Colonialism majorly refers to the state of political and economic dominion of a country by another more powerful country. Gender, in this context, depicts the plight of women as caused by colonialism, which caused the gender imbalance making women more vulnerable. Patriarchal authority was rampant in the colonial era. The authorities looked down on the subordinate women in the colonies and often took advantage of their situation. The economic revolution in the colonial era undermined women’s status and reduced their political role. Colonialism redefined the social, cultural, and political cultures that existed before their onset. Further, it led to marginalization of women as an effect of capitalism. Colonialism is seen to have left a larger impact on the feminine gender than the masculine gender (Ghosh 738). The female gender seems to be the most affected by the colonial rule through discrimination, property rights, marginalization, sexual abuse, and negligence even in the post-colonial period.
In the pre-colonial era, women were not despised and each gender had it roles well defined. The colonial rule came and refashioned the indigenous settings and did not consider the gender imbalances it brought about (Ikeya 15). According to Ikeya, the colonial era resulted to modernization of the women in Burma. The roles of these women in the family were compromised, including their conjugal rights. This is opposed to what was before the colonialists intervened; gender equality and independence of the women. In Burma, men had their socio-economic niches. The colonizers oppressed and disempowered them, depriving them their indigenous roles. This extends to their women being sexually abused by the male immigrants who were coming in large numbers.
Colonial rule portrayed women as substandard humans. The only important aspect they saw in them was that of childbearing (Bradford 353). Bradford observed that the methods that were used in administration in the colonial era did not have gender considerations. The experiences of the women, their struggles, contributions, and opinions were ignored. The women could be having the needed initiative but they were not consulted or allowed to air their views. Bradford adds that writers, especially in Africa, have left out women. They mostly deal with the experiences of men, leaving out that of the women. It is ironical because women have a greater share of the negative experiences. It was not different in the family issues. In the pre-colonial period, women were already marginalized by the customary rules. The colonial rule increased this tension with laws, which changed the family setting and structure, encouraging more male chauvinism. Bradford explains that women were made to till the lands for food production, to reduce the cost of food while the men were taken to work at the industries in the urban areas. A ban was lifted restricting the women from rural-urban migration so that they can remain in the rural to produce subsistence food. Men were required to work at the cash crop fields where they were earning even though meager amount. This rule led to women giving in to adultery because their men were far. They also resorted to prostitution to earn favors from the male colonizers to supplement their material needs.
Women who were found indulging in prostitution and adultery faced the state law. The females could attract heavy fines if impregnated before marriage. This law also applied to the men who impregnated these girls and those who were guilty of beating the women. Women were also denied their sole rights of citizenship and housing. They had to marry in order to secure these basic rights. To discriminate the women further, labor was industrialized and agriculture was modernized. By this, the traditional methods of agriculture were termed obsolete.
Bradford explains that women were seen as less influential in national matters. Social exclusion of women was evident in that their participation in political struggles was not encouraged. This worked as a blueprint to exclude the women from political matters as intended by the colonizers. This explains why after the colonial era the women were still considered inferior compared to men. The men attribute this to the fact that the women did not participate in fight for independence, not realizing that it was a master plan by the colonial rulers to separate the women from active governance. This scenario has led to gender inequality even in other aspects such as formal education and the social placing of the woman in the society. The situation has only started to change with the rapid civilization of the former colonies.
Controversial issues regarding gender include the control and ownership of possessions in the marriage institution. Some of the laws trace back to the colonial period when they were drafted, revealing the impact of the colonial rule to the subjects. Some of the traditional laws (customary) regulating the ownership and control (and inheritance) are also in line with the law of state drafted during the colonial era (Mbote 3). Some customary laws in some situations are also amended to make them in line with the statutory law drafted at the colonial era.
Colonialism brought changes in the customary laws regarding inheritance. According to Mbote, it was not likely in an African setting for women to inherit property (8). This cannot be attributed to scarcity of resources as they were in plenty and the male gender could inherit huge amounts of property. He argues that the customary law in a way assured women of protection as they were guaranteed of a share of the resources because the men in their lives got some share (8). In some extreme cases, some customary laws on inheritance were abolished when they were found to be oppressing the female gender. Their usual role of food production was maintained. Mbote adds that in some African countries, both laws (customary law and state law) were used, especially to complement each other (8).
Colonialism had other effects on inheritance. Mbote observed that in Kenya, most vital resources like land were communal in the pre-colonial era (8). With the onset of colonialism, law allowed for private property rights. This meant that an individual, whether male or female could solely own any piece of property as far as they follow legal procedures. The customary law remained firm and provided that if land was not to be communal and had to be in possession of a family, then the man in the family was accorded its custody. New type of property that individuals could own was also introduced in the colonial era. This includes money, and the act of doing business, and schemes such as pension schemes. The major aspect that the new forms of property introduced was payment of dowry using them. The only challenge was in determining the monetary value of a woman in those days. Another controversy that aroused was that if one paid dowry using this new property, then it was not common sense for “property to own property.”
Colonialism also introduced another understanding to the law, which allowed African men to inherit the wives of their deceased brothers. This way, a man would end up as a polygamist. According to Mbote, colonialists follow the Christianity way and so they encouraged the widow to re-marry and not to inherit (10). In Kenya, the women in any marriage have rights to claim the property, even if their husbands die. This law was drafted in the colonial era. The customary law allowed the male members to be responsible for the property as well as allowing the community to use the property, including the widow, but not being owned solely by the widow. Colonialism also favored the female gender by allowing it to co-own any property with their husbands. They have to be legally married so that in case of death of the husband, she can be able to claim her share or the whole of it if the husband indicated her as the next of kin in his will.
According to Mbote, even though colonization helped women through capitalization enabling them to own property, it also had loopholes of marginalizing them (15). This happened both in the family level and in the market situation. The male moved to the urban to do business while the women were left to look at the families and produce food. The women’s role here is depicted as for raising the siblings and emotionally supporting their working husbands. This also in a way aims to down grade the women by portraying men as the owners of their homes and the heads because they are the one sustaining the families financially.
Colonialism did not only bring a negative influence to the female gender. It also had its positive effects, which can be traced in the lives of the modern woman. It resulted to hard work, enlightenment, activism, and self-renewal (Norman 15). The pressure to which the women were subjected motivated them to act against the odds and emerge super achievers. Strong women have come out to defend their gender and retain its importance. The post-colonial period is marked with changing status of women who are realizing their potential after being pushed to the wall, discriminated, marginalized, and seen as less important.
The female gender has been found to be the most affected by the effects of colonial rule. The effects of the female gender marginalization can be felt even in the current world; many years after the colonial rule ended. The law that was used in the former colonies is still being used; the colonial government drafted the law, and it still puts women at a disadvantaged position. The only remedy lies amending the sections of the law to regain or to ensure gender equity is in place. This will also seek to revise the parts that put the male gender in inappropriate states, since the gender issue also refers to the males.