Friday, July 6, 2012

How Did Colonial Rule Restructure the Gender Relations of Colonised People?

This article aims to evaluate the impact of colonial rule on the restructuring of gender relations with regards to Africa, paying specific attention to Ghana as a case study. It is widely agreed amongst political scholars that colonialism did significantly contribute to the reconstruction of gender relations in Africa. It is somewhat easy to make generalizations in the case of Africa, due to its vast continental size and several nation state divisions that each has its own background and religions. Moreover, Africa was not colonized by a single colonial rule but by a variety of European states that each had their own unique cultural backdrop and therefore left different impacts on distinctive regions of the continent. I wish to pursue the argument that colonialism did influence gender relations and most remarkably culminated in the demeaning and degradation of women's status in many spectrums.

Colonial rule reinforced the portrayal of women as being substandard and subservient, and depicted images of purity and propensity for child-rearing that did not have as much prominence prior to the influx of colonizers. Such exploitative gender relations were imposed during colonial rule with unfavourable outcomes for women. Unfortunately many of the prejudices have been maintained after decolonization, resulting in the discrimination of women in nationalist movements and in modern African institutions.

This article deals with analysis on how colonizers perceived the representation of women after arrival in Africa and how they went about restructuring and reinventing 'traditions' of social, economic, political, and sexual relations between the two sexes. In particular, I will investigate effects of altered gender relations in Ghana as a case study, with specific focus on women's perceptions of gender inequalities. Furthermore, I will explore the repercussions of the reconstructions in gender relations in Africa and furthermore the subsequent impacts on the status of women in post-colonial societies and the weakening of women's political institutions, and an examination of the work of nationalist movements to ameliorate gender relations of colonized peoples.

Various approaches used to analyze African colonial politics, economies, societies, and cultures are often gender-blind, tending to ignore women's experiences, contributions, voices, perceptions, representations, and struggles. This started to change following the rise of feminist movements, which emerged out of both localized and transnational trajectories and intellectual and political struggles. While the struggles to mainstream women and gender have been gathering pace, African women have become increasingly more noticeable in histories of colonialism, which has disrupted the chronologies that tend to frame colonialism in Africa.

As the field of women's studies has expanded, African women have become more differentiated in terms of class, culture, and status, and their complex engagements, encounters, and negotiations with and against the wide range of forces described as colonial are now clearer. From the large and assorted flow of theoretical and methodological literature that has been generated in the last thirty years, vigorous debates are evident. One of the most intriguing is on the validity of the term gender itself, with writers such as Amadiume stressing the relative flexibility of sex and gender relations in pre-colonial Africa, and denying the existence of gender categories at all.

Indeed, the historiography of colonialism in Africa, many authors have tended to dichotomize the colonial experience between two monolithic groups, the colonial state and its African subjects. In so doing, they obscure the contradictions from each side, thus denying the agency of people whose status did not fit within the normative boundaries of this distinction. Perhaps the greatest injustice of this colonial historiography is its negation of the experiences of African women. By taking the generalized experience of certain African men as a normative reference point, many historians have effectively written African women out of history. Though they present themselves as universal histories of colonialism, these accounts deal exclusively with men's experiences.

In the early twenty-first century it is well established that colonialism had a paradoxical impact on different groups of women, although the dominant tendency was to undermine the position of women as a whole. Colonialism combined European and African patriarchal ideologies to create new practices, relations, and ideologies. Earlier work on colonial gender regimes focused on women in productive and business-related activities in the rural and urban areas and the acute tensions in gender relations that were created, to which the colonial state responded by tightening already restraining customary law, leading to significant changes in family structure and new forms of patriarchal power.

The area that attracted by far the most consideration was that of women's resistance to colonial rule. Studies ranged from those that examined specific activists and events to general analyses of women's involvement in nationalist struggles in various countries that demonstrated conclusively women's political engagements and contributions. More recent work has focused on issues of sexuality, constructions of gender identities, and colonial representations.

African sexuality and its authority and representations were central to ideologies of colonial supremacy. In colonial discourse, female bodies symbolized Africa as the conquered land, and the alleged sexual profligacy of African men and women made Africa an object of colonial desire and disdain, a wild space of pornographic pleasures in need of sexual regulation. Sexuality was implicated in all forms of colonial rule as an intimate encounter that could be used simultaneously to maintain and to corrode racial difference and as a process essential for reproducing human labor power for the colonial economy, both of which required close surveillance and management, especially of African female sexuality.

Feminist studies on the construction of gender identities and relations have helped initiate increasing literature on the establishment and transformation of colonial masculinities. Research on Southern Africa suggest that the colonial divisions of class and race produced different masculinities, some of which were dominant and hegemonic, and others, subordinate and subversive, although the latter received a patriarchal surplus over women of their class and race. These masculinities were produced and performed in different institutional contexts, each with its own gender regime and power relations, from the state, church, and school to the workplace and the home. Undeniably, masculinities changed over time and manifested themselves differently in rural and urban areas, where different gender systems existed and patterns of political, social, and political change took place.

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