‘A proper woman, in the African tradition’: The construction of gender and nationalism in Wangari Maathai’s autobiography Unbowed

  • F Ebila
Keywords: African tradition, gender and nationalism, patriarchy, women’s autobiography.


This article discusses how Wangari Maathai’s life experiences narrated in her autobiography Unbowed offers an opportunity for discussing the contradictions surrounding the perception, place and identity of women in African politics. Against the backdrop of gendered nationalism which glorifies the role and place of women in the construction of nations, the article presents a different reality of how some male leaders of postcolonial nation states like the Kenyan example, silences the voices of women politicians by urging them to behave like ‘proper women’. Maathai’s autobiography demonstrates that the social construction of womanhood in African politics is influenced by socio-cultural and patriarchal ideologies that construct the ideal African woman as the docile one, the one who does not question male authority. Maathai’s autobiography becomes a lens that can be used to view and question the social construction of womanhood versus manhood and the influence on gender power relations on women’s participation in the politics of the postcolonial nation states in Africa.

Keywords: African tradition, gender and nationalism, patriarchy, women’s autobiography.


Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 2309-9070
print ISSN: 0041-476X