Bellagio Publishing Network  

 BPN Newsletter Issue No 25, July 1999 


Gender, books and the African information market

Seminars at the London International Book Fair, March 1999

Yohannes Gebregeorgis
Yohannes Gebregeorgis is a children's librarian in San Francisco Public Libraries and works for African Sun Publishing. P O Box 21365, Oakland, CA 94620, USA. Tel +1 510 658 0462, fax +1 510 658 6685, e-mail:

A day of seminars on Gender, Books and the African Information Market in east, west, and southern Africa at this year's London International Book Fair* explored the issues through three themes: policies affecting women in the book and information sector; how women organise - women's entry into publishing; and women who have succeeded - practitioner case studies.

Goretti Kyomuhendo of Femrite, the Uganda Women Writers Association founded in 1995 to promote, write and publish positive portrayals of women, talked about factors impeding women's access to books and information through other media. Catherine Tugaineyo, Manager of Makerere University Bookshop spoke about meeting women's reading needs.

Oluronke Orimalade, Manager of the University of Lagos Bookshop and Vice-President of the Pan African Booksellers Association, talked about male dominance in every facet of the book industry: authorship, publishing, printing, marketing and distribution. Véronique Tadjo, author and illustrator from Côte d'Ivoire, spoke about the advance of francophone women writers as a result of education and the increased number of publishing houses in Africa. Publisher Mary Asirifi, Managing Director of All Goodbooks Ltd and Vice-President of the Ghana Book Publishers Association, discussed the difficulty of operating in a man's world, especially in getting credit.

From South Africa, Fathima Dada, Chief Executive of Maskew Miller Longman talked about the 'Bantu education' legacy - both racist and sexist - which is hard to overcome despite policy changes. Elizabeth Chisveto, from the Rural Libraries and Resources Development Programme (RLRDP) in Zimbabwe, spoke about gender empowerment through community libraries.

All the speakers discussed the role of women in African society and the major issues affecting African women: illiteracy, poverty, heavy workloads, and 'censorship', meaning that ideas not in accord with the dominant ideology are prevented from reaching their intended audience. Women overall have higher illiteracy rates, in both rural and urban areas in Africa. More women than men live below poverty level while being the heads of households, and due to the pressure of work and family women have little or no time left to engage in literacy or educational activities.

Although women are responsible for carrying on the oral tradition through storytelling, singing, dance, etc., historically they have been excluded from the written culture, which is still dominated by men. Gender disparity in book publishing is a major problem affecting African women. Publishing requires financial and technical resources which women do not readily possess.

Women are particularly vulnerable in conditions of political instability. Without stability women's already limited participation in the African information market is threatened or actually curtailed. For example, Uganda's publishing business vanished in the 1970s under the dictatorship of Idi Amin. In today's more stable political climate, however, publishing companies are thriving and women have been able to make considerable strides in the literary market.

As RLRDP in Zimbabwe demonstrated, materials that deal with health, nutrition, agriculture, women's rights, etc. are in demand by women. Long-term functional literacy programmes have been found to empower women. All the speakers emphasised that priority should be given to increasing women's functional literacy.

Several solutions were suggested for improving women's status in the information market:

  • develop functional literacy programmes with relevance to the daily life of African women and communities
  • involve more women in the socio-economic and political development of their communities
  • enact legislation that promotes and enhances women's status in the community
  • encourage positive portrayals of women in the media
  • promote women's participation in the literary world
  • provide governmental financial aid to encourage women authors
  • encourage publishing companies to hire women in executive positions.

Women, against the odds, have made significant strides by gradually entering into the information market as publishers, writers, and bookshop managers. The presenters articulated the issues facing women in their respective regions and in Africa in generally, but they are optimistic about the future. All the speakers demonstrated that African women have both the desire and the ability to become major players in the African information marketplace.

* Organised by the Southern African Book Development and Educational Trust (SABDET) in association with the Zimbabwe International Book Fair (ZIBF). [end] [BPN, no 25, 1999, p 8.]


^^Back to top

Return to table of contents for BPN Newsletter 25, 1999>>

home about us news resources subscribe
newsletter forum search

© Bellagio Publishing Network 1999.

Go to Top Go to top
Go to top Go to Top