Colonialism and gender relations: a case study of the Bunyoro-Kitara Kingdom
Johanna, Carla Hvalic
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Due to a lack of attention to regional and tribal differences, historical gender relations in regions outside of colonial centres of power are hardly researched. Thus, this study examines how colonial rule influenced the construction of African gender relations in the household, specifically in the Bunyoro-Kitara Kingdom in Western Uganda. To understand changes in the institutional construction of gender relations, this study researched rules followed and activities done by women and men in the household – in the 1890s and in the period leading up to the 1930s. This allowed a comparison of the construction of gender relations around British colonial conquest in 1894 and in the first three decades of colonial rule. Data was collected through archival research as well as in oral history interviews. The analysis shows that the allocation of responsibilities in the household changed with the introduction of the cash economy and formal education. Men enjoyed easier access to education and were the British’ preferred trading partners. Contrary to the missionaries’ expectations of empowering Ugandan women, the change from traditional belief systems to Christianity robbed women of their positions of power in the household. Christian marriages also led to a decline in polygamous families which resulted in many cases to a loss of independence and an increase in unpaid care work for women. The findings indicate a significant impact of colonial rule on the structure of gender relations within households, where the heightened power of men in society was paralleled by a shift in household dynamics that disadvantaged women. This study contributes to the literature on African gender history by examining how colonisation altered social stratification systems in Bunyoro. However, further research needs to confirm these findings for instance by expanding the analysis to other institutions in Bunyoro or using other research methods as linguistic analyses of folktales.