A course syllabus on Feminism in African Philosophy of Culture.

Feminism in African Philosophy of Culture (Graduate Course) Professor Nkiru Nzegwu 

Spring 2004
Binghamton University

Course Description:

This course explores the development of feminist discourses in Africa in the articulation of key problems in contemporary African sociopolitical and judicial life. Some of the key concerns will center on the manipulation of tradition, family and gender relations, the role of law and the judiciary. We will examine some of the compelling issues that have engaged African women scholars as they battled the gender discrimination of the postcolonial state as well as of African men.

Course Requirements

This is a seminar. Attendance and active participation in discussions are essential. Students are expected to complete each assigned reading prior to class. They are expected to comment informatively on pertinent issues arising from the ideas presented during the lecture. Students will be called upon to initiate each class with questions or comments from readings. Anyone with three absences from class will get a lower grade. According to University regulation no one with more than three absences (in a 3 hr class) will pass the course.


Attendance:  10%
Reading: 10%
Prospectus:  30% (one page abstract and detailed bibliography)
Term paper: 70% (-- 25 pages excluding endnotes and bibliography).

Outline of readings:

Jan 26:  Tradition and Modernity        

Objectives of the class
Video: August Meeting (Burden of Every Woman) I & II. Director: Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen, Producer: Prince Emeka Ani, Written by Prince Emeka Ani, Screenplay: Reginald Ebere [All male cast]. Mosco International Ltd., 2002.

Could you ever find out time to ask your lovely wife the meaning of August Meeting and why is it that they take the so called August Meeting more serious than any other thing ever? These women can go to any length in order to look richer dressed than the other. But what are the topic of this meeting every year? Now find out the topic, Agenda, Meaning and the follow up of this August Meeting. Don’t say I told you.

Feb 2: Manipulations of Tradition

Discussion of the video. Examining the issues that are raised about the sociopolitical roles of women in a traditional African society, and gender equality in a contemporary African society.
Nkiru Nzegwu. “The Challenge of the Concept of Patriliny to Patriarchy.” Jenda: A Journal of Culture and African Women Studies, forthcoming Issue 5 (2003).

Nkiru Nzegwu. “Legalizing Patriarchy: Sorting Through Customary Laws and Practices,” Family Matters: Feminist Concepts in African Philosophy of Culture (Albany: SUNY Press, forthcoming).

Feb 9: Incursions of Patriarchal Concepts into African Culture

Audrey Gadzekpo, “Gender Discourses and Representational Practices in Gold Coast Newspapers,” Jenda: A Journal of Culture and African Women Studies, vol. 1, no. 2 (2001).

Oyèrónké Oyewùmí, “Conceptualizing Gender: The Eurocentric Foundations of Feminist Concepts and the Challenge of African Epistemologies,” A Journal of Culture and African Women Studies, vol. 2, no. 1 (2002).  

Fitnat Naa-Adjeley Adjetey. “Religious & Cultural Rights: Reclaiming the African Woman’s Individuality: The Struggle Between Women’s Reproductive Autonomy and African Society and Culture,” The American University Law Review (Spring, 1995): 1351-xxxx.

Feb 16: Analyzing Marriage, Family and Households

Video: Submission: (Beware of Adicers[sic]), Director: Christian Onu, Valseco Productins, 2001
Childbirth is a thing of joy, but Lebechi’s visit to take care of her daughter becomes a nightmare for Azuka (her daughter), and her husband Patrick. Onmugwo (the maternal care given to new mothers by their own mother), is a celebration of the joys of motherhood, but it becomes a harvest of woes. Submission provides the only solution.

Toungara, Jeanne Maddox. “Changing the Meaning of Marriage: Women and Family Law in Côte d’Ivoire.” In African Feminism: The Politics of Survival in Sub-Saharan Africa, ed. Gwendolyn Mikell (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997), 53-76.

Eleanor R. Fapohunda. “The Nuclear Household Model in Nigerian Public and Private Sector Policy: Colonial Legacy and Socio-political Implications” Development and Change vol. 18, (1987): 281-294.

Wambui wa Karanja. “The Phenomenon of ‘Outside Wives’: Some Reflections on its Possible Influence on Fertility.” In Nuptiality in Sub-Saharan Africa, eds. Caroline Bledsoe and Gilles Pison (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994), 194-213.

Feb 23: Wifehood and Coupledom

Angeline Shenje-Peyton “Balancing Gender, Equality, and Cultural Identity: Marriage Payments in Post-Colonial Zimbabwe,” 9 Harvard Human Rights Journal (Spring, 1996): 105-xxx.

Mireille Rabenoro, “Motherhood in Malagasy Society: A Major Component in the Tradition vs. Modernity Conflict,” Jenda: A Journal of Culture and African Women Studies, Issue 4 (2003).

Mar 1: Widowhood, Law, and Intestate Succession

Patricia Stamp. “Burying Otieno: The Politics of Gender and Ethnicity in Kenya,” Signs summer (1991): 808-845.

April Gordon. “Gender, ethnicity, and class in Kenya: ‘Burying Otieno’ Revisited,” Signs 20, 4 (Summer 1995): 883-xxx.

David M. Bigge and Amelie von Briesen. “Conflict in the Zimbabwean Courts: Women's Rights and Indigenous Self-Determination in Magaya v. Magaya,” 13 Harvard Human Rights Journal 289- (Spring, 2000)

Uche U. Ewelukwa. “Post-Colonialism, Gender, Customary Injustice: Widows in African Societies,” Human Rights Quarterly 24 (2002): 424-486.]

