The role of literature in the empowerment and disempowerment of black African women

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Different authors, particularly black African female authors, use literature as a tool or a space to speak about the empowerment and disempowerment of black African women.

Empowerment is seen as a multi-dimensional social process that helps people to gain control over their lives. It fosters power in people for use in their own lives, communities and nations by acting on issues they define as important. Conversely, disempowerment is depriving of power of influence, when individuals or groups are discriminated against by others.

The literature on poverty in Africa has largely concentrated on the rural black women. The form in which women’s poverty manifests itself depends on the cultural patterns of society. Many black African women are worse affected by their cultural circumstances, because of traditional household responsibilities and inequality in land ownership and rights.

The disempowerment of women is likely to be a major cause of poverty and other societal ills faced by many black African women. A high illiteracy rate, lack of decision-making power over their fertility and early marriage of girls limit their chances of coming out of poverty.

Equally, the lack of assets due to gender discrimination and inheritance customs in many African societies limit women’s access and control over resources, especially land. Women’s dependence on their partners often result in their assets being taken away when they become widows. Moreover, the practice and preference of a son as heir still holds back rural women in their fight against poverty.

In some instances women are seen as objects of the opposite gender. They are often victims of sexual violence – beaten up, kicked out of the house, and subjected to death threats by their partners. Violence appears to be used to resolve a crisis of male identity, at times caused by poverty or an inability to control women.
Poverty thus has a doubly negative impact on women, as within many households it tends to breed and exacerbate violence against women and children. Women’s freedom continues to be restricted and subjected to high rates of domestic violence.

Most of what black African female authors portray in literature reflects their own lives and backgrounds. In the social setting, literature, especially the short story genre that many female authors use to portray others, creates awareness in order to see things differently. Some fictional short stories are about real situations, whereas others are too fictional to be regarded as real representation.

It is evident that women make up one quarter of the world population, yet they frequently appear at the bottom of every economic, social and political scale. When women are poor, their rights are not protected. They face obstacles that may be difficult to overcome. To end extreme poverty, hunger and malnutrition, empowering women is the only weapon.

It has been said that: “There is no greater force multiplier than empowered women”, and we cannot but agree.

* Josephine is a Master of Arts (English Studies) student at the University of Namibia.

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