The imposition of colonial power in Africa disrupted all aspects of indigenous society. Not only were Africans robbed of political independence, but pre-colonial social structures were also destroyed or transformed based on the mercy of certain colonial powers. The Maasai, a pastoral people in eastern Africa, are a prime example of this shifting social organization, specifically the gendered identities and relationships between men and women. Though Maasai society is complex, and gender is thus a necessarily shifting definition, it is clear that through specific colonial policies the rights, status and independence of Maasai women were undermined, overpowered or erased during the period of colonial rule. Through a variety of legal, economic, agricultural, religious and medical policies, Maasai women were devalued and subjugated, removed of their previously equal and valued position in society.
What Durba Ghosh calls the feminization of imperial history , has been a recent process in the history of colonialism. A major focus of this branch of study has been a growing debate between historians as to the status of pre-colonial African women. Paul Spencer's arguments form one side of this debate, as he contends that Maasai women and men agreed on the undisputed right of men to own women as possessions'. He goes on to insist that, the position of Maasai women appears to have remained unchanged throughout the colonial period, and that there is no clear evidence that women had more rights in the past. Spencer is not alone in these determined arguments regarding the status of pre-colonial African women. Historians such as Melissa Llewelyn-Davies (1978, 1981), and Harold Schneider (1979) join Spencer in attempting to prove female subordination in Maasai society before colonialism. Schneider claims pastoral societies are inherently patriarchal, placing men in control of livestock and women, who were usually thoroughly subordinated to men and thus unable to establish an independent identity as a productive force
[...] (1990), p.228. Koreih, Invisible Farmer?”, (2001), p.118. Hodgson, Once Intrepid Warriors. (2001), p.189. Citing Hatfield, C. (1977). Impact of Social and Technical Change in Masailand and its Implications for Future Development.” Report Prepared for Food and Agriculture Officer, USAID, Dar es Salaam. (Possession of D. Hodgson) p.20. Isaac Sindiga, “Fertility Control and Population Growth Among the Masai” Human Ecology, Vol.15 no.1 (1987), p.59. [...]
[...] Colin Leys makes the distinction between prostitution of sexual relations, and ‘prostitution' of female companionship and performance of female duties. He says, is a mistake to imagine that sexual desire is the sole source of these conditions . the fact that a boy who works outside all day wants someone to cook for him is of equal importance.” Many women also chose prostitution as a benefit to their families. “Such prostitution - the sale of tasks normally only available through marriage - returned to the woman's family the exchange value of those tasks, often far in excess of the values that under normal or better circumstances her marriage would have transmitted to her.” This is especially valid in discussing Maasai families who experienced rapid loss of livestock in the late 1890s and early 1900s. Prostitution, though only one economic option, was possibly the most profitable and beneficial form of female agency in escaping patriarchy. [...]
[...] (1980). Women and Colonization: Anthropological Perspectives. New York: Praeger. p.19.  Von Bulow, “Bigger Than , (1992), p.536.  Ghosh, “Gender and Colonialism”, (1988), p.738.  Swantz, Women in Development. (1985), p.4.  Dorothy Hodgson and Sheryl McCurdy, “Wayward Wives, Misfit Mothers, and Disobedient Daughters: ‘Wicked' Women and the Configuration of Gender in Africa.” Canadian Journal of African Studies, Vol.30 no.1 (1996), p.6. [...]
[...] Through removing a woman's right to her duties in caring for cattle, colonial agriculture policy removed her leverage in society and her pastoral identity as a Maasai. Apart from economic and legal structures, women's rights and independence were threatened in other more physical ways, specifically through colonial medical policies. While the arrival of western medicine offered improvement to the lives of all Africans, its distribution and enforcement through colonial policy was harsh, uneven and often further contributed to female subjugation rather than improving quality of life. [...]
[...] Hodgson, Once Intrepid Warriors. (2001), p.101. Ibid, p.218. Ibid, p.118. Ibid. McKenzie, “Political Economy of the Environment, Gender and Resistance Under Colonialism”. (1990). - title. Berry p.96. McKenzie, “Political Economy of the Environment, Gender and Resistance Under Colonialism”. [...]
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