chapter  7
20 Pages

Women and the environment in Africa

ByWorkineh Kelbessa

This paper explores the contribution of African women to environmental protection by taking some examples from different countries. Although women held positions as chiefs, had their own organisations and participated in male councils in some cultural groups in pre-colonial Africa, women in other cultural groups were subject to different aspects of subordination because of customary laws. Colonisation consolidated the master mentality that denigrated women by altering the customary gender division of labor. In much of sub-Saharan Africa, men were encouraged to produce cash crops for export whereas women were forced to grow food crops for the family and local consumption. This led to biodiversity loss in many African countries. Some post-colonial African governments have continued similar environmental policies. This paper and the contributions of other writers have shown that, although women have worked longer and harder than men and played a leading role in maintaining crop diversity and promoting environmentally friendly management of resources, the master mentality has led to biodiversity loss, and the marginalisation of women and their knowledge. It is believed that women are naturally passive, deceivers, senseless, morally debased, irresponsible, devilish, childish, ignorant, wicked, dangerous and irrational. On the contrary, men are portrayed as knowledgeable, rational, strong, heroic, self-reliant, competitive and true leaders of their society.

Some African women have challenged the institutional bases of gender inequality. In the future, the ongoing deconstruction of the exploitative and hegemonic gender relations within African countries will encourage women to articulate and expand their knowledge, thus contributing to the dynamic development of African traditions. Thus, this paper suggests that women should empower themselves and challenge patriarchal values that perpetuate their exploitation. African governments should also pay greater attention to women’s roles, knowledge, perspectives and needs in order to solve environmental problems.