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Why Study Gender Issues in the Economies of Sub-Saharan Africa?

By Michael Kevane

Introduction

This book offers an introduction to the analysis of gender in the economies of sub-Saharan Africa. Gender refers to the constellation of rules and identities that prescribe and proscribe behavior for persons, in their social roles as men and women. These rules and identities may be deliberate or unintended, explicit or implicit, conscious or unconscious. All societies of the world are gendered. The focus here will be on Africa south of the Sahara desert, which basically means the predominantly Muslim, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern-oriented countries of Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco are excluded. Henceforth, sub-Saharan Africa shall be shortened to just plain Africa, in accordance with common usage in the social sciences.

Gender is sometimes peripheral to concerns about how economies perform. Much mainstream analysis never mentions gender. Instead, academic disciplines that analyze economic activity have small contingents of gender specialists. This is true for anthropology, sociology, and economics, especially insofar as these disciplines deal with poor, developing economies. Much gender analysis, often carried out under the rubric of feminist analysis, concerns gender relations in the wealthy, industrialized countries of the world. Gender specialists in development studies ask how gender is important in influencing the patterns and changes in economic activity, for men and women. That gender may be important seems obvious until one considers that most textbooks in the field of development studies contain little discussion of gender, often relegating the topic to a lonely chapter tacked on to the ‘regular’ analysis. This is wrong, and needs to be corrected.

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