mardi 7 février 2012

Africa's women speak out The BBC News website asked some of the continent's influential female personalities for their views on the role of women in c

on the role of women in contemporary Africa.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Nigeria)

African writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie from Nigeria has said of herself: "I just write. I have to write. I sometimes feel as if my writing is something bigger than I am."

Chimamanda's first novel Purple Hibiscus was one of the six short-listed books for the Orange Award in 2004. It is a haunting tale revolving round 15-year-old Kambili who undergoes tremendous changes in her family and country.

Chimamanda's family once lived in a house that had previously belonged to Chinua Achebe, one of Nigeria's best-known writers.

What is the role of women in Africa today?

It is complex. An interesting observation is that primary school children are still being taught that father goes to work while mother stays home and cooks despite that some of their school fees are paid by their mothers.

What challenges do they face?

We live in blatantly male-dominated societies that are suspicious of change.

Knowledge is the key to empowerment

At a recent public event in Lagos, a man told me I would have to give up my writing if I wanted to have a happy marriage. This would never be said to a male writer.

Do you think the role of women has changed?

It has become broader but change is slow because so much is economic.

The 'men can and women can't' double standards are enormous. Women must insist that it either be 'men can't and women can't' or 'men can and women can'. However it is not always possible to do so because women do not have the economic power to deal with the consequences.

Are enough women in positions of power throughout Africa?

No. We have only to look at gatherings of leading political and economic groups to see this.

Women have long been excluded but change is crawling in now. As in the rest of the world, African women have shown that they can indeed excel in positions of real influence. They need only be given the opportunity.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Nigeria)

Do you think African women are empowered to bring about change?

Yes and no.

I think knowledge is the key to empowerment and there are many factors that make it difficult for women to become knowledgeable: class, status, family, religion and education.

There are many who are bringing about change but there are many more who could but don't. And there are so many who simply cannot because they don't have access.

In what way do you think women can bring about change most successfully?

By questioning assumptions, saying an emphatic no, being informed, speaking out and taking responsibility for our own lives.

We must raise sons to truly respect women, and daughters to believe that they have as many options as their brothers.

Are women's voices being heard?

Not enough.

What stigmas or taboos prevent women having a stronger voice and if so, what could change this?

Women who speak out against gender injustice are often labelled 'un-African'.

This selective calling up of so-called African culture is insidious.

Purple Hibiscus book cover (Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2003)
Purple Hibiscus came first in the African section of the 2005 Commonwealth Writers Prize

We have to ask who is benefiting when a woman is silenced in the name of African culture.

Cultures are dynamic, they evolve. We cannot fly in aeroplanes and use mobile phones and yet insist on values from three centuries back.

What should the role of a women be in future generations?

The concept of women's role occurs, I think, only because there is still much disparity between women and men all over the world.

When we do achieve gender equality, gender will no longer be a basis for assigning roles except for biological ones, of course.

The better cook will do the cooking. The better banker will have the bank job. The better driver will drive.

What inspires you?

My father, the best man I know, inspires me. The many strong Igbo women who I grew up surrounded by - my grandmothers, my mother, sisters, aunts, friends inspire me. My brothers, the writers I love, Igbo folk stories, kind and compassionate people also do.

What would your message be?

African women are raised in societies that encourage us to see each other as competitors rather than as allies.

We must change this. We must reach out and hold hands.

Like the Igbo saying we should, "learn to urinate together so that the result will be thick and frothy. And effective."

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