Book Review: African Women Writers and the Politics of Gender

Sadia Zulfiqar’s African Women Writers and the Politics of Gender offers a deep insight into the marginalized status of African women, their resistance to patriarchal structures in their communities, and their opposition to Eurocentric forms of feminism. Zulfiqar navigates difficult terrains to proffer solutions to the lack of an adequate agency for African women. She supports new platforms created by new female African writers, and she adequately historicizes the gender battle in the African literary canon. She does so, so impeccably; not from a position of inferiority, but from a high pedestal by reclaiming and reconstructing the identity of African women through the narration of Leila Aboulela, Mariama Ba, Buchi Emecheta, Chimamanda Adichie, and Tsitsi Dangarembga. She attempts to decenter male hegemony in the African literary sphere by affirming that African women are creators of African oral literature rather than perpetuators of it.

9781443897471In the first part of her book, she explores the theme of abandonment in Mariama Ba’s So Long a Letter and Scarlet. She navigates the history of women’s oppression in Senegalese society; this oppression manifests itself through the limitation of feminine rights backed by strong patriarchal, religious, and cultural doctrines. She suggests that both Ba and Buchi Emecheta advocate for the need to have men and women as allies. The lack of a positive male character and a reliable female ally in their narrations, she suggests, show that there is a lot of hills to climb when it comes to the attainment gender equality and an equitable justice system for men and women in many African societies. She cites the oppression of married women by their mother in laws in Ba’s So Long a Letter. The absence of sufficient male and female allies is also evident in Wole Soyinka’s The Lion and Jewell and Ramonu Sanusi’s Le Bistouri des Larmes. This allyship is supported by Motherism and Womanism, variants of Western Feminism.

The second and third sections of Zulfiqar’s book explores Emecheta’s interrogation of the treatment of women by tribal authorities and the notion of motherhood. She notes how Emecheta asserts that motherhood should not be what defines African women; an opinion that has been suppressed by African male scholars who have infiltrated and hijacked the African feminist sphere by promoting an idealized and suffering mother as a symbol of true womanhood. She also explores how Adichie and Emecheta demystify the travails that women go through during wars caused by men in Half of a Yellow Sun and Destination Biafra, which are remarkably different from the Biafra war narrations of the likes of Chinua Achebe and Ken Saro-Wiwa whose Biafra war narrations are more egocentric and tribal, not paying attention to how the actions of men have perpetuated the suffering of women.

The fourth chapter explores the representation of Islam in Leila Aboulela’s fiction, the western media’s representation of Muslims as terrorists. Zulfiqar’s navigation of the terrain of islamophobia is problematic because of her religion. She becomes sentimental and illogical by quoting from the Quran. This is the only taint to a well-researched book, rich in its scholarly engagement in the African literary sphere both in sub-Saharan Africa and the Maghreb.

In conclusion, Zulfiqar gives a proper appraisal of African women’s writing by engaging in the challenges they face in exerting agency. She adequately explores how colonialism, polygamy, and islamophobia remain limiting factors in the process of the reclamation of identity by African women. She also evaluates how western patriarchy has been mixed with African patriarchy to perpetuate male hegemony in the African literary and social sphere. She proffers solutions and strategies to reclaim women’s positions in the African literary field by creating new platforms. This book is significant because it reinforces the identity of African women writers; it serves as an authentic document worthy of consultation in the continued research on various aspects of gender in Africa, especially in the field of resistance of colonial power and the reinforcement of the power of women. It is also worthy of consultation because it highlights the quintessential role of African female writers in their communities despite their inability to wield much force in the African literary canon. It repositions African women as the founders of African literature, and as its most important voice; not out of sheer conceit or a tumultuous compendium, but out of class, superiority, and purpose.

Ademolawa Michael Adedipe, University of Saskatchewan

African Studies Quarterly | Volume 17, Issue 3|November 2017

To find out more about African Women Writers and the Politics of Gender and to purchase a copy, click here.

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