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Published on Monday, July 17, 2023


This special issue of Cahiers d’études africaines looks at the production of knowledge on gender in sub-Saharan Africa. Researchers have observed an empirical tension between, on the one hand, persistent structural gender inequalities and, on the other, women’s significant economic autonomy, their strong presence in public space, and their considerable spatial mobility. This issue aims to bring together studies that rely on empirical materials to shed light on analytical tensions specific to research on gender dynamics in Africa.



This special issue of Cahiers d’études africaines looks at the production of knowledge on gender in sub-Saharan Africa. Researchers have observed an empirical tension between, on the one hand, persistent structural gender inequalities and, on the other, women’s significant economic autonomy, their strong presence in public space, and their considerable spatial mobility (Adjamagbo & Gastineau 2017). This observation leads to varied analyses based on reading frameworks that may differ and even be contradictory, and so they too are “in tension”—this time in a theoretical sense. This issue aims to bring together studies that rely on empirical materials to shed light on analytical tensions specific to research on gender dynamics in Africa.

While the title of this issue implicitly refers to Judith Butler’s famous Gender Trouble (1990), it does not simply call for articles that would focus solely on gender identities or sexual models and orientations. This reference to Butler is rather an invitation to trouble and disrupt existing categories. The aim is to debate concepts or perspectives on gender relations whose definition and use are far from being universally shared, but whose use, or conversely their distancing, remains little discussed. On the one hand, some studies challenge the relevance of the paradigm of domination in the African context. For some, these contradictions rather demonstrate women’s ability to turn men’s weapons against themselves (Broqua & Doquet 2013). Others consider that conforming to gender norms—especially familial or religious—grants women space of autonomy, or even power, sometimes in very significant ways (Moya 2015 ; Gning 2019). On the other hand, some studies argue that patriarchal institutions severely restrict women’s opportunities for empowerment (Adjamagbo & Calves 2012). For researchers such as Hill Collins (1990), the issue is not so much to question the paradigm of domination but rather to define its content. These distinct positions question the application of many concepts usually used in gender studies, such as patriarchy, male domination, power, authority, sexual division of labour, equality, and empowerment.

To trouble may refer to the disruption of gender studies, which is called upon to reject analytical and conceptual automatisms, but the term may also convey the idea that concepts are never transparent—they can be murky, and it is from this murkiness that theoretical renewal can emerge. What academic knowledge, analytical frameworks, and conceptual tools related to gender studies are being used to work in/on Africa today, and what are the drivers behind this ? To what extent are feminist theories, concepts, and methodologies—and which ones—used in academic work ? What criticisms are being made about them ? What notions and positions are being challenged ? How are they revisited by researchers who think about the Global South and/or think from there ?

What alternative theorisations are put forward to renew approaches ? To answer these questions, this special issue sets out to compare reading frameworks, concepts, and theories with the contexts under study based on recent fieldwork or historical works. To what extent are African societies—past and present—destabilising gender as a category of analysis ?

Recent changes in women’s roles and status—such as better schooling for girls, access to employment, women’s participation in household budgets, and new marital models— are well documented. These transformations, which are likely to challenge some male prerogatives, go along with a variety of discourses and practices that can sometimes seem contradictory to one another or contrary to an in-depth transformation of gender relations. The institution of marriage and, more generally, the “family scene” still play a central role in the lives of men and women in Africa (Moguérou & Wayack-Pambè 2018 ; Vampo 2018). They go hand in hand with a normative system in which heterosexuality serves as an unquestioned reference model. Gender tensions seem to be exacerbated in family spaces (which are not restricted to the domestic sphere), between men and women, but also between men or between women (Gning 2017 ; Moya 2017 ; Moguérou et al. 2019 ; Durand Sall 2021). Similar tensions can also be found in the religious and political spheres, as well as at work (economic work, militant activities, organisations).

The tension between the constraining effects of structural gender inequalities and the capacity for action that can open up possibilities for women in sub-Saharan Africa is far from new. Then, as now, women have been involved in women’s movements and/or advocated for improving living conditions and women’s rights without necessarily using the label of feminism to describe their aspirations (Sow 2007 ; Gning 2022). Are these tensions more visible in the present period, marked by profound social transformations, particularly massive urbanisation ? Large urban centers are heterogeneous places of active social construction, combining innovation and heritage (Coquery-Vidrovitch 2006). They are a veritable sociological laboratory for gender relations. Gender tensions are also at work in other geographical areas under transformation, such as secondary towns where housing is particularly dense or in rural areas marked by significant male emigration (Durand Sall 2021).

