Colonial Policies and Women’s Participation in Public Life: The Case of British Southern Cameroons

by Melinda Adams


Much of the literature on colonial policies towards women has highlighted the ways that these policies spread Western notions of domesticity and narrowed the space available for African women to participate in public life. Drawing from the case of British Southern Cameroons, this paper argues that colonial policies and encounters were in fact more complex. While certain policies did seek to propagate European notions of domesticity and to confine African women to the private space of the home, others opened new opportunities for education, salaried employment, and participation in women’s organizations. The paper stresses that colonial encounters often had multiple, and even contradictory, effects and that African women were not merely passive subjects, but agents capable of rejecting and transforming colonial policies and ideologies that did not meet their needs.

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Melinda Adams┬áis an assistant professor of political science at James Madison University. Her research focuses on women’s political action in domestic and international arenas. A current research project focuses on gender equity policies in the African Union.