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close this bookThe Courier N 156 - March - April 1996 - Dossier: Trade in Services - Country Report : Madagascar (EC Courier, 1996, 96 p.)
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View the documentFemmes d’Afrique

Femmes d’Afrique

'Although it is still our duty to pay homage to the peasant woman, wife, mother and cornerstone of the family, other, myriad destinies are also struggling into the limelight.' (J.-P. Jacquemin)

Women of Africa, staged by the Belgian NGO, Cooperation through Education and Culture, is a travelling exhibition, consisting of 28 movable panels, which uses images and words to illustrate the exemplary lives as historical figures of African women from both black Africa and North Africa, from ancient times to the present day.

This exhibition stems from the fact that while little is known about the major male figures in African history, even less is known about their female counterparts. The reason for this lack of knowledge stems partly from the misogyny which has long prevailed in the study of history in general but also from the fact that the history which is taught in schools is still, first and foremost, Eurocentric. It fails to give an objective account of matters concerning non-Europeans and, more particularly, the pre-colonial and colonial history of black Africa.

Admittedly, a non-specialist could, without too much hesitation, name perhaps ten symbolic figures in Europe who embody the female struggle for recognition of women's rights through the centuries. But the same cannot be said in an African context, despite the work of a new generation of historians who are attempting to demonstrate the significant role played by women in the Third World, both in ancient and in contemporary societies.

During our research, however, we actually found ourselves confronted with an embarrassment of riches - queens, prophetesses, legendary heroines, founders, political activists, committed feminists and so on - to be found in all eras of African history. We have had to limit the selection but have not simply plucked the names from the air. The aim was to make the list as eclectic as possible. Our first objective was to use this presentation of extraordinary women to make the general public want to learn more. And although the selection was inevitably subjective to some extent, we were guided by a need to take spatial and temporal account of the cultural diversity of this vast continent. At the same time, we wanted to highlight the model role that some women have been able to play by becoming, on occasion, the symbol for a country, a region or a people fighting for emancipation or for the recognition of their basic rights.

Among the most well known, we can cite the examples of the Queen of Sheba, the inspiration for King Solomon's Song of Songs, or Hatshepsout, the Egyptian queen. But we have also discovered less familiar figures, such as Queen Nzinga, the Angolan warrier who fought the Portuguese until they were compelled to admire her, or even those closer to us, such as the Djamila, the bag carriers who became the heroines of the war in Algeria.

Throughout this gallery of portraits - which is rich in detail, anecdotes and stories from history - the image we have is of capable, courageous and determined woman who are revealed in their historical context. They help to place in perspective the role that the new generation of African women have to play alongside men, and enjoying equal rights with them, in the development of their societies.

To get away from the stereotypical clichf the African woman, we preferred to choose, as the illustration for the exhibition's poster, the unusual image of the Amazons of Dahomey, even if this illustration is occasionally seen by some as representing 'extreme' feminism.

Women of A*ica was created in Brussels for presentation at a series of events dealing with African women. Since 1993, the exhibition has been available for hire in a plasticised version intended for circulation in Belgium and abroad. It has been exhibited at the Second International Women's Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe and several times in different locations at events linked to International Women's Day.

Under the aegis of the AIFF (International Association of French Speaking Women - see box) and with the aid of the ACP/EU Foundation for Cultural Cooperation, the exhibition was staged in 1993 at the Port-Louis Museum in Mauritius to provide a female presence at the fringe activities of the fifth Francophone Summit.

It has also been displayed the ACCT (Cultural and Technical Cooperation Agency) headquarters in Paris and, more recently, at French cultural centres in Bangui, Malabo and Bata as well as in Karisruhe. In March 1996, Women of A*ica will be shown in Kigali and Butare before beginning a tour which will probably take it to Bujumbura, Nairobi, Kampala and Djibouti. At the instigation of the AIFF, Dakar and Nouakchott have also been proposed as future venues. F.D.M.