Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa
Conseil pour le développement de la recherche en sciences sociales en Afrique
Conselho para o Desenvolvimento da Pesquisa em Ciências Sociais em África
مجلس تنمية البحوث الإجتماعية في أفريقيا

Gender in the Dynamics of Slavery and Enslavement

12-14 November 2007, Cairo, Egypt

Number of visits: 2642

In the period since the beginning of the 1990s, CODESRIA has been at the
forefront of the quest to harness the efforts of African scholars in both extending
the frontiers of knowledge production around issues of gender, and
doing so in a manner that ensures that for as many scholars as are active in
its networks and at other African sites of scholarly work, gender is integrated
into their frames of analyses and modes of intervention. This has
been done in line with the Council’s institutional commitment, integral to its
Charter mandate, to produce knowledge that is not only anchored in the
realities of the African continent but which also contributes to the progressive
transformation of livelihoods and is premised on contributions drawn
from multidisciplinary perspectives. The results which have been accumulated
from the experience of the Council and other like-minded institutions
have, at one level, culminated in an efflorescence of studies on various aspects
of the gender dynamics of development, an expansion in the community
of African scholars with an active interest in gender research, the networking
of that community on a sub-regional and pan-African scale, and
the projection of the voices of its members on a global scale.

At another level, however, few will doubt that for all the progress which has
been made in promoting the idea of the centrality of gender to the robustness
of any social research and the completeness of any project of social
transformation, a considerable amount of work still remains to be done. The
challenges that are posed are many but, in summary, could be said to centre
around the need to consolidate the many critiques of development that
have been made from various gender - and feminist - perspectives into a
comprehensive, internally coherent and consistent set of alternatives on the
basis of which further advances in theory, method and praxis could be
achieved. Engendering African development requires close attention not
only to the analytical tools of the researcher but also to the production of a
gendered critique of development that questions the very foundations on
which socio-economic and political processes in Africa rest. Such a critique is
a pre-requisite for the advancement of new theoretical approaches and
policy instruments. In sum, what is called for today is a complete paradigm
shift for which new scholarship will be necessary.

Different authors have identified different entry points for the developmental
project they have in mind for Africa but these differences need not detain
us here for now. What is really important to note is that it is inconceivable
that the project of democratic development, however defined, can
ever be successfully built without a full integration of gender into the equation.
And it is precisely here that the silences have been loudest in spite of
all official declarations committing governments to the promotion of the
rights of women and the equality of men and women. Nowhere has this
been more in evidence in recent times than in the new forms of slavery and
enslavement that have, thus far, been a prominent feature of the new millennium
and which have particularly affected women and girls. Going way
beyond the various existing forms of exploitation of women and girls as
domestic labour, farm hands, and factory employees, the new trade in human
beings involves the sale of women and girls into new lives of bondage
from which only the “lucky” ones succeed, eventually, to escape. Catalysed
by a variety of socio-economic developments that have been associated
locally and internationally with contemporary globalisation, the new forms
of slavery and enslavement have translated into new local and international
commercial transactions in women and girls organised by international
networks with local anchorages and carried out under different
guises. The transactions feed numerous demands that span various socioeconomic
sectors ranging from agriculture and industry to tourism and the
domestic economy. They are built on their own supply chains that run from
the local to the international – complete with the usual North-South asymmetries
in the distribution of value – and involve the negotiation of various national
and international boundaries through which the women and girls are
circulated until their final destination. The motivations of the different actors
and actresses in the supply chain may differ in material detail but the sum
total of their calculations is the recruitment of women and girls as commodities to be traded through various intermediaries.

That the international community is having to grapple with a contemporary
problem of slavery and enslavement in the 21st century is probably one of the
most tragic ironies of our times. For, only 200 years ago, in 1884, the old slave
trade was formally abolished through a court ruling in the UK in what was celebrated
as the opening of a new chapter in human history. To be sure, the abolition
proclamation that followed the 1884 ruling was not without its opponents
who organised a fairly prolonged resistance to preserve the trade and there
were clearly class interests and structural changes in the economies of Europe
and America that underpinned the shift from the slave trade to the so-called
“legitimate” trade, a new form of exchange that presaged the colonial imposition.
Still, the abolition proclamation was full of symbolism and the subsequent
struggles it yielded that culminated in the birth of pan-Africanism, the nationalist
struggles for African independence, the civil rights movement and the feminist
movement could have been sufficient reason to assume that slavery and enslavement
as practices and the exploitation of women within those practices
had no place anymore in human history. However, evidence from across the
world amassed over the last two decades indicates clearly that slavery and enslavement
has not only persisted in some countries but has also been revived as
a global business targeting girls and women in particular. But young boys too
have not been spared this new form of enslavement as paedophilia, linked with
the dynamics of sexual exploitation of children within the tourist industry, has
been on the rise. As with the old slave trade, Africa has been especially hit by
the new trade in human beings, a fact which should not be lost on the peoples of
the continent even as they celebrate 50 years of the independence that was
ushered in by the liberation of Ghana from direct British colonial domination in

The old slave trade was replete with its own gendered relations of oppression
which historians have not particularly studied as a distinct field of interest but
which all available accounts suggest was traumatic for the women who were
captured and transported to the so-called New World. Evidence available on
the contemporary forms of slavery and enslavement as local and international
business suggests that the exercise within the household and the community of
patriarchal powers in a context of deep social inequalities and extreme poverty
is a key factor feeding the new trade in women and girls. Participants in the
CODESRIA 2007 Gender symposium will be invited to attempt to remedy the
gender lacuna in the literature on the old slave trade which focused one-sidedly
on the male slave, and in the critiques that have been produced on the new
trade by undertaking a comparative analysis of different gender aspects of the
old trade with the contemporary one that is particularly targeted at women and
young girls. This will require a critical, gendered re-reading of the old slave
trade alongside the new forms of the enslavement of women and girls that are
being experienced. Comparative studies examining the contemporary experiences
of female slaves and boys who are subjected to sexual exploitation will
also be welcomed. Participants in the symposium will be encouraged to explore
the possible paths of liberation that a “free” world has to offer.

Among the sub-themes around which reflections will be organised are:

1. Gender in the History of Slavery and Enslavement:

- i. The Theoretical and Conceptual Challenges;
- ii. The Methodological Challenges.

2. Origins, Nature and Dimensions of the Contemporary Enslavement of

- i. The local, regional and global push and pull factors;
- ii. The sectoral and territorial-geographical spread;
- iii. The commercial chain;
- iv. The magnitude of the problem in local and global perspectives; and
- v. Target population of women and girls most affected.

3. Experiences of being an Enslaved Woman or Girl in the 21st Century;

4. Counting the Costs and Consequences of the Contemporary Enslavement of
Women, Boys and Girls

5. Comparative Gendered Perspectives on the Old Slave Trade and the New
Trade in Women, Boys and Girls

6. A Gendered Reading of National Legislation and International Conventions
on the Commercial Trafficking of Human Beings and the Sexual Exploitation
of Children

7. Women’s Enslavement and the Sexual Exploitation of Boys and Girls as a
Metaphor for Unyielding Hegenomic Power Relations in Society

8. Paths of Liberation for the Victims of the New Trade in Human Beings

Scientific Report (Actualy in french)

December 30 2009