Effect of European Imperialism on African Women
What effect did the European imperialism in Africa have on the women of both continents? And was this effect advantageous or injurious to the women themselves? Judging by the extremely limited amount of information available on the subject, one could conclude probably a very minimal one. However, upon further investigation, one can see that this effect, although ignored by historians, was very profound and real to the women who lived in Africa in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The majority of the information obtained is about the impact of imperialism on the women of Africa, which is to be expected in today's politically-correct society. However, this causes some difficulty in understanding the consequences of imperialism for women in Europe. Thus that topic won't be addressed here. In Africa, however, the European colonialism completely altered a lifestyle and culture, particularly the roles of women in that culture (Gross and Bingham volume II 52). There is some disagreement as to whether the effects of European imperialism over Africa were detrimental to the progress of women.
It's difficult to understand the effects that Europe had on Africa until one comprehends the state of living for the women before Europeans embarked upon their colonialism. Women were traditionally considered equals or near equals to men in many aspects of some African societies. Farming was the primary occupation of almost every African woman (Gross and Bingham volume I 70). Women were a significant part of the work force and essential to their families' survival (Gross and Bingham volume I 53). Many tribes had female chiefs, and females were given other high-ranking roles in their societies (Gross and Bingham volume I 18). They were allowed active participation in their religions, in contrast to their European counterparts, who could only participate in religious ceremonies indirectly (Gross and Bingham volume I 38).
Europeans had made their presence in Africa felt for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years before the colonialism commenced. African women were connected to Europeans in many different ways. Sometimes there were marriages between the two cultures. Sometimes African women were enslaved by Europeans. Nearly everyone in Africa had been exposed to or heard of the missionaries preaching their way across the continent ("European Imperialism"). Often, when Europeans first encountered Africans, the situation was not one of hostility, but of curiosity and a desire to understand, rather than to judge or change one another. However, along with European exploration of Africa came European exploitation of Africans and African raw materials ("French in West Africa"). One early British traveler wrote of the African women he encountered, "I do not recollect a single instance of hardheartedness towards me in the women. In all my wanderings and wretchedness, I found them...