African Women: A Modern History

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

6
Rural Women and Colonialism

Whatever their prior status, peasant women's fate worsened under colonial rule, which upset the fragile balance between dependence and autonomy in relations between the sexes in work as at all levels of social organization. The imbalance increased for two reasons: the intensification of cash-crop cultivation (peanuts, coffee, cocoa) and the production of surplus foodstuffs (corn, yams, rice) for sale, which took up part of the cycle of subsistence cultivation, and the collection of these latter for sale by foreign companies, which often destroyed preexisting female networks.


The Twentieth-Century Trend: Cash-Cropping for Men, Subsistence for Women

Female overwork was the common trend. During the early colonial period, the cultivation of new crops (peanuts, cotton, cocoa, coffee, etc.) was imposed on men. Men volunteered for this as soon as they realized that they could make a profit from it and thus were the first to benefit from the money-based economy. To women went the task of ensuring all the rest-- growing all the foodstuffs, even more than before. Women also had to help their husbands as needed in keeping up the new plantations. In other words, they worked harder without compensation.

Later on, at first in South Africa, where mining began before the end of the nineteenth century, and then between the World Wars in tropical Africa, men went to work on the railroad and in the mines. Women remained in the countryside and found themselves running their families' farms, and their work increased again. Some women were able to profit from this by learning management and even amassing savings that might allow them to win battles

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