The histories of Africa in dealing with gender have told only a single side of the story and the danger of a single story as Chimamanda Adichie (Recorded at TEDGlobal, July 2009,Oxford, UK. Duration:18:49), the Nigerian author,argued in her Ted talk, is that “the single story creates [misrepresentations] and the problem with [misrepresentations] is not that they are untrue, but they are incomplete”. This is true of the histories of the African continent. They are incomplete as a result of failing to adequately capture the roles of powerful African women in the writing of the histories of the continent.
Paul Zeleza (1999:81) states emphatically that “women remain largely invisible or misrepresented in mainstream, or rather ‘malestream’, African history.” She supports her arguments by studying the references made to “women” in the indexes of the general, regional and thematic histories of the continent written by prominent authors. Even when there is abundant data and literature (Aidoo 1985; Zeleza 1999) women are generally overlooked or depicted stereotypically thus, in the words of Zeleza (1999:82), they are “cloaked in a veil of timelessness”. It is more worrying that despite the infusion of missing women where they belong like Aidoo (1985) does for the Akans by highlighting the social, economic and political “spheres” of the lives and activities of women, they are still depicted unfairly.
This is not a problem that resides on the African Continent only. It is a pandemic that affects women globally. In a study on the exclusion, misrepresentation and discrimination of women in fifty contemporary American media, Tonei Glavinic (2010) observed that the “vast majority of women shown as subjects of news stories played very ‘feminine’ roles.” Thus women are still “depicted as naturally inferior and subordinate” (Zeleza, 1999:81). This brings to mind a quote by Michelle Obama (White House), at the Summit of the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders taken out of context, that “…the problem here isn’t only about resources, it’s also about attitudes and beliefs.” Our attitudes and beliefs are bent on undermining the roles of African women. Until a balanced history of Africa is written and embraced, the fight to adequately fairly represent women in history lingers on.
In a nutshell, the misrepresentation of women continues to pose a threat to attaining a much more comprehensive history of the African peoples. To attain a balanced history of the continent, we must be prepared to challenge stereotypes which are determined to present the histories of the continent as a single story. This is a challenge for all, irrespective of gender, to rid minds of stereotypes and restore the worth of the African woman which will in the long run aid in reaching the millennium development goal that seeks to provide equal opportunities for women and empower them.
Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozie. (2009, October 7). Chimamanda Adichie: The Danger of a Single Story [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story.html
Aidoo, Agnes Akosua (1985). “Women in the History and Culture of Ghana”. Research Review, NS 1:1
Glavinic, Tonei (2010). “Exclusion, Misrepresentation and Discrimination: Still Prevalent for Women in American Media and Politics”. Student Pulse 2.01 (2010).
“Speeches and Remarks: Remarks by the First Lady at the Summit of the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders.” 30 July 2014. Vimeo. Whitehouse.gov. Web. 30 Aug. 2015
Zeleza, Tiyambe Paul. 1999. “Gender Biases in African Historiography.” In Imam, Mama and Sow (Eds) Engendering African Social Sciences. Senegal: Codersria; 80-115.