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Democracy and the Rise of Women's Movements in Sub-Saharan Africa

Kathleen M. Fallon

Publication Year: 2008

Despite a late and fitful start, democracy in Africa, Latin America, and Eastern Europe has recently shown promising growth. Kathleen M. Fallon discusses the role of women and women's advocacy groups in furthering the democratic transformation of formerly autocratic states. Using Ghana as a case study, Fallon examines the specific processes women are using to bring about political change. She assesses information gathered from interviews and surveys conducted in Ghana and assays the existing literature to provide a focused look at how women have become involved in the democratization of sub-Saharan nations. The narrative traces the history of democratic institutions in the region—from the imposition of male-dominated mechanisms by western states to latter-day reforms that reflect the active resurgence of women’s political power within many African cultures—to show how women have made significant recent political gains in Ghana and other emerging democracies. Fallon attributes these advances to a combination of forces, including the decline of the authoritarian state and its attendant state-run women's organizations, newly formed constitutions, and newfound access to good-governance funding. She draws the study into the larger debate over gendered networks and democratic reform by exploring how gender roles affect and are affected by the state in Africa, Latin America, and Eastern Europe. In demonstrating how women’s activism is evolving with and shaping democratization across the region, Democracy and the Rise of Women’s Movements in Sub-Saharan Africa reveals how women’s social movements are challenging the barriers created by colonization and dictatorships in Africa and beyond.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press


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pp. v

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pp. vii-viii

This book would not have been possible without the help and support of countless individuals. I am particularly indebted to everyone in Ghana who offered their time and energy for interviews or surveys. Interview respondents were forthcoming, welcoming, and helpful. I am grateful for their thoughtful responses. I am also thankful to the chiefs and their townships, along with the women who...

List of Acronyms

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pp. ix-x

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1. Reclaiming Power

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pp. 1-16

Between 1997 and 2001, approximately 30 women were murdered by a serial killer in Accra, the capital of Ghana. Women lived in fear of the killer and were disillusioned because police indicated they had no leads and because the government did not seem to be placing a priority on the murders. As women watched the tragic events unfold, many decided to take action by forming a coalition of...

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2. Queenmothers, Colonization, and the Struggle for Legitimacy

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pp. 17-34

In 1929, in the town of Oloko, Nigeria, a warrant chief attempted to count the goats of one woman, suggesting that women might soon be taxed. The woman, Nwanyeruwa, quickly alerted other women of the occurrence with a high-pitched cry. The women of the area then “sat on” the warrant chief by dancing and singing insulting songs that questioned his manhood. They demanded his resignation...

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3. Democracy in Perspective

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pp. 35-55

From Eastern Europe to Latin America and now to sub-Saharan Africa, a new wave of democratization has swept across the world. As more and more countries adopt democratic institutions, scholars are exploring what led to the process of democratization and how transitions are affecting citizens. Within this scholarship, literature addressing women and democratization has risen to the fore. In...

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4. The Iron Fist

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pp. 56-74

In Kenya, mothers of political prisoners went to the attorney general in 1992 to have him review their sons’ cases. They argued that their sons were simply advocating for a multiparty system, which was legal in 1991. Through the media, many of the women had learned about hunger strikes and about distributing...

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5. Capturing Democracy

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pp. 75-94

In 2004, Wangari Maathai was the first African woman awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her work in sustainable development, democracy, and peace. In Kenya, she gained the reputation as a champion against rights abuses as she led the Green Belt Movement in addressing sustainable development and then democratization. She was one of the main actors who questioned the Kenyan government...

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6. Big Men, Small Girls, and the Politics of Power

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pp. 95-112

In December 2004, I was sitting in the Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs waiting to speak with the main representative. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to speak with the minister herself, but I would be able to establish contact with the second-in-command. I had scheduled an appointment to speak with him about the domestic violence bill, which leaders of women’s organizations claimed...

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7. Women on the Move

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pp. 113-126

Women in sub-Saharan Africa are taking on new democratic structures with force. They are challenging governments; they are questioning policies; they are running for political positions; and some have been elected into power. They see the democratic opening as an opportunity for change, and they are running with...

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Appendix A. Methods

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pp. 127-133

Through my informal contacts and my participation in meetings, conferences, and workshops, I was able to contact women in Accra who were willing and interested in participating in interviews. The interviews were conducted in English with individual respondents, except for one.* In most of the situations, we were in private rooms with minimal interruptions. This allowed women to focus their...

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Appendix B. Survey Data

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pp. 134-143

Voting Behavior in 1996 Elections (Vote ’96)*: The dependent variable is whether the respondent voted (coded as 1) or not (0) in the 1996 elections. As expected, the respondents overreported on the voter turnout questions, but only by 8%.** Other studies of voter turnout indicate that the overestimation should affect the intercept only and not the causal patterns in the multivariate regression...


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pp. 145-147


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pp. 149-161


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pp. 163-168

E-ISBN-13: 9780801896743
E-ISBN-10: 0801896746
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801895791
Print-ISBN-10: 0801895790

Page Count: 184
Illustrations: 1 map
Publication Year: 2008