Engendering Human Rights: Cultural and Socioeconomic Realities in Africa

By van Kessel, Ineke | African Studies Review, December 2006 | Go to article overview

Engendering Human Rights: Cultural and Socioeconomic Realities in Africa


van Kessel, Ineke, African Studies Review


Obioma Nnaemeka and Joy Ezeilo, eds. Engendering Human Rights: Cultural and Socioeconomic Realities in Africa. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005. xii + 314 pp. Index. $65.00. Cloth.

This edited volume on the health, educational, religious, legal, and cultural aspects of human rights for women is a rather mixed bag. The title of the book suggests that the focus is on women in Africa, but the introductory chapter instead discusses the various disabilities faced by women of African descent all over the world. Although the editors recognize that "women of African descent" do not make up a homogeneous category, they nevertheless pose the question: "Why are women of African descent denied human rights everywhere and at all times? Is it nature, culture, or deliberate policy?" (4). This sweeping claim remains unsubstantiated. Who exactly do they include under their rubric of women of African descent? Does an African ancestor constitute the defining element in one's identity, even after many generations of intermarriage and subsequent waves of intercontinental migration? Many women of "African descent," for example in Asia, are in fact totally unaware of their African ancestry. The chapters on France and Germany do not provide evidence that immigrant women from Africa and women of African descent are more marginalized than, say, Asian women.

The editors argue that the position of women has deteriorated as a result of the decline of many African economies: "In this context, sexual and coercive controls over women have often been exercised with a vengeance, just as they were in the colonial period" (8). This raises expectations that are not met by the case studies in the book: the condition of women is rarely discussed in relation to long-term economic developments. Similarly, while Nawal al Saadawi rages in her introductory essay against the use of all the major world religions as "weapons of control over people's minds and bodies" (35), this theme is not taken up in the case studies on Kenya, South Africa, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe.

One of the most intriguing contributions is the chapter by Stella Babalola and Pearl Nwashili on girls and young women who work in the male world of motor parks (bus, taxi, and lorry stations) in Lagos. …

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