Courtyards, Markets, City Streets: Urban Women in Africa

Courtyards, Markets, City Streets: Urban Women in Africa

Courtyards, Markets, City Streets: Urban Women in Africa

Courtyards, Markets, City Streets: Urban Women in Africa


Although women have long been active residents in African cities, explorations of their contributions have been marginal. This volume brings women into the center of the urban landscape, using case studies to illustrate their contributions to family, community, work, and political life. The book begins with a rich introduction that discusses how women's work in trade and agriculture has been the foundation of African urbanization. The contributors then focus on patterns of migration and urbanization, with an emphasis on the personal and social issues that influence the decision to migrate from rural areas; women's employment in varied activities from selling crafts to managing small businesses; the sometimes unavoidable practice of prostitution when options are limited ; the emergence of complex new family formations deriving from access to courts and the continued strength of polygyny; and women's participation in community and political activities. The volume includes material from all regions of sub-Saharan Africa and brings together scholars from all the social sciences.


In 1982 I arrived in Beira, Mozambique, ready to begin research on the history of Mozambican women. Although women were nearly invisible in published materials on Beira, I was determined to learn how they had contributed to that city's history. As I focused on women and work, I began to recognize that an understanding of women's employment patterns offered a new interpretation of urban development in the city as a whole. Those urban Mozambican women who shared their stories with me in the midst of war and hunger are the instigators of this project.

The collection of essays presented here began to take shape when I organized a panel on urban women and work at the U.S. African Studies Association (ASA) meeting in 1989 and subsequently arranged for a second asa panel on women in the urban environment in 1991. It became clear that researchers were already pursuing this issue even though there was no coherent guide to the topic. Karen Tranberg Hansen, Jeanne Nanitelamio, Claire Robertson, and Aili Mari Tripp, all contributors to this volume, participated on those panels. Panel members Gracia Clark, Jane Parpart, and Christine Sylvester encouraged me as well. I have particularly enjoyed continuing support from Barbara Ellington, our editor at Westview Press, an advocate of this endeavor from the beginning. Many other colleagues shared ideas about the content and suggested possible contributors.

In June 1994 I received funding to travel to Nairobi for an International Seminar on Gender, Urbanization and Environment. the meeting was sponsored by the International Sociological Association, the Mazingira Institute, and the United Nations section on Habitat (UNCHS). Seminar organizer Diana Lee-Smith and other participants were enthusiastic about this volume and gave me constructive feedback on Chapter 1, which I presented there.

Chapter 1 was further improved by critiques from Dorothy Mc- Cormick, Claire Robertson, Brooke Grundfest Schoepf, Steve Tarzynski . . .

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