Gender roles and sexuality in the African Context

Gender roles

Every society has set roles and responsibilities for its male and female members. They also include activities and rights, considered reasonable and appropriate from either men or women. These aspects are referred to as gender roles. 

In the African context, there is a definite model of gender-based roles. The continent is full of different cultures and diverse groups that have different ideas about roles played by men and women. Generally, however, women have been more subordinate to men, whose roles have been to provide for their families. In other words, the man is the head of the family, playing the role of protection, while the woman takes care of their other welfare and raising kids.

Over the past few generations, things have been changing Africa. Influenced by western cultures, African attitudes towards both gender roles and sexuality has been slowly changing. This is witnessed in cities where Western influence is most reliable. For instance, more than ever, many women groups and organizations are crying for gender equality. Through education, the slogan “what a man can do a woman can better” has become stronger. Gender equality is rubbing off the line between male roles and female roles in society.

Gender in Africa; Before and Now

It is essential to learn how each gender is expected to behave in a growing society. Even though technology, through globalization, has made the world a small village, where culture intermingles, there is still a need to hold onto absolute values. We cannot deny the fact that the world is changing, but that should not make people forget they are people and turn into animals. In Africa, and everywhere else in the world, there were always distinct roles for different members of a family, a community, and the whole society.

The traditional African society based their economic activities on hunting and gathering wild animals and fruits. There are a few groups like the Kung of Kalahari desert and Mbuti of the Congo forest who still survive on these traditions until today. Scientists have used them to understand the ancient ways of life in Africa. In the earlier theories about human biology and social development, meat-eating played a vital role. Therefore, the part of men in hunting wild animals was deeply appreciated, and the skills perfected well throughout a society. They pass such capabilities to their younger generations, teaching them what they are supposed to do and behave as a member of a family. 

Today it has been established that women played an essential role in economic development for many societies as well. Hunting grew harder as populations swelled, and societies expanded. For this reason, women go involved in gathering fruits, roots, grains, nuts, honey, and other food items. They accounted for 60 to 80 percent of the calories consumed by people in these societies.

When hunting and gathering was no longer able to supplement family needs, African societies were introduced to agriculture. And even with this, women still perform 60 to 80 percent of agricultural labor. In many rural African setting, the roles of women in agricultural activities are different from men’s. An illustration of the factor can be seen in the way particular tools are associated with either men or women. The ax, for instance, is related to men as a tool for clearing and preparing land before plowing the fields. A hoe on the hand is associated with women, for planting, harvesting, processing, and storing the produce. Women are most actively involved in activities for preparing food for the family. They fetch water and firewood across long distances to ensure the man and children are well fed.

Since 1900, there has been a change in work patterns. However, there is still a gender-based labor division in many cultures. For instance, the Nandi of Kenya, men, and women cultivate the land, but not for the same reasons. Men for cash crops while women plant crops for family use. In the Igbo community of Nigeria, growing yam is work for men, while cassava is reserved for women.

During the colonial period, there was a significant shift in economic-based cash from which men benefited more than women. In many cases, the colonial officials did not even recognize women. They only conducted business with men society also though women continued to contribute to crop production. Colonial powers put in place social and economic policies that favored men more than women. Until today, women have continued lagging behind men in education, leadership, literacy, and good jobs.

Modern women are, however, coming out to take up leadership roles. In cities, many women are leaving as traders or domestic servants rather than salaried employees, but there are many more working in more prominent offices.

Islamic religion on gender roles

In general African countries, the roles of men and women have been shaped in Islam and Arab traditions. Women serve as subordinates to men who have more privileges. It is still reasonable for a man to take as many wives as the desire. In religious matters, women cannot enter mosques or attend individual sections. Gender roles are exclusively divided, where men tend to large livestock while women take care of smaller ones. In modern society, urbanization, education, and cultural exchanges have given more freedom to African Muslim women. But the role of man as the head of the family has remained unchanged.


Every society has its attitudes about sex and sexual behaviors, just like gender roles. Though they have changed over the generations, sexual norms still vary in different cultures of Africa based on class, age, religion, or ethnic background. According to research, sex in many African communities was casual and mainly for reproduction.

Traditionally, sex was secret. Women were to remain virgins until they got married. Such norms have changed with the emergence of cities. Sex has even become a business through prostitution from money.

In many African societies, sex is regarded as a powerful and dangerous thing that can destroy order in society. There are certain taboos, that when broken, must be mended with spiritual cleansing. Rules may forbid individual relationships. In many East African communities, even discussing sex in public is considered taboo. The Ganda of Uganda, for instance, only practice sex in the dark.

There is homosexually African societies today, although still not accepted. Evidence suggests that it existed before colonialism when boys were allowed to live separately alone before reaching marriage ages. Female marriages, only in Africa too, are common where a barren woman can take another to bear children for her. The older woman becomes the husbandGender roles, while the younger one remains the wife. They all show the diversity of African cultures and how they view different aspects of life.


1114 Words


Mar 30, 2020


3 Pages

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