The quiet revolution of women in Sao Tome — Transcontinental Times
Sao Tome and Principe : If living on a sweet island can evoke images of idyllic life, it is clear that Sao Tome and Principe is fragile. Women in São Tomé and Príncipe face societal and structural obstacles to their development, just like in other developing countries, particularly in Africa.
Although the constitution of Sao Tome and Principe guarantees equal rights for men and women in key areas such as political participation, access to basic education and commercial and entrepreneurial activity, the average Sao Tomean woman still faces discrimination from the wider community.
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Descendants of white settlers and the African slave-trading population who settled the then uninhabited islands in the late 15th century, the minority descendants of African plantation workers in the first half of the 20th century largely assimilated into the creole culture.
On the other hand, the Angolares, descendants of a Maroon community of the 16th century, constitute a distinct socio-cultural group.
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Societal mores and traditional conventions drawn from their origins continue to prevent many women from reporting incidents of abuse or seeking legal action.
Exposing injustice and discrimination within families is still largely taboo. After its independence from Portugal in 1975, Sao Tome was unable to establish university education institutions, which had a chilling effect on the empowerment of women.
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Many cultural norms from their colonial past still influence their current societal orientation. Even though Christianity accounts for 80% of the population, African tribal beliefs frequently coexist with Christianity.
In the kinship system, descent and inheritance are transmitted through both father and mother, but remain distinct.
Polygamy in Sao Tome and Principe
The conventional marital bond is the customary union, but formal marriages are not common in Sao Tome and are practiced only by the educated elite.
Polygamy is a common practice where a man’s many wives never live together in the same residence. Local society tends to regard polygamy as an almost normal condition.
It is quite common for a legally married man to have a romantic relationship with several other women as well. The man ends up financially strained and unable to take care of his own family. Consequently, we see several female-headed households.
Family law in São Tomé and Príncipe sets the minimum legal age to become an adult at 18, but still around 20% are married by the age of 15, mostly with men who are at least ten years old. years older. Only half of the female students go on to higher education, while the rest marry and become mothers at an early age.
On average, a woman has five children, but it is interesting to note that a high status is attached to women who have children, regardless of their paternity. Co-parenting with the active participation of godparents is not uncommon.
Although Sao Tome society is not matriarchal, mothers play a guiding role in ensuring that a parent or relative raises children during an economic crisis.
Older men and women tend to be treated with great respect, especially if they have many children and grandchildren. Entry into a person’s home is a privilege. Acquaintances often converse in the street or through a garden hedge rather than entering a house or yard.
After the 1990s, several governmental and non-governmental campaigns and liberal government legislation guaranteed legal equality between the sexes and officially promoted the emancipation of women. As a result, women in Sao Tome and Principe enjoy a relatively better position in society compared to women in other parts of Africa.
Women agents of social and economic change
Over the past 50 years, the female population of Sao Tome and Principe has multiplied by several to reach 111,585 people (half the population of Sao Tome), which is significantly higher than in 1978, when it was only 40,000. The sex ratio of the population is almost equal.
But what has largely gone unnoticed is that the women of Sao Tome have been driving social and economic change in Africa’s smallest nation over the past two decades. Although São Tomé and Príncipe is a male-dominated society, women are increasingly playing key roles in all major formal and informal institutions.
For several years after independence, the President of the National Assembly and the Minister of Foreign Affairs were women. In 2002, Maria das Neves was appointed Prime Minister of the country. She held the post from October 7, 2002 to September 18, 2004 and was the country’s first female head of government. The country also has many women in ministerial positions.
Nearly 17% of the total population of São Tomé and Príncipe is involved in the fish trade, where women are involved in several activities, such as unloading boats, direct purchases from fishermen and fish processing. .
More women than men are engaged in socio-economic activities such as conservation, the fight against poverty or the fight against tropical diseases.
In a typical household, women manage their money independently of their husbands. Marriage to a woman who owns land or other assets does not give the husband automatic access or control over these resources. The country has more than 30% of female jobs relative to the population, while women make up 41% of the workforce.
Several factors contribute to this continuous positive transformation of the daily life of women in Sao Tome. One of the main reasons is due to intermarriage with foreigners. They gave birth to a mestizo generation with no unique cultural heritage. This led to liberal cultural perspectives resulting in a broader mental outlook, including towards the role of women in their society.
The role of social media in the country has also helped catalyze this trend. The gradual opening up of the tourism sector has seen more arrivals of foreign visitors, which has had a positive impact on the local economy as well as the mental makeup of society.
Another factor is Sao Tome’s growing engagement and integration into the global economic system, with the help of international organizations.
A critical development is that the increased participation of women in local politics has added good value to the democratization of national politics in the country.
As a result, it is encouraging to see more and more women entering fields such as politics, business, culture, hospitality, tourism, entrepreneurship, etc.
Progressive legislation enacted by the government of Sao Tome in July 2022 allocates a minimum of 40% of seats to women in elected bodies and the cabinet. It’s a breath of fresh air for the hardworking women of Sao Tome.
Read also: Ilhéu das Rolas: the equatorial island of Sao Tomé