Images of 'Motherhood'—African and Nordic Perspectives

Dakar, Senegal, February 2003

This conference was co-organised with Eva Evers-Rosander, Uppsala University and Penda Mbow, Cheikh Anta Diop University, Dakar. The call for papers (below) was issued in June 2002.

Issues of reproduction range from issues of ‘motherhood’ to ‘sexual and reproductive rights’ and ‘population policies’. This important area of social and personal life has been conceptualized by moral philosophers, demographers and development theorists – but only sporadically in contexts of gender and feminist theory.

For this conference we have chosen to focus on ‘motherhood’ for a double reason:
a The very term ‘motherhood’ points to a necessary critique of myths
and ideologies of ‘motherhood’, old and new. Some have been
produced by Western patriarchal society, particularly in the 19th
and 20th centuries. Others are connected in contradictory ways to
contemporary ideologies of ‘gender equality’.
b We also want to focus on specific relations of care and the ways in
which they are integrated in society at large.

On the whole ‘motherhood’ is grossly under-theorized in feminist contexts. Feminists in the North have generally defined themselves in contrast to mother-identified women of previous generations; issues of work, politics and sexuality have been seen as theoretically challenging, not ‘motherhood’. In Africa positions among feminists (or womanists) have been different, the advocates for the term womanism referring precisely to socio-cultural contexts where mothers are held in high regard.

The over all aim of the conference is to open up for an unconditional, creative and intrepid dialogue between researchers from the South and from the North concerning ‘motherhood’. The conference aims at establishing an arena for comparative studies and discussions, looking at ‘motherhood’ in African or Nordic contexts, or both, according to the researcher’s particular interests.

Participants should be interested in the comparative aspects of the conference, and in questions such as: What can be learnt by comparative studies and approaches? To which extent are Northern myths of ‘motherhood’ (as transmitted by Christianity and colonialism) active in Africa? What about the Islamic influence on ideas and perceptions of motherhood? Or motherhood as reflected in African religions, myths and stories? What is general and what is culturally and locally specific in current feminist and gender discussions on ‘motherhood’ – and in your own research?

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