Africa is a continent abounding in mysteries and its beginnings often represent shadow zones. Indeed, numerous and varied are the theories which assert that Africa is the cradle of humanity in other terms that all comes from Africa including women. This work will specifically study the evolution of west African women in History.
Women are humans who have the capacity to bare life inside them. They then play an important role in the continuity and the sustainability of the human race. Notwithstanding women throughout history did not always have a peaceful route and sometimes had to know how to avoid the pitfalls. The ancient perceptions of women are significantly different from those of modern times, however, some of them had prominent impacts from the humanistic point of view and left their prints in history.
Opposing to preconceived ideas, women occupied an eminent place in the well-being of traditional societies .First of all, women were sacred because they are the ones who bare children. At an era where one of men’s priorities was to have an offspring, it is easy to realize that it would be difficult without the presence of women; a fact that men, at this time, were aware of. Numerous were the matriarchal societies, the succession of the king was assured by his nephew: the son of his sister. By doing so, Africans were sure that the power would still in the lenience of the royal highness, in other terms they were guaranteed that there were no chance that an individual from the adversary or outside of the royalty get to the throne. A perfect example is the Sarakolé ethnic group. This ethnic group originally from the Empire of Ghana, is all around West Africa. It is one of the eldest African matriarchal societies. In Sarakolé society, it was not the children who took the heritage of their father but his nephew. Women were the pioneers in planting crops. Wanting to nourish their family even when meat was absent, they get closer to the fruit of the soil and developed capacities in agriculture. They soon found out that these vegetables could represent haggle products and financial entrance for their family. The trade had, by consequence, been developed by women. They were the ones who fixed product’s price on the market.
From the folkloric point of view, women had a prominent place. Plentiful are the ancient stories or myths which put women in the center of their imaginary work. One of the most famous is the story of “Mami Wata”. This creature is supposedly the goddess of water. She is described as a mermaid with long black hair and beautiful eyes. It is said that she takes the appearance of a beautiful woman and she walks in the streets looking for the men that she will take with her in her aquatic kingdom. She promises wealth to her “husbands” but never fecundity. The legend says that she is along the coast and she can get into whoever she wants. It might be interesting to add that women were really active concerning religion. They read oracles, make prayers for their family, etc.
One of the tasks that might be the most surprising is that they were involved in war. They played an important role. To illustrate this situation and support this claim, one is able to take for example the Amazon of the Dahomey. The Dahomey is an ancient kingdom that can be localized at the place of the actual Benin and had been famous because of its army only composed by women called: “Amazon”. This army was divided in 5 specialties: the shooters or “gulonento”, the “gohento”,”nyekhplohento” and the elite. The women of this army were considered as bloodthirsty, strong and not afraid to die. They were trained from a young age to protect the king and destined to never get married, they had to remain virgins. When they killed someone during war, they branded his head to terrify his companions or they used to cut one of their breasts to horrify the adversary.
Women were considered as the equal to men and their complements. This argument is supported by the non-existence, in several West Africans dialects, of pronouns to define each gender. This shows that both sex were on the same level. From all facts considered, one is obviously able to state that women were well perceived in ancient West African societies. They took part in a lot of different activities. However, an unannounced foreigner came and drastically changed the perception and the roles of women. This beast is commonly called: “colonialism”. It came without warning and had the effects of a bomb in traditional West Africans societies. It profoundly changed the impression and the situation of women. After colonialism, women were seen as second class citizens. They were not permitted to go to school, they had to stay at home, take care of children and do households duties… Nowadays, the legacies of this policy are still present.
In Africa a lot of women are uneducated and will never know how to write or read. They are by consequence condemned to do minor jobs that will not bring them enough money and make them depend on their husbands. Some of them still work in trading in local markets but the perception of them has utterly changed. Data claims that they produce 80% of the food resources in West Africa, but because life is not a long steady river, they have to face the concurrence represented by foreign investors. It is relevant to declare that African women still have to face of various atrocities such as rape. One of the most famous cases is the collective rapes organized by Boko Haram. When they come to pillage a village, they put all the women in a specific house and rape each of them several times and simultaneously. This clearly exposes the perception of women that this armed group has. For them, women are nothing more than tools to procreate and do not have their word to say. This argument can be supported by the fact that arranged marriages still happen even if their numbers are decreasing. Young girls are forced to marry older men and put a cross on their education. All of these factors demay the development of Africa. Women who are uneducated have to find jobs that do not require intellectual qualifications such as being maids. This latter in Africa is not well paid or even well perceived. Women that perpetuate this kind of jobs are, most of the time, put apart of the family and have to stay in their corner, they are not legally declared and by consequence work in informality.
