Gender politics from women’s point of view

Signe Arnfred, previously a researcher at NAI and currently Associate Professor at Roskilde University in Denmark has just published her new book: “Sexuality and Gender Politics in Mozambique: Rethinking Gender in Africa”. The book shows how insights from African feminist thinking may enhance understandings of gender, both in and beyond Africa. Signe argues that development policies for women should take into account the actual positions of power which women do command.

Three questions for Signe Arnfred.

1. In what ways have the assumptions about gender and gender relations, as articulated by Portuguese colonialism, Frelimo socialism and neo-liberal economic regimes, collided with the way in which women and men see themselves?
- The first thing to note is that assumptions about gender and gender relations have been very similar through these three – in political and economic terms very different – periods of Mozambican history. In spite of the differences, all regimes have seen women as subordinated and oppressed, not taking note of female positions of power, which are particularly prominent in northern Mozambique.

2. Are there any examples of resistance to the gender policies put forward by the above actors?
 - In the early 1980s, when I first made investigations in Mozambique, women of the north were very explicit in their critique of Frelimo, and of the OMM, the national women’s organization. They tried to make the OMM and Frelimo listen to their concerns, with little success. In later years, the resistance has been more in terms of foot dragging vis-ā-vis development initiatives, and a silent maintenance of double agendas: a hidden one rooted in local traditions, and a more open one following the politics of the day.

3. What can we gain from a thorough investigation into gender relations in Mozambique?
- My point throughout the book is to investigate, expose and try to understand ‘the hidden agenda’ and cultural traditions from women’s points of view. In this way the book is an attempt to re-map African, in casu Mozambican, culture and tradition. ‘Culture’ in Africa, seen with Western eyes, has been interpreted as patriarchal and woman oppressive. The analysis in this book – informed and inspired by post-colonial African scholarship – shows that culture and tradition, differently understood, may include empowering messages for women.

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