The Nordic Africa Institute


Sexuality, Gender and Society in Africa

Started • 01 January 2000
Ended • 01 December 2007

Programme co-ordinator: Signe Arnfred
The programme started in 2000 and was completed in 2007

Gender and sexuality in Africa are contested fields of study. Gender and Development (GAD) approaches aimed at enhancing gender equality and rights have replaced colonial concerns regarding marriage and domesticity. Nevertheless, longlived stereotypes of African Women prevail: African women as beasts of burden, as victims of patriarchy and/or sexually promiscuous. At a point in time when development organizations and African governments have come to acknowledge gender as an important category of analysis, it is also necessary to critically investigate implications and meanings in African contexts of terms like 'women', 'men', 'gender' and 'sexuality'. Part of the programme goal was to promote re-thinking of basic terms from local points of view and as connected to struggles on the ground.

With the malevolent spread of the HIV/Aids pandemic, research and investigations into sexual attitudes and practices have markedly increased. At the same time African researchers and political activists have initiated critical discussions of mainstream conceptions of sex and gender. Interpreted 'from below' and in the context of social movements, necessities to confront the HIV/Aids pandemic become an occasion for critique of dominant gender relations and conceptions of male/female sexualities.

The programme aimed to develop spaces for critical discussion of sex and gender in Africa, connected to empirical studies and/or political practice, and informed by postcolonial, feminist and queer lines of thinking. Collaboration with groups and individuals on the African continent struggling for similar goals was considered of great importance.

Signe Arnfred holds a degree in Cultural Sociology from the University of Copenhagen. She is Associate Professor at Roskilde University, Denmark. Her professional background is gender studies and feminist theory, approached from a sociological/socio-anthropological angle, with a seasoning of development studies. She has published in the fields of gender studies, social science methodology and feminist theory, and on gender relations in southern Africa, particularly in Mozambique.