Iris Berger's essay focuses on east and southern Africa, tracing women's history from earliest times to the present. By exploring their place in social, ecomic, political and religious life, Berger highlights the changing societal position of women through shifts over time in ideas about gender and the connections between women's public and private spheres. The essay by E. Frances White examines the status and activities of women in west and central Africa, from the earliest periods through the rise of various kingdoms and states, to the establishment of colonies and independent nations. It looks at women's participation in trade, including slave trade, and agriculture; women's political roles in chiefship, other leadership positions and nationalist movements; and the current constraints under which women function.
Iris Berger is Professor of History, Africana studies, and women's studiesat the University at Albany, State University of New York. She is alsopast director of the Institute for Research on women and recentlycompleted a term as president of the African Studies Association. She isauthor of Threads of Solidarity: Women in South African Industry,1900-1980 and Religion and Resistance: East African Kingdoms in thePrecolonial Period, and co-editor of Women and Class in Africa.E. Frances White is Professor and Dean of the Gallatin School ofIndividualized Study at New York University. She writes on African women'shistory and feminist theory. Her publications include Sierra Leone'sSettler Women Traders: Women on the Afro-European Frontier and Africa onMy Mind: Gender, Counter Discourse and African American Nationalism.