The majority of West African women persue a life style inferior than the one of men due to the impact that colonialism has had on African societies. However, some women decided to not let this kind of prejudices put them down and became famous as women full of power.
One can take for example the glorious path of Buchi Emecheta. Florence Onyebuchi Emecheta commonly called Buchi Emecheta is a Nigerian writer who was born on July 21st 1944 in the middle of the colonial era in a Nigeria.In 1960, she went to live in England precisely in London with her husband with who she was since she was eleven year old. Once there the family encountered financial problems and lived in poverty and because a misfortune never come alone, Buchi Emecheta had to face her unsupportive husband who disapproved his wife passion and burnt out her first manuscript. That marked the end of their engagement.
By consequence at the age of 22 years old, the joys of the motherhood’s author had to take care of her five children alone while doing what she likes: writing. In parallel, she studied sociology at the University of London and received an honor degree on it. Florence published in 1972 her first novel called the DITCH. This book in a furtive and subliminal way relates to its author descent into the ditch by the character of Adah, an intelligent hardworking woman who has to fight for her independence. Another individual is able to talk about another of her works: the rape of shavi which talks about the rape of a young girl.
Buchi worked as a professor at universities in United States, England and Nigeria and a visiting lecturer. She founded a publishing company named Ogwugwu Afor with her son.
Florence broke on through the other side the 25 January 2017 in England. She had been an important figure in the defense of the woman rights. She, throughout her books, highlighted some problems encountered by African women. She evoked issues such as rape and differences between traditional and modern especially concerning women status. By the character of Nnu Ego, Buchi illustrated the descent into the dust of a young women with a high status in her village and who had to manage with the commodities of a modern life in Lagos. When she was at her village, she was living a peaceful life but when she arrived in the city she had to face poverty, she did not have her word to say, she was blamed for whatever she did,… Buchi with the use of emphasizing clearly demonstrated the difference between the ancient perception of women and the one that had been left after the colonialism.
Someone is also able to talk about Ellen Johnson Sirleaf or the “Iron Lady”.
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was born October, 29, 1938 at Monrovia, Liberia. She is a Liberian politician and the first woman who was at the head of an African country. She studied economics and business administration at Harvard before taking part in the Liberian government. She started as an assistant and became famous for her clash. She had been imprisoned several times and had almost been executed. In 1985, she had been arrested and condemn to 10 year of jail because she openly criticized the military government. She had been released after a short time. After that she exiled herself during 12 years but did not stop to claim what she thinks while working in different international financial institutions. She first ran for president in 1997 but unfortunately finished at the second place. But because of her determination, she represented herself again in 2005 and won the presidential election. When she arrived at the top of Liberia government, she faced serious issues that she tried to solve. She found a way to pay all the debts of her country and with the perspective to calm the tensions in her country after the civil war, she organized a truth and reconciliation committee.
In 2011 she won the Nobel Peace Prize mere and some months after she had been reelected for a second mandate. In 2018, she left the power and passed to her successor Mr. Weah. However she received all the honor and received the Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African leadership. She was the first African woman president and she was the one who knew how to elevate a country after a difficult phase such as a civil war. Overall she represents a source of determination for all the African women, she had to live difficult phases, she had been banned of her own country and started with the “handicap” of being a woman.
These two women, had known how to get to their goals and did not let preconceived ideas or outside pressure break down their dreams. They showed that women can succeed even if they do not receive a help from their community. They succeed in their professional life and tried to help their society by investing in Africa.
West Africans women did not have a calm travel and had to live a certain decadence in their status. However some of them decided to use the rocks on their roads to do not build a wall between them and their dreams but a bridge which will get them closer to that.