This issue thus invites contributors to discuss, on the basis of empirical studies, points of analytical and theoretical tension present in their research in the light of inter- national epistemological debates on gender. This proposal aligns with long-standing debates in anthropology (Ferchiou et al. 1982 ; Strathern 1988), sociology, and demo- graphy (Locoh & Puech 2008) on various societies of the Global South. It also echoes contemporary controversies about the relevance of the notion of patriarchy for the analysis of African societies (e.g., Wayack-Pambè & Sawadogo 2017). It aims to extend, in the light of current empirical situations, the substantial body of work that discusses the applicability of a theoretical framework originally designed in the Global North to analyze gender dynamics on the African continent. As examples of such debates, we find the reflections developed in/from English-speaking Africa (see, for example, the recent compilation by Olajumonke & Toyin 2021), where the first criticisms along the lines of an “ethnocentrism of gender studies” were formulated as early as the 1980s (Bouilly, Dutoya & Saiget 2022). We also find decolonial works developed “from the margins” (hooks 2017), which can feed into the reflections developed here. More broadly, the approach aligns with Bates, Mudimbe and O’Barr’s classic Africa and the Disciplines (Bates et al 1993)—a volume that 25 years ago reflected upon the contribution of African studies to the humanities and social sciences. To what extent can or does fieldwork in Africa destabilise or challenge the knowledge produced on gender ? Ultimately, this is what needs to be explored.

Submission guidelines

The deadline for submitting abstracts (maximum 500 words) written in English or French is set

for September 15, 2023

Proposals should be sent to tensionsgenre.ceaf@gmail.com

Proposals are to be submitted in Word format, in Times New Roman font, size 12, with single-spacing. They shall include the following information : the surname, first name(s), affiliation(s), status and contact details of the author(s) ; the proposed title ; the research field(s) and the data collection methods presented ; and a summary of the proposed argument (maximum 500 words).

Authors will be notified if their proposals have been selected on October 2, 2023, and the deadline for submitting first versions of article is set for December 22, 2023.


  • Laure Moguérou (UPN/CRESPPA-GTM, IRD-LPED)
  • Charlotte Vampo (IRD-LPED)
  • Sadio Ba Gning (UGB)
  • Ismaël Moya (CNRS-École Polytechnique, LESC)

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Bates R. H., Mudimbe V. Y. & O’Barr J. F., 1993, Africa and the Disciplines, The Contributions of Research on Africa to the Social Sciences and Humanities, Chicago University, Chicago Press.

Bouilly E., Dutoya V. & Saiget M., 2022, « Gender Knowledge : Epistemological and Empirical Contributions from the Global South », Journal of International Women’s Studies, 23 (2) : 1-11.

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Gning S. B., 2022, « Luttes féminines au Sénégal : aspirations et raisons d’agir d’entrepreneures sociales », in B. Almoravid & G. Ndour, Le combat féministe en Afrique de l’Ouest : avant, pendant et après la colonisation, Brussels, Institute for Epistemological Studies (IESE) : 40-67.

Gning S. B., 2017, « Masculin et féminin, aînés et cadets : recomposition du statut d’aidant et des solidarités intergénérationnelles familiales au Sénégal », Enfance, Famille et Génération, 27.

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Moguérou L. & Wayack-Pambè M., 2018, « Les femmes cheffes de ménage célibataires à Dakar et Ouagadougou : matérialité et vécu d’une situation atypique », in. A. E. Calvès, F. B. Dial & R. Marcoux (dir.), Nouvelles dynamiques familiales en Afrique, Québec, Presses de l’Université du Québec : 93-118.

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Moya I., 2015, « L’esthétique de la norme. Discours, islam et pouvoir dans les relations matrimoniales et maraboutiques à Dakar », Autrepart, 73 : 181-197.

Moya I., 2017, De l’argent aux valeurs. Femmes, économie et société à Dakar, Nanterre, Société d’ethnologie.

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Sow F., 2007, « Présence continue des femmes africaines dans l’histoire », Présence Africaine, 175-176-177 : 732-737.

Strathern M., 1988, The Gender of the Gift. Problems with Women and Problems with Society in Melanesia, Berkeley, University of California Press.

Vampo C., 2018, « Les cheffes d’entreprise et jeunes entrepreneures de Lomé : des “superwomen” de la double journée de travail professionnel et domestique ? », Enfances Familles Générations, 29.

Vampo C., 2020, Itinéraires de réussite de cheffes d’entreprise contemporaines au pays des « Nana Benz » de Lomé (Togo). Du modèle de l’empowerment des femmes par le marché à l’étude des rapports sociaux de sexe, Thèse de doctorat, Paris, Université de Paris.

Verschuur C., 2009, « Quel genre ? Résistances et mésententes autour du mot “genre” dans le développement », Revue Tiers Monde, 200 : 785-803.

Wayack Pambè M. & Sawadogo N., 2017, « Dépasser le patriarcat pour mieux définir les féminismes africains ? », Travail, genre et sociétés, 2 (2) : 187-192.


  • Friday, September 15, 2023


  • subsaharienne, empirique, empirical

Information source

  • Laure Moguerou
    courriel : laure [dot] moguerou [at] parisnanterre [dot] fr


CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

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« Tensions dans le genre », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Monday, July 17, 2023, https://calenda.org/1087413

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