African Women: A Modern History

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

15
Women and Politics: Resistance and Action in West Africa

We know little about women's role at the end of the nineteenth century during the period of resistance to the colonial conquests except for the special case of the female warriors' devotion unto death to King Behanzin of Abomey. During the colonial period and even beyond, women's resistance was directly connected with their economic power. West African women, especially market women, and South African urban women defended the rights that were being swept away by the colonizers, persevering in a way that often made them stronger than the colonial officers in their obstinacy, level of organization, and courage. Though it may not have been their original goal, these women in effect played a political role. They deliberately entered politics as such only late in the game, however, probably because it had always been reserved for men. It became even more men's arena under colonialism because only men were allowed to make their voices heard and in some cases even to vote. In western Africa, particularly in the English- speaking areas, indirect rule caused the colonizers to institute certain reforms earlier than elsewhere. Except in Freetown, where well-to-do women obtained the vote in 1930, however, almost no kind of political life for women began before the 1950s--not much later than in France, where women could not vote until 1945. Change was abrupt and somewhat unexpected in French West Africa, where suffrage, which had been very narrow was expanded in 1952 to include mothers of two children. Because almost all women were at twenty-one (the age of majority in that era) married mothers, women's votes gained particular importance because for a brief time

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