Is it true women do all the work in Africa?
In fact, Robert Brain writes of the men of the Bangwa ethnic group in Cameroon: "Bangwa free men did no work, their wives and their servants dealing with humdrum chores of farming, stockraising, housebuilding. The men fought and traded, always ambitious to become wealthy in 'king-things', titles, women and children" (13). The outsider is likely to say the women do all the work, but that would be an overstatement, if not a misrepresentation. In recent years, this belief has gather more steam even, because the African woman is also now bestriding two worlds—Africa and the West—and now has to go out to work way from her home and then return to her traditional chores as a wife. Before the invasion by the West, Africans had a traditional system in place whereby every member of the family had his or her own role to play to ensure the smooth running of the family, even though some men have been accused of doing nothing. These gender roles are so complex, but a summation will be attempted.
Like in the Bible, the father is the head of the household in Africa, even until today, and the traditional African woman has no qualms about this. The father, and usually the head of the household in Africa, has duties that entail overseeing the general welfare of the family as a whole by providing that which the mother, the next adult in the family, cannot provide—security, peace, housing, meat after hunting expeditions, clearing of the farm land, and all physical labor which called for extra physical strength as such, and the upholding of tribal values; the mother of the family provides cooked food for members of the family. If there are no grown-up children in the family, then she cleans the house, does the laundry and fetches water for the household. She then goes to market to sell the surplus from the family farm if she has to, and then she buys those things she, and her family need but which they did not produce; she also assists in tilling the farms after the men have done the clearing of the brush. Children, on their part, assist their mother in all that she needs help with. If they are reasonably grown up, then they are responsible for cleaning the yard, doing the dishes after meals, and fetching water from the stream. For these, the parents give the children a decent upbringing while also providing for them. Because of this tight family structure, African children can live with their parents until they think they are ready to move out without being sent or hurried out of their family homes by their parents. And while living with their parents, they are never expected to pay rents or be financially responsible to the family in any way. They simply have to do their chores as children. A child can, out of his or her own volition, decide to be of financial assistance, but not because the father or the mother thinks it has to be done. This, on the other hand, is typical of civilized Western families, yet we are surprised when Western children stand and talk back disrespectfully to their parents or threaten to kill themselves. Simply because the law says someone is an adult at eighteen, does not mean that an eighteen year old must be able to look after himself or herself. We are again surprised that they turn around and accuse their parents of poor upbringing even in the face of material wealth, occurrences that very rarely happen in Africa. This is not to say African children cannot disagree with their parents, it is done, but in a most respectful manner, and usually through another elder who acts as a mediator. A child might, for example, disagree with his father through his mother or an uncle, as a sign of respect. At this point, the father calls in the child and discusses with him directly, as they strive to resolve the issue.
These are such noble values that no matter where African families find themselves, they cannot afford to part with them. Some African families do become very Westernized, when out in the West, but before long they fall apart. It is because these roles in a family have been mixed up, if not totally shunned in Western cultures that the sacredness of the family and the union of marriage have been reduced almost to a joke compared to what it is in Africa even today. But like with other cases in which Africa has listened to the West, or tried copying from the West, the cracks are already obvious on that marital bastion. African children in America today, for example, cannot understand why their mates who are eighteen and older have to hurry away from the protecting wings of their parents simply because the law says they are adults, only for them to get out there when they are not prepared to handle the grilling nature of life. These children are surprised that their counterparts in the West have to work two jobs to go to school and pay rents and car loans and the rest, when their mates from African and Asian homes are still living with their parents, who buy or at least pay a reasonable part of the cost for their cars, feed them and house them for free. Some African or Asian families may appreciate a little contribution towards the mortgage, since it is the way of the land where they now find themselves, but this is not an unavoidable condition for their children living with them.
After decades of colonial indoctrination, it is not surprising that some of the ways of the West became part and parcel of daily life in Africa. The result is that today, for instance, the African woman too has to work to help with the very expensive nuances of the daily Western lifestyle that has become an extension of their traditional way of living. It is for this reason that to the outsider the African woman comes across as doing too much. This is particularly so to those Western women who hate cooking. To the average African woman, this is just part of her life as a mother, the life-giving force to the family as a whole. It is not surprising, therefore, that to the African woman true to the values of her people, unless she has cooked a good meal for her family she misses out on that joy which is triggered by her realization of her maternity in this manner.
It must be emphasized that she does this at least once a day, whether she is Chief Executive Officer or College Professor, unless her family requires otherwise. If she can afford it, given her busy schedule at her place of work, she gets a cook whom she supervises in every detail as to what is to be prepared for her family, and how it should be prepared. This is her maternity, her motherhood. African families love eating at home, they love eating their mother's or wife's food more than any other. It is for this reason that restaurant businesses, comparatively speaking, do not thrive very well in Africa as opposed to the West where whole families, on a rather regular basis, line up at fast-food and other restaurants to eat their daily meals.
So yes, the African woman is a very busy woman when her new roles, introduced by Western trends in her African society, are taken into consideration. This, however, is not to say she does all the work, as Western critics enjoy putting it, because when it is considered too much for the wife, her work load is usually reduced by the hiring of a servant who helps in running the home.
Can a woman work at any job she wants?
Traditionally, African societies have culturally defined social activities considered appropriate for different sexes, but these vary from society to society. As John C. McCall illustrates: "In the Gambia rice is grown primarily by women. In southern Nigeria, it is considered a men's crop. Fulani women gain status by never being seen outside their compounds, while Asante women gain status by appearing in elegant dress at public events such as weddings and funerals" (184). These roles and expectations have been changing with time, depending on the different cultures that have come in contact with traditional Africa during the ages: Islam, Christianity and the like. These different forces have impacted upon Africa in different ways, sometimes bringing about drastic changes. It is accordingly difficult to make a sweeping statement about gender roles in Africa, as they change from society to society, depending on whether the families are Christians, Moslems, or traditionalist, as there are different expectations where different cultural forces are brought to bear.
In most African societies today, this complicated picture notwithstanding, it is safe to say a woman can do whatever job she wants to do. The truth remains though, that there are still certain jobs in the eyes of society that contradict the gentle and delicate nature of the female gender; a woman climbing a palm tree to harvest fronds for example. Men are taken aback when a woman is doing any of such jobs, but it is not as if anyone can tell the woman, outside the expectations of culture, "No you cannot do it." I think in the West it was more like ".. .that's not for a lady to do." In fact, in Africa today a woman tearing across such barriers, when it has nothing to do with respecting or disrespecting someone else, is sometimes looked upon with secret admiration.
Do African women shave their bodies too?
Shaving the hair on a woman's body is typically Western. In fact, in some cultures, African especially, hair on a woman's body is considered challenging and sexy. Just as the black person's hair on the head is different from that of the white person, so too the quality of the hair on the black woman's body is different in nature from her white counterpart's. It is short, tender, delicate, and closer to her body, and most African men consider it sexy. A sprinkling of fragile hair on a woman's chest is also considered sexy by some African cultures. Culture! That's the bottom line. No, generally speaking, African women do not shave their bodies; they just nurse it as it is, the hair included, and their men love it that way.