support from her new religion to avoid the traditional marriage prepared for her years earlier, in which there had been no question of consulting her. If she did avoid it, the bride-price would have to be repaid, since it was generally paid in advance in central Africa. 1 Belgian conservativism in mat

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