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1990 Book Reviews 227 Women and African Nationalism Susan Geiger The history of studies of women's involvement in African nationalist struggle, mobilization, and party politics can be traced along intellectual and political paths that initially followed, later paralleled, but have seldom deviated from or led the course of Africanist historiography.1 On the face of it, it would seem that those of us who have focused on or seriously included women in our African research should have done better. After all, the birth of most independent African nations from the late '50s to mid '60s, of a field called African Studies, and of a contemporary women's movement with both intellectual and political agendas all occurred within a dozen years of each other.2 Moreover, all were born in hopeful ferment. Like the new nations, both African Studies and the women's movement were eager to shake off the grip of mental colonialism. The "new" African history and the historians attracted to it had no ossified agenda or framework. The work at hand was to recover Africa's past, celebrate the emergence of independent Africa, and gore the sacred imperialist cows of old. Whereas women's historians interested in effecting changes in the process and production of American or European history had to fight their way onto trains that had been moving through centuries on well-worn gauges, the "new" Africanist train had barely left the station in the early '60s.3 If timing seemed to favor Africanist historians concerned with women, it also appeared to support African women's full participation in nationalist movements. By the mid-twentieth century, adult women in most independent nations of the world had achieved the vote. Some had achieved it in the course of anticolonial nationalist liberation struggles of their own.4 In so far as African nationalist leaders and parties sought, at the constitutional level, to articulate arguments for independence from colonial rule in terms that were both preached and understood by governments in England and France (if not PortugaLSpain or Belgium), it was in thefr interests to present themselves as enlightened proponents of western democracy and equality, including full political rights for women.5 Moreover, as has invariably been the case when it is expedient or necessary to draw on the resources and energies of all the people, women were, in almost all movements of African nationalist struggle, including the armed struggles waged in Mozambique, Angola, Guinea Bissau, Zimbabwe and Namibia, quickly "elevated" to the level of tasks required, in some cases becoming "full adults" almost over night.6 © 199OjOURNAL OF WOMEN'S HISTORY, VOL. 2 NO. 1 (SPRING) 228 Journal of Women's History Spring Some male African nationalists and leaders of liberation struggles were genuinely committed to improving the position of women in their respective countries. But whether a stated concern for women's political rights was genuine or not, nationalist rhetoric frequently meant that beyond their own determination and organizing talents African women had a lever that made it difficult for male nationalist leaders—at least by the 1950s—to deny them voting and representational rights. There were, of course, exceptions. In northern Nigeria, for example, where Islamic fundamentalist control of the region prevailed, women only gained the vote in 1976 when the Federal Military Government of Nigeria extended it by fiat.71 do not mean to suggest that African women did not struggle— indeed, they continue to do so—for a political place, voice, and responsibilities . The point is that during the colonial period, women in many African countries engaged in substantial anticolonial nationalist activity, that this activity was generally supported by male nationalist leaders, and that there was substantial evidence and certainly historical awareness of this activity on which Africanist historians could draw. Histories of African nationalism and nationalist movements only began to appear in the late 1950s, with Thomas Hodgkin's Nationalism in Colonial Africa (1956) still considered the classic of early studies—the study to which all subsequent works had to refer if not defer. Neither Hodgkin's nor the other major scholarly works on nationalism during the late 1950s or 1960s had much if anything to say about women's activities and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-2036
Print ISSN
1042-7961
Pages
pp. 227-244
Launched on MUSE
2010-03-25
Open Access
No
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