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The Asante nation has historically given a relatively high degree of power and respect to women. At the advent of colonization and the cash economy, however, Asante women began to see their unique position deteriorate as their productive and reproductive labor became more valuable. This assault on women¶s rights caused the female population to employ seasoned strategies as well as new ones, with which they attempted to defy their newfound oppression and gain economic autonomy and security. Divorce, the deferral of marriage, and professions such as prostitution were among the tools used by women to gain economic independence. The men, for the purpose of controlling the vast potential for work-based income that women¶s productive and reproductive labor held, attempted to thwart their tactics using equal and opposite methods. These included adultery payments, laws that made it illegal for a woman to be unmarried, and stigmas that held single women in very low regard. Asante women¶s engines for securing economic autonomy resulted in an inevitable gender clash, and the results were laws and beliefs put forth by men to control women¶s economic potential. Although the origin of this power struggle is difficult to define, its trail eventually leads to the cash economy and resulting culture that European influence created. Before the tactics used by men and women to gain power can be discussed, it is essential to understand the value of women¶s productive and reproductive labor. The economic potential that women provided is defined in the context of a nation whose culture revolved around agriculture, more specifically cocoa. Cocoa defined the gender struggle because it transformed the farming market from one that provided modest capital
however. In addition to farm labor. was predominantly defined by the amount of raw labor available. This challenge to Asante tradition allowed women to separate from their husbands with a solid amount of capital by which . Asante women had long employed divorce as a means of escaping the control of men. which. while influenced lightly by factors such as weather and soil. As women began to use divorce as a tool to gain independence. upon divorce. was one of the most labor-intensive. you never sleep on a good bed´ (133). women were generally responsible for the distribution and retail of cocoa. to a new monetized model that¶s aim was the mass production of cocoa. and the costs of creating and maintaining cocoa farms were vastly reduced if two people shared the work. By increasing the amount of available labor. Controlling reproductive labor. they gained nothing from. The age of this tactic is confirmed in the proverb. A wife herself also provided labor. The idea of being unconditionally bound for life was obviously not a pleasing one to Asante women or men. and because of the long treks involved. therefore.gain. because being married represented dependence. ³If you fear divorce. the continual presence of a childbearing wife could increase the returns of a cocoa farm exponentially. most notably the loss of time working on farms. British courts assisted them in rulings that forced husbands to give women a share of jointly worked property upon separation. therefore. This continual presence. and it was a valuable form of gaining economic autonomy. A man whose wife had eight children. was essential to profit maximization. but divorce began to hold more and more significance for females. produced more cocoa and received more income than a man whose wife bore only five. Traditionally divorce held certain debts for Asante women. Productive capacity. was by no means assured. This was arguably the most important step in the process of cocoa farming.
It served to bring together other women with which to collaborate. Once free of the conjugal relationship. ³That.they could sustain themselves. crafting. the rise of Kumasi as a trading city was vital to their success. the male population felt threatened. These included farming. While it did act as a deterrent to adultery. ayefare was a . such as Ayefare. women turned to means by which they could generate income. cloth. A letter written by a formal collection of prostitutes. and divorce was generally the first step to a woman¶s economic autonomy. As single women supporting themselves became more common. The land they could gain from divorce assisted in this process. Ayefare is a transaction between men. and also concentrated the demand and outlets for goods such as liquor. ayefare is more accurately described as a form of control. while it¶s requests were denied. exemplifies the new found influence that Asante women could gain by working as a collective. and this collective power served to augment their autonomy. and much of it¶s significance lies in it¶s symbolism. Women formed groups in trade and prostitution as well. ayerefa obviously served to reinforce and reproduce relationships of power and subordination´(174). This spurred forms of controlling the sexuality and reproductive labor of women. as stated in this quote. and prostitution. fearing that the gains they realized from their own wives¶ labor were in danger. ³For those who controlled the Asante state. and sex. your humble Petitioners are the Baasi Community in Kumasi. trading. This newfound self-sufficiency increased the incidence of divorces. that we have formed our unity«´(149) For women that chose trading and prostitution. incurred when a man has sexual relations with another man¶s wife. For the Asante chiefs and later for other men. and women often worked in groups to farm and sell their products.
The view of unmarried women as subversive and unallowable contrasts sharply with the fact that the majority of postmenopausal women were unmarried. They would also order their wives to commit adultery with certain men that they wanted gone.form of income and power. The fact that the line of acceptability was drawn at the age of child-bearing and overall physical fitness further reinforces the overarching motives of Asante men as control of womens¶ productive and reproductive labor. The strategies utilized by men to control the economic potential women possessed were directly reflective of the tactics the female population chose to use.all of the women of Effiduasi who were not married«´(151). shown in this quote describing Mamponten and Oyoko. ³We were arrested and just dumped into a room. and spreading prostitution and venereal disease: ³The chiefs«justified their actions by arguing that venereal diseases and prostitution were prevalent in their divisions´(153). and took up a much more concrete role as a sexual controller. Penalties scaled according to social status. as is described in this first-hand account. in fact. Actions such as these were justified by new stigmas that unmarried women were uncontrollable. Like many tools . The male fear of womens¶ autonomy is also seen in the laws and ideas spread to discourage the incidence of single women. and a means by which they could further profit from and control their wives¶ sexuality. ³the vast majority (90 percent) of postmenopausal women were. single´(150). Asante chiefs would encourage their wives to commit adultery so as to collect the payments. Asante chiefs even went so far as to round up unmarried women and marry them off systematically. and in this sense ayefare was implemented by the upper class as a covert tool of control and power.for the penalties for sleeping with a chiefs wife could be death.
Initially.of control used in colonial Africa. While much of this gendered conflict is attributed to the cash economy. Asante women are fighting the same battle as females across the globe. the male tactic was to directly combat female attempts at autonomy. and their strength and determination leads Ghana on its journey of social progress. most methods employed by the men were multifaceted in achieving a specific purpose and instilling a mindset. this approach became more streamlined and men started to directly outlaw the end result that they feared: single. In seeking equality. self-sufficient women. the women of Asante are righting a wrong just as hurtful and divisive as racism. . however. As women pushed forward.
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