Gender, books and the African information market
Seminars at the London International Book Fair, March
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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
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
- involve more women in the socio-economic and political development of their
- 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.]
to table of contents for BPN Newsletter 25, 1999>>