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Reviews of African Women

“Patricia Romero has produced a comprehensive and engaging history of African women from the precolonial era to the present. Romero explains her intentions in the book’s acknowledgements, stating that she hoped to produce a book that highlights case studies in order to “personalize some of the leading women who have made contributions to African history” rather than replicate existing scholarly work on the history of African women (p. ix). The author certainly succeeded in this endeavor.

“African Women includes chapters focused on precolonial female leaders; discourses on race, gender, and sexuality in South Africa; African women’s experience of slavery and colonialism; women’s participation in African nationalist movements; postcolonial political pressures; and African women’s education, professionalization, and increasing political participation. The book is accessible to a wide audience, enjoyable to read, and well balanced in covering depth and breadth of the subject. Each chapter features excerpts from primary sources and/or scholarly works, which offer the reader digestible vignettes as cases studies. The diversity of the content and the sources consulted is highly commendable, especially given that this is a single-authored work.

“The book features many compelling personal accounts of women who struggled in the face of slavery, colonialism, HIV/AIDS, and political oppression, as well as stories of religious figures, rulers, elites, artists, writers, professionals, and activists. Memorable sections include Romero’s overview of witchcraft in Chapter 3, women’s participation in anti-colonial conflicts in Chapter 7, and African women’s literature in Chapter 9. The author does an excellent job of relating details from different historical or cultural contexts and connecting historical events to the present day. For example, in her discussion of Queen Nzinga in Chapter 1, she emphasizes the legacy of the queen’s practice of wearing male clothing in contemporary Ovambo initiation practices (efundula), which encourage girls to take on the personality and appearance of men as part of the ceremony. The author also brings to light fascinating and unexpected information, such as the fact that Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army movement actually began as a protest led by a female spirit medium (p. 231). The two chapters focused on South Africa, which at first may appear out of place in a book otherwise organized around general historical or thematic topics, nonetheless feature very rich source material. Chapter 5 in particular offers a clear and accessible overview of the history of Southern Africa during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries interspersed with case studies and long quotations from primary sources and secondary works…. Overall, African Women is a useful resource for teachers and students of African history and women’s history.”—, International Journal of Historical African Studies