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Last Updated: Saturday, 26 March 2005, 13:53 GMT
Africa's women speak out
The BBC News website asked some of the continent's influential female personalities for their views on the role of women in contemporary Africa.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Nigeria)

African writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie from Nigeria has said of herself: "I just write. I have to write. I sometimes feel as if my writing is something bigger than I am."

Chimamanda's first novel Purple Hibiscus was one of the six short-listed books for the Orange Award in 2004. It is a haunting tale revolving round 15-year-old Kambili who undergoes tremendous changes in her family and country.

Chimamanda's family once lived in a house that had previously belonged to Chinua Achebe, one of Nigeria's best-known writers.

What is the role of women in Africa today?

It is complex. An interesting observation is that primary school children are still being taught that father goes to work while mother stays home and cooks despite that some of their school fees are paid by their mothers.

What challenges do they face?

We live in blatantly male-dominated societies that are suspicious of change.

Knowledge is the key to empowerment

At a recent public event in Lagos, a man told me I would have to give up my writing if I wanted to have a happy marriage. This would never be said to a male writer.

Do you think the role of women has changed?

It has become broader but change is slow because so much is economic.

The 'men can and women can't' double standards are enormous. Women must insist that it either be 'men can't and women can't' or 'men can and women can'. However it is not always possible to do so because women do not have the economic power to deal with the consequences.

Are enough women in positions of power throughout Africa?

No. We have only to look at gatherings of leading political and economic groups to see this.

Women have long been excluded but change is crawling in now. As in the rest of the world, African women have shown that they can indeed excel in positions of real influence. They need only be given the opportunity.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Nigeria)

Do you think African women are empowered to bring about change?

Yes and no.

I think knowledge is the key to empowerment and there are many factors that make it difficult for women to become knowledgeable: class, status, family, religion and education.

There are many who are bringing about change but there are many more who could but don't. And there are so many who simply cannot because they don't have access.

In what way do you think women can bring about change most successfully?

By questioning assumptions, saying an emphatic no, being informed, speaking out and taking responsibility for our own lives.

We must raise sons to truly respect women, and daughters to believe that they have as many options as their brothers.

Are women's voices being heard?

Not enough.

What stigmas or taboos prevent women having a stronger voice and if so, what could change this?

Women who speak out against gender injustice are often labelled 'un-African'.

This selective calling up of so-called African culture is insidious.

Purple Hibiscus book cover (Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2003)
Purple Hibiscus came first in the African section of the 2005 Commonwealth Writers Prize

We have to ask who is benefiting when a woman is silenced in the name of African culture.

Cultures are dynamic, they evolve. We cannot fly in aeroplanes and use mobile phones and yet insist on values from three centuries back.

What should the role of a women be in future generations?

The concept of women's role occurs, I think, only because there is still much disparity between women and men all over the world.

When we do achieve gender equality, gender will no longer be a basis for assigning roles except for biological ones, of course.

The better cook will do the cooking. The better banker will have the bank job. The better driver will drive.

What inspires you?

My father, the best man I know, inspires me. The many strong Igbo women who I grew up surrounded by - my grandmothers, my mother, sisters, aunts, friends inspire me. My brothers, the writers I love, Igbo folk stories, kind and compassionate people also do.

What would your message be?

African women are raised in societies that encourage us to see each other as competitors rather than as allies.

We must change this. We must reach out and hold hands.

Like the Igbo saying we should, "learn to urinate together so that the result will be thick and frothy. And effective."

Your comments:

Women should be allowed by men to take lead in delicate, spiritual and emotional matters. Physical issue and issues requiring excessive energy should be left alone for men. With this womanhood would truly identify her God-given vocation and peace would return to this earth.
Siegfried Gbadago, Kumasi, Ghana

I was really impressed when I read about gender. I am presently reading gender at the University of Bergen. I appreciate Chimamanda Ngozi's ideas about African women and their role in the society. First of all, with the help of sensitizing Africans, men and women can have equal role in the society but we should know that the problem is attitude. Let me say: KAP analysis. It means Knowledge, Attitude and Practice.
Steven Tamba Bonga, Bergen, Norway

It is really helpful to hear such comments from these strong ladies. I have been called Americanized, unladylike and made to feel less than a respectful woman for simply speaking up or standing up for myself. It is even harder when those words come from people that I respect and who should know better. I am just glad that I don't have to stand alone.
Sandrine, North Calorina, USA

I am overwhelmed by Adichie's writing. She is marvellous and I as a young woman I inspire also to be like her. It's true here in Africa there's still that belief that women can not deliver... Keep on shining mothers of Africa. Viva! viva! Women of Africa.
Linda Y Nkhoma, Blantyre, Malawi

I am tired of people saying that women can be what ever they want in Africa. What planet are you on? You have to start with the men I'm sure if they realise that two salaries are better than one they will change their minds.
Maureen Lionel Accam, Canada

I am very much thrilled to read about the young talented Miss Adichie and her continuing the good examples set by some African intellectuals. Your honesty and assertiveness are also very much admired and I hope and pray that this will just be the beginning of a great work you are about to move the world with. Africa and the world at large will learn from you if you keep it up.
Nelson Bansah, Greenville, USA

I am so excited at her revolutionary statement. Mr President Obasanjo is pushing the crusade hard. How I wish other African leaders will double Obasanjo's effort. Please African brothers let's give our mothers, sisters and daughters a chance.
Clement Edokpolor, Aba, Nigeria

Her writing is exquisite and I believe that she is bigger than her writing. I spend a great deal of time in Nigeria in connection with my work and so can empathise with all she says of women's role generally and specifically in Africa. I work closely with the Nigerian Embassy in Brussels and am assisting in the establishment of a Belgian Nigeria Association based on the one in the UK. It would be very interesting for Ms Adichie to sometime pay us a visit when possible in her very hectic schedule. I wish her every continued success in her writing and career.
Stuart Bain, Antwerp Belgium

I really enjoyed reading the comments by these wonderful young women. In this modern world of DNA, moon landings and understanding the universe I have such a hard time to understand how any man cannot see that women and men are equal in every way. I have brought up two daughters who believe they can do anything that they are interested in. What we as men should do is encourage women to reach for their goals.
Reinhard Schwarz, London, Canada

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