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African Women’s Movements in the Twentieth Century: A Hidden History

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 December 2014


This article begins by exploring the efforts of African women’s movements from the 1990s onward to end violent civil conflicts and to insist on guarantees of gender equity in newly formed governments. It attempts to explain these recent successes first by examining the complex relationships between international women’s movements and African women’s groups from the Second World War onward, particularly from the era of the U.N. Decade for Women beginning in 1975. The article then turns to a broader problem: exploring the connections between contemporary women’s activism and deeper currents in African history that link the precolonial period with the more recent past. By examining a variety of twentieth-century women’s protests, it argues that cloaked in the language of political, economic, and environmental grievances, these movements also reflect a hidden history of women’s influence as public healers, empowered not only to cure individuals, but also to mend broader relationships in the community.


Cet article commence par explorer les efforts des mouvements des femmes africaines dans les années 1990 pour mettre fin à des conflits civils violents et pour exiger des garanties d'équité entre les sexes dans les gouvernements nouvellement formés. Il tente d'expliquer leurs succès récents en examinant les relations complexes entre les mouvements féminins internationaux et les groupes des femmes africaines depuis la seconde guerre mondiale, en particulier depuis 1975, date ayant marqué le début de la “Décennie des femmes,” initiée par les Nations Unies. L’article se tourne ensuite vers un problème plus large: il explore les liens entre l’activisme des femmes contemporaines et les courants plus profonds de l’histoire africaine qui relient la période précoloniale avec un passé plus récent. En examinant plusieurs types de manifestations menées par des mouvements féminins au XXème siècle, cet article met en relief le fait qu’à travers le langage de leurs revendications politiques, économiques, et environnementales, ces mouvements laissent transparaître l’histoire cachée de l’influence des femmes dans leur rôles de guérisseuses publiques, ayant non seulement le pouvoir de guérir des individus, mais aussi de réparer des relations plus larges au sein de la communauté.

Copyright © African Studies Association 2014 

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