Gender inequality is caused by social institutions and organisations which suppress women’s economic and social rights.
In Africa, the harmony between sexes was mostly affected by changing political agendas. It is therefore without doubt that gender inequality in Africa owes its legacy of colonialism.
The idea that Africa before colonialism had better gender parity is explored by Clenora Hudson-Weems in her book; “Africana Womanist Literary Theory”.
Born in 1945, Clenora Hudson Weems is an African–American author and academic, popularly known for her gender activism fighting for the plight of black women in America in the early 1980s.
Hudson-Weems currently works as a Professor of English at the University of Missouri, America.
The book “Africana Womanism Literary Theory” (2004) was published by Africa Research and Publication as an expansion of ideas presented in Hudson-Weems’ previous book “Africana Womanism; Reclaiming Ourselves” (1993)
As Dr Adele Newson-Horst rightly points out, “Clenora Hudson-Weems’ work provides a theoretical construct that boldly restores meaning within the African and African Diaspora women’s experiences. Her application of the theory to black life and literary texts proves to be both accurate and useful as we search for appropriate theories and methodologies for Africana writers.”
In her book, Hudson-Weems applies the Africana Womanist theory on works by international literary female writers such as Toni Morrison, Ebuchi Emecheta and Paula Marshall in exploring the meaning of family and community solidarity on the backdrop of slavery in America.
Most importantly her application of the Africana Womanist theory proves to be accurate and useful in the search for appropriate theories and methodologies for African writers.
Hudson-Weems outlines 18 essential characteristics of Africana Womanism which can be categorised into two groups
These characteristics include self-definition, family-centeredness, wholeness, role flexibility, adaptability, black female sisterhood, struggling with male against oppression, male compatibility, recognition, ambition, nurturing, strengthen, respect, respect for elders, mothering and spirituality.
As Hudson-Weems notes, self-naming and self-definition are an important part of life because for one to exists, one needs to be given the correct name.
Applying this part of theory to literature, using Yvonne Vera’s “Without A Name” (1994), as foretold by the books’ title- there is a realisation on the importance of a name and self-dentition and identity for Mazvita, Joel and Nyenyedzi to discover themselves in colonial Rhodesia in the 1960s.
The second grouping of the 18 characteristics includes family centeredness, role flexibility, struggling with men against oppression and black female sisterhood focus on the commitment of family - a major thing in the African community.
One of the most fascinating features of the theory is role flexibility.
Hudson-Weems bases this feature on the roles of women in African history where black women played the same roles in society as women such as being queens, leaders and warriors.
This is historically evidenced by Queen Amina from Nigeria (15th century), Empress Candace from Ethiopia (332 BC), Makeda Queen of Shebba (960 BC), Nefertiti – Queen of Acient Kemet, Egypt (129 to 122BC) and Yaa Asantewa - the warrior from Ghana.
Role flexibility is also a strong feature in African society as it highlights the equally important role of women in the society regardless of their sex, taking for example the Shona culture where a woman can represent a male figure, father or head of the family on a family tree.
As Hudson-Weems notes, “Africana women fight oppression hand-in-hand with the black male”, highlighting the contribution of women in black social movements advocating for freedom and equality.
Unlike the Western rooted feminist approach to literature which comprises of radical feminists who dismiss men from their lives advocating for lesbianism, Africana Womanism speaks of male and female compatibility, where men and women co-exist together without conflict.
Reflecting on the relevance of Africana Womanism Theory on analyzing literature on women in Africa, the theory proves accurate as it points out the real cause of inequalities in Africa – colonialist patriarchal tendencies.
Colonialism brought gender inequality to Africa through the introduction of Western tendencies mainly capitalism, which placed black men at the top of the economic ladder imposing its patriarchal social system in Africa.
Africana womanism has its fair share of critics in Africa especially those who reject the theory because of what they perceive as its association with white women from western nations, particularly America.
However, one of the staunchest backers of Hudson Weems’ work is Pan-Africanist Molefi Kete Asante, author of “The History of Africa the Quest for Eternal Harmony” (2007), internationally acclaimed for proposed theory of Afrocentricity.
Asante believes that Hudson’s Africana Womanist thought has the perfect approach to gender issues in Africa as compared to American Feminism.
“Africana Womanism is a response to the need for collective definition and the re-creation of the authentic agenda that is the birthright of every living person…. In this antiquity (the earliest days of African history), Hudson-Weems has discovered the sources of so much commonality in the African world that there is no question that Africana Womanism has the distinct and different approach to relationship than, say, feminism,” Asante notes.
Hudson Weems wrote the book “Africana Womanist Literary Theory” expanding the layered meanings of family centeredness. She puts her race based theory to the test by applying it to works by female writers such as Toni Morison, Paula Marshall and Ebuchi Emecheta.
Despite the reference to African American literature, the way Hudson-Weems calls the reader back to the earliest days of African cultural history in understandings the historical background of women inequalities in Africa is amazing.