Mar 8: Dispossession and Empowerment

Video: Faat Kine, Ousmane Sembene
Faat Kine is…Sembene's tribute to what he calls the “everyday heroism of African women.” In the opening frame, a procession of traditionally dressed women wends its way majestically through the hectic heart of modern Dakar. During the flashback sequences, we learn that Faat Kine has been betrayed by all the most important men in her life. M. Gaye, her high school teacher, seduces her and then abandons their daughter, Aby, and her. Later a petty conman Boubakar Oumar Payane steals her savings and abandons their son, Djib, and her. The one male who can see clearly through all the hypocrisy is Faat Kine's son Djib, described as a "lion," an avatar of a new Africa. In the end, it is left to him to prosecute the men in her life, symbolizing perhaps that the younger generation will redress the injustices of Faat Kine's. Many of the charges Djib hurls against the patriarchs were used by the opposition in the watershed Senegalese election of 2000 which ousted the post-independence regime for the first time. Djib is accused of being "un-African" because he refuses to show respect to his elders but he makes a crucial distinction by asking: whose Africa should he respect: the Africa of the corrupt patriarchs or of the hard-working common people like Faat Kine? Sembene has said: “Africa's society and economy are held together today by women. But how can women have these responsibilities and yet be denied the same privileges as men?”

Jacqueline Asiimwe. “Making Women's Land Rights a Reality in Uganda: Advocacy for Co-Ownership by Spouses,” 4 Yale Human Rights & Development Law Journal (2001): 171-xxx.

Mumbi Mathangani. “The Triple Battle: Gender, Class, and Democracy in Kenya,” 39 Howard Law Journal (Fall 1995): 287-xxx.

Mar 11 – 14: Spring Break

Mar 15: Empowerment discussion continues...

Juliette Ayisi Agyei. “African Women: Championing Their Own Development and Empowerment-Case Study, Ghana,” 21 Women's Rights Law Reporter (Spring, 2000): 117-xxx.

L. Amede Obiora. ”Feminism, Globalization, and Culture: After Beijing,” 4 Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies (Spring, 1997): 355-xxx.

Mar 22: Sexuality, Marriage, and Conventions

Video: Karmen Geï, Joseph Gai Ramaka
Like every Carmen, Karmen Geï, the first African Carmen, is about the conflict between infinite desire for freedom and the laws, conventions, languages, the human limitations which constrain that desire. Since this is an African Carmen, freedom necessarily has a political dimension. The opening scene is set in a women's prison on Goree Island, site of the notorious slave castle. Karmen and the women in the prison use dance and music as a weapon of resistance against dehumanizing regimentation as has so often been the case throughout the African Diaspora. Karmen's outrageously provocative performance seduces Angelique, the warden, the symbol of authority, inverting the power relationships within the prison. Karmen literally transforms prison life into a musical production number celebrating the triumph of her sexuality and that of the other women. Karmen is called, "She who wreaks havoc," signifying that she is both a liberator and a destroyer of every order.

Karmen challenges not just the formal legal system but the conventional society it supports. In the second major scene, she disrupts the wedding of a policeman, Corporal Lamine, leaving the marriage unconsummated and making a mockery of the institution. In specific, she interrupts the traditional praise singer to denounce the assembled established social order he is flattering: "I say you are evil…You have swallowed up the country." Karmen is irresistible; inn one night Lamine becomes a prisoner and then, with Karmen's help, a fugitive and member of her smugglers ring. He says he has "lost my shadow," his conventional identity as policeman and husband; his personal boundaries have collapsed in front of Karmen's promise of infinite freedom.

The film is an adaptation of Bizet's celebrated opera which, in turn was, adapted from Prosper Merimée's novella. Karmen Geï is and, “arguably, the first African filmed "musical.” Accordingly, Gaï Ramaka has completely replaced Bizet's score and the usual staging with indigenous Senegalese music and choreography: Doudou N'Diaye Rose's sabar drummers, Julien Jouga's choir, El Hadj Ndiaye's songs and Yandé Coudou Sène's prophetic voice. Saxophonist David Murray's contemporary jazz score runs like a thread of unfulfilled desire through the film. <http://www.newsreel.org/films/karmen.htm>

Beth Greene. “The Institution of woman-marriage in Africa: a cross-cultural analysis.” Ethnology Fall 1998 v37 n4 p395 (18).

Wairimu Ngaruiya Njambi and William E. O’Brien. “Revisiting ‘Woman-Woman Marriage’”: Notes on Gikuyi Women NWSA Journal vol. 12, No 1 (200-): 1-22.

Mar 29: Women and Health

Tola Olu Pearce, “Women, the State and Reproductive Health Issues in Nigeria,” Jenda: A Journal of Culture and African Women Studies, vol. 1, no. 1 (2001).

Gladys Bindura Mutangadura, “Women and AIDS in Sub Saharan Africa: The case of Zimbabwe and its Policy Implications,” Jenda: A Journal of Culture and African Women Studies, vol. 1, no. 2 (2001),

Apr 5-12:  Passover, Easter

Apr  19:  Discussion of Issues Raised

Apr 26:  Library/Reading Week

May 3:  Evaluation and Term Papers

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