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Women of Benin West Africa. As seen by Netiva Caftori 2004. First impressions. Colorful bombas and boubous, all traditional dress. Babies on back. A load on the head. Beautiful balanced walk. Feeling mostly good about their looks. Cooking and selling along the route.

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Women of Benin West Africa

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Women of BeninWest Africa

As seen by

Netiva Caftori

2004


First impressions

  • Colorful bombas and boubous, all traditional dress.

  • Babies on back.

  • A load on the head.

  • Beautiful balanced walk.

  • Feeling mostly good about their looks.

  • Cooking and selling along the route.

  • Mostly women in market places.


My women students

  • Few female students in science and math

  • Well respected by peer

  • Mostly single

  • DESS: Nike, Marlene

  • Doctorate: Laure, Uguette

  • Engineering: Pelagie

  • Computer science: Nellie

  • Math instructor: Atinuke


Wives of colleagues

  • Not equal partners

  • Some are from polygamist families

  • Many are business women on their own

  • Usually they are not academicians

  • Girls are there to help mothers

  • Girl slaves under disguise


Children

  • Always held and carried on backs as babies and young children by mothers or siblings

  • Very happy and content

  • Big families. Many orphans

  • Children are often raised by other family members, elsewhere

  • Many mothers don’t talk to their children

  • Work at a young age to learn a trade despite compulsory education


Children


Rural women

  • The feudal system is predominant

  • Many kids are encouraged: They are the wealth of the family.

  • Women are mostly home with children and chores, but

  • Some women work the fields and manage the farm with the help of loans.

  • Uneducated.


Education

  • 50% of the population is not educated (analphabets), or illiterate.

  • Most “educated” ones do not finish high school.

  • Many dialects. In school one learns French.

  • Some study abroad through grants.

  • Grant money is hard to come by.

  • Visas to leave the country are hard to get.

  • The rich, usually are educated.


Politics

  • Kerekou is the same president in the last three regimes

  • Old French colony

  • French are still there committed

  • Some but very few women in politics

  • People close to the government get the money

  • Corrupted regime, but peaceful and safe country


Health

My own story:

  • Torn ligament

  • Broken crown

  • Broken glasses

  • Unsafe water

    Life expectancy = 50

    Preemie story

    Malaria

    Typhoid fever

Bend back to do laundry or clean

No garbage cans

Pollution

Beautiful teeth


Red earth stone or cement brick houses

Life happens mostly in interior court yards

No running toilets most times

No paved roads: Hens, goats, and pigs run free

Cooking on a small charcoal stove

Mostly no refrigeration, no electricity

Zem, taxi or foot transportation

Family life


Life celebrations

  • Communions (confirmation)

  • Births

  • Weddings

  • Funerals

  • Dance on Sunday nights

  • Salsa on Wednesday

  • Dinners at home or mackys

  • Voodoo celebrations


Meals

  • Everyone is invited to join if dinner time

  • Women prepare all day with the help of neighbors

  • Fresh fish, chicken or meat

  • Staple food: manioc, corn, rice, potatoes, platens, served with sauce made of hot peppers, pimento, special red dates and tomatoes

  • No desert most times

  • Beer or wine (vine, palm, corn)

  • Eat with hands or silverware

  • Dishes washed by hand. Sometimes share dishes (guests eat first).


My friends

  • Radegonde: cashier

  • Pauline: artist, crafts

  • Janine: crafts, seller

  • Guirlaine: tennis, shop

  • Jocelyn: jurist


Most women are selling and buying in markets

Hair dressers/ Manicurists

Lawyers or jurists

Seamstresses

Midwives

Secretaries

Librarians

Financial bankers

Computer teachers

Professions


Customs

  • Phones are extremely expensive so people buzz you and hang up.

  • People are often late or just don’t show up.

  • Houses are not decorated, and usually walls are in need of paint.


Religion

  • 30% are Muslims: women are head covered

  • 20% are Christians

  • 50% voodoos

    Most people still practice voodoo which is not just a religion but a culture and a way of life.

    Old secrets though are dying with an aging population of wise men. Women are left out, though they do consult the féticheur.


The weather

  • Two rainy seasons, water flocks, people just don’t go out. Temperature drops from 90 to 80 and people wear coats.

  • One dusty season when the Armattan, wind from the Sahal desert blows. All is white. Sun is red most day. This lasts one to 2 months. Everything is very dry then.

  • In Burkina Faso in April, it was 100-110 degrees everyday.


Summary

  • Women hold their place in society, mostly second to men

  • Advances are slow to come by

  • In educated families women are becoming closer to men

  • We have lots to learn from Africa. Concentrate on their cultural wealth.

  • There is hope


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