- Africa after Gender?
Gender has gained currency beyond academia in twenty-first-century Africa. Gender is mentioned on the streets; it is co-opted by governments, deployed by policymakers, NGOs, and foreign assistance programs, albeit with unique agendas. This trend belies heated scholarly debates that have dominated African women’s and gender studies in the last two decades. Central to these disputes are identity politics grounded in the location of scholars (and their scholarship) based in Africa, Europe, or North America in strained relations between (Northern) white feminists and African activists, between Africans, African Americans, and diaspora Africans whose research is gender in Africa; in tensions over overt or covert race-based and sex-based exclusions; in squabbles over rhetoric vs. action; in debates over different currents of feminism. The 1992 Women in Africa and the African Diaspora Conference held in Nigeria exposed many controversial power-related tussles between scholars, bureaucrats, policymakers, and activists.
How, in the face of such tensions, does one nurture coalitions in spite of, or rather, because of one’s location around women’s and gender issues in Africa? These earlier debates paved the way the intervention of Africa after Gender? in what the editors describe as “one of the most dynamic areas of Africanist research today.” The provocative title is deliberately chosen to underline methodologies and/or processes that scholars must engage to move beyond deep-rooted polarizing identity politics; to foster “transcontinental, multigendered, multiracial collaboration” and to encourage both multidisciplinary and “transdisciplinary” approaches to the study of gender in Africa. The eighteen essays in the volume are written from a “variety of locations, races, genders, and ethnicities” by six historians, six literary critics, two legal scholars, a sociologist, and anthropologist, a women’s studies scholar, and an independent scholar. Organized around four themes— “volatile genders and new African women,” “activism and public space,” “gender enactments, gendered perceptions,” “masculinity, misogyny, and seniority”—the essays examine such issues as the public discourse around homosexual rights; gender coalitions across race and class; transnational pressures NGOs and foreign assistance agencies exert on the dynamics of gender activism; women’s labor in West African documentary films; competing forms of masculinity and issues of [End Page 147] misogyny; theorizing gender (past, present, post-?) and women’s lived experiences, to name a few.
Although Africa after Gender? suffers from limited country representation— gender issues in Gambia, Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon, Uganda, Kenya, South Africa are covered while North Africa is not represented by a single essay—this book is an important contribution to the location of knowledge production and the study of gender in Africa. The multi- and transdisciplinary essays emphasize in various pragmatic ways how local custodians immeasurably enrich collaborative scholarly research. Other essays offer fresh approaches to gender and gender performance while situating such enactments within a transcontinental global framework with the clear aim of promoting less antagonistic North-South dialogue and groundbreaking studies of women’s and gender issues in Africa. The editors close with useful resources for further reading.