In Awa Thain’s 1978 book, La Parole aux négresses, she calls the women of francophone Africa to action. “Is it not high time they discovered their own voice, that… they now take the floor, if only to say that they exist, that they are human beings… and that, as such, they have a right to liberty, respect, and dignity?”
Through their shaking off of the French colonizer’s wing in the mid twentieth century, francophone Africa asserted itself as independent entities with independent voices. Through the powers of the pen and bilingualism, male authors of francophone Africa appointed and asserted themselves as translators of the African struggle to the Western World. However, one group’s struggle is still predominantly hazy, and only in the past three decades become audible, and only then to those with ears to listen.
The situation I propose to analyze is the situation of the francophone African woman writer. A minority among the minorities, she has been historically bypassed for the writings of her male counterparts, as well as her female contemporaries of other Francophone regions- namely Quebec, the Caribbean, Belgium, and Switzerland. Why is it that only recently the women of francophone Africa have chosen to speak out, and fight to be heard?
Ironically, it seems that the two-edged nature of the colonial French tongue and education presents a third twist in the situation. The colonizer overcame the colonized, while giving them a hidden backdoor to the Western World through their language, which would serve to be the woman’s emancipation if the French and the colonized African society would allow her to have open access to it. However, the complexities of the woman’s silence did not start with the colonizer. What is especially perplexing is how the woman, historically a medium for oral tradition, a griotte, a voice to be heard, has become silenced in the written word, and thus, become silenced to the rest of the world.
The inherent unfairness and disparities of the, until very recently, unheard women of francophone Africa provoke my quest for answers. For what defines a human more than her ability to speak, and if she doesn’t speak or isn’t heard… What is she?