African Women Writing Resistance

Published on Pambazuka, by Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez, Pauline Dongala, Omotayo Jolaosho and Anne Serafin, Sept. 23, 2010.

The following article is an extract from ‘African Women Writing Resistance’, which Pambazuka Press will be publishing in January 2011. For customers in Africa and Europe, the book is available at a special pre-publication price of £13.00 when ordering from our website, with orders to be fulfilled in January (customers in North America and India should please order from the University of Wisconsin Press website).

African women are too often presented in scholarly and media accounts as passive, pathetic victims of harsh circumstances, rather than as autonomous creative agents making positive changes in their lives. Confronting entrenched social inequality and inadequate access to resources, women across the continent are working with grit, determination, and imagination to improve their own material conditions and to blaze a strong, clear path for their daughters and granddaughters. 

The contributors to African Women Writing Resistance are at the forward edge of the tide of women’s empowerment that is moving across the African continent at the start of the twenty-first century. They look unblinkingly at the challenges they confront while also creating visions of a more positive future, using writing to bear witness to oppression, to document opposition struggles, and to share successful strategies of resistance. African women writers such as those included in this collection are moving beyond the linked dichotomies of victim/oppressor and victim/heroine to present their experiences in full complexity.

In many ways the twenty-first century is a good time to be a woman in Africa. African women, energized by the path-breaking 2005 victory of Liberian Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first woman president of any African nation, are educating themselves and entering politics and the professions in record numbers. 1 Another trailblazing African woman, Wangari Maathai of Kenya, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her ambitious woman-based reforestation project, the Green Belt Movement.2 Gender mainstreaming are the new watchwords at the United Nations and other international development agencies, which are finally beginning to give women their due as the pillars of any society, particularly in periods of crisis or rapid development.3 … //


African Women Writing Resistance locates itself within the transnational, intergenerational, cross-cultural efforts of African women to voice their needs and desires, their sorrows and their joys, to each other and to the wider world. As education is a necessary precursor to writing, the call to African women to educate themselves and each other is frequently heard in this collection. Elisabeth Bouanga of Congo-Brazzaville, a grandmother in her seventies and the mother of anthology coeditor Pauline Dongala, recounts how, when she was young, “Women were not allowed to go to school; they were supposed to learn from their mothers how to work in the fields, how to cook and how to be good wives. It surely was a kind of education but it was too limited,” she says. “Girls must go to school to be educated,” Bouanga declares. “A woman, be she single, married, or widowed, must free herself and be capable to take on any profession.”

This is a rallying cry heard all over Africa in these early years of the twentyfirst century, as women organize themselves to join fully in the contemporary social, economic, and political life of their countries. Resistance is undoubtedly more powerful when it is collective, and women throughout Africa and the diaspora are joining together to improve the quality of lives for themselves and their sisters through many organizations, such as the African Women’s Development Fund, Tostan, and FEMNET, to name just a few.19

What do the contributors to African Women Writing need and want from us, their readers? It is our belief that African women writers seek a broad-based audience with which to engage in the healing exchange of compassionate witnessing and empowering dialogue.20 We present this anthology in the hope that the strong voices of African women represented in these pages will arouse the spirit of activist solidarity in women and men all over the world, encouraging us to work together to build a better future for us all … (full long text and Notes 1 to 20).

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