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Women in African Labour History

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This article begins with a discussion of the issues which have dominated different perspectives within African labour history: the existence of a 'target' labour force; the issue of the 'commitment' of the industrial labour force; and, from a different theoretical position, the particular significance of the southern African contract labour force and the 'labour aristocracy' debate. The concentration upon these issues is placed against the colonial and post-colonial trends in African economies and the ideological assumptions of the existing approaches to African labour history. Labour history in Africa has focused on men's labour because it has concentrated upon wage labour, a labour market in which only a small proportion of African women participate. The article discusses the existing literature on the development of women's wage labour in Africa and the issues it raises in terms of the 'double' day and the emergence of a segregated labour market. It goes on to suggest that if we wish to develop an adequate labour history which incorporates a labour history of women, it is necessary to look outside the boundaries of 'formal' labour history. Firstly, it is necessary to focus on studies of women's household labour in the peasant economies of West Africa and on the migrant labour, 'native reserve' economies of southern Africa. Secondly, it is necessary to examine the literature on the development of petty commodity production in African societies in order to determine the place of women within the 'informal' sector. This places in context the relatively sparse literature on the manner in which women have been incorporated into the wage labour force and suggests the appropriate direction for African labour history.

Affiliations: 1: University of Bradford, Bradford, U. K.


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