Earth to Society: Women Scientists Exist!!!
A Call to My Ancestors: the Strength of African Women

Africans have faced various types of hardship throughout the human story.  Slavery, colonial rule,  un-payable amount of debt, dictatorship…the list goes on.  Thanks to the time when Africa was divided and conquered by colonizers, we are still licking our wounds.  Civil unrest, the predominant character of most African countries, is for the most part a result of the inconsiderate drawing of borders on African lands.  Aside from the immediate adversities colonial rule brought upon us, it is responsible for psychological effects that have passed on from one generation to the next.

The world is not a fair place to live in; that is a fact.  There are plenty of groups that are discriminated against based on ethnicity, skin color, and gender among other things.  But imagine being at the intersection of two marginalized groups:  African ethnicity and the female gender.  That is the reality African women live in—a world that is against them in multiple ways.  They are victims of every abuse women face, and every challenge Africans deal with.

In more recent years, Africans have started reclaiming their humanly space in the world starting with accepting and loving their natural features.  African curly hair is embraced, curvy figures are sought after, and dark skin is held as a beauty feature of its own.  Yet, there is still a long way to go before women of African ancestry have the space in the world they deserve.  In areas where there are economic challenges, African women suffer the most.  In societies ruled by patriarchy, African women face the mighty hands of suppression.  Studies have shown that a staggering number of African people believe it is the right of the husband to beat his wife.

Enter: colonial rule…

Before the colonial rule, African women played a role in the social sphere while undertaking responsibilities at home.  They were involved in the production of food and as a result had a significant say in how things should be.  Additionally, there were many tribes with women leaders and queens that played more than symbolic roles.  But when the Europeans came to the lands of Africa, things changed.  The colonizers brought the concept of cash crops and paid labor into the equation; they turned to the men for providing that labor.  Suddenly, men had the economic upper hand in the community and women were at a disadvantage.  Furthermore, the Europeans took the lands the women cultivated for food.  So women were left with their hands in their laps and a road of unpaid labor underway for years to come.  Some researchers even believe the colonial rule is the reason for most of the gender-based discrimination we see in Africa today.

Women resistance groups

The Europeans had a clear motivation for colonizing Africa—economic gain.  But they failed to incorporate the role of African women in the society into their plan.  They assumed that African women, like their own European women, were only responsible for the work inside the homes and as a result inflicted European gender roles in Africa.  This was not met with enthusiasm by the many African women who were used to having a say in how things were done and society ran.  The women resisted the change and in some cases flat out refused to comply.  Those rebellious women, termed “witch doctors” by some of the Europeans, were punished, imprisoned and re-educated to conform to the new reality.

Nonetheless, women organized resistance movements and alliance groups to fight against the rule.  For example, in colonial Nigeria, the Lagos Market Women Association (LMWA) held many protests and resistance movements against policies that imposed unrealistic controls over women.  When the government decided to impose tax on the women—with a justification that English women pay taxes—the LMWA responded by closing down their shops and demonstrating impeccable solidarity.  Because the women were an important part of the revenue, the officials had to restructure the policy into a more realistic one.  Similarly, women in Kenya resisted the imposition of additional work in an effort to “improve the agricultural system.”  The women resisted because they were the ones doing all the labor work while the men went to the city to look for paid jobs.  So the additional tasks would have been impossible to bear, especially with the women having to take care of things at home in addition to working on the farms.  While some women resisted the imposition passively, others joined active resistance groups such as Mau Mau and shocked the English even more.

What I feel as an African woman

When I think of my mother, my grandmothers, my great grandmothers and almost literally any Ethiopian mother I know or have heard of, I feel my heart fill with glory; for those are women who have faced adversity at its harshest, yet still survived.  The amount of challenges and patriarchal notions that African women deal with to this day is staggering.  Yet, we are breaking bounds and achieving greatness.  Even when it seems all hope is lost, I feel like we can all call on the strength and perseverance of our grandmothers and keep pushing forward.  To honor those strong women, I would like to end this blog with a snippet from Maya Angelou’s poem, “Our grandmothers.”

Into the crashing sound,
into wickedness, she cried,
No one, no, nor one million
ones dare deny me God, I go forth
along, and stand as ten thousand.

The Divine upon my right
impels me to pull forever
at the latch on Freedom’s gate.

The Holy Spirit upon my left leads my
feet without ceasing into the camp of the
righteous and into the tents of the free.

These momma faces, lemon-yellow, plum-purple,
honey-brown, have grimaced and twisted
down a pyramid for years.
She is Sheba the Sojourner,
Harriet and Zora,
Mary Bethune and Angela,
Annie to Zenobia.