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Status of Women

Fulani Women

Celebrated for their beauty and grace, the Fulani women are the pride and the gem of the

Celebrated for their beauty and grace, the Fulani women are the pride and the gem of the Fulani society. With their fine, aquiline facial features, Fulani women are known for their attractive dress and hairstyles.

Their exquisite adornments of large gold earrings known as kootone kange, heavy silver rings and bangles, and hairdos that incorporate large amber beads are well recognized beyond their traditional borders.

Their clothes often have a background color of yellow and/or red. Their hair is long and is braided into 5 long braids that either hang from their heads or sometimes are looped on the sides. It is common for the women and girls to have coins attached to their braids. Some of these coins are very old and have been passed down in the family.The women enjoywearing many bracelets on their wrists.
Like the men, the women have markings on their faces around their eyes and mouths that they were given as children.


Fulani women enjoy greater independence and freedom of movement than women of surrounding Muslim populations. Women are sometimes segregated from men as far as circumstances allowed.

Traditionally, when most marriages being arranged by the families or the clan, a woman has little choice of selecting a husband in traditional Fulani societies. However, there are a few exceptions.

In the well celebrated Wodhaabe, women have a choice in selecting their husband during the Gerewol dance. In the cities where western influence is prevalence, women are increasingly choosing their husband without the assistance of the family. Although divorce is easy to obtain if the marriage does not work, marriage is a highly valued social act. Couples and their family go to much length to plan weddings, engage large expenses and perform elaborated marriage ceremonies. Marriages are largely arranged and organized by women. In fact, women take charge of the great majority of the family and the village activities. In addition to her household chores such as cooking, cleaning fetching water, milking and butter and milk product preparation, she often holds a specific specialty such as basket weaving, calabashes decorating, cloth dyeing. Selling their product at the market place is an economic activity well appreciated by the family. Traditionally women do not own cattle, however this is changing. The family supplemental income is most of the time in the control of women. Perhaps most important is the womens role as custodians of the family traditions, history and lineage.

Aspects of Fulani Polygamy

Polygamy is an ancient form of marriage practiced by many societies. Many religions have encouraged the practice of polygamy; the Hindu religion did not set limits to the number of wives a man may have. The Muslim religion, on the other hand, allows a man to have as many as four wives. As Muslim Fulani men can marry up to four wives.

Status of Women

Several studies have shown that, although women represent half of the worlds population and one third of the official labor force, they receive only 1% of the total global income and own less than 1% of the worlds property.

In a given household, a woman often has less income, less wealth and less nutrition than a man, and yet the household is mostly, if not solely, dependent on that womans labor for the generation of products and income. This is also true in West African society including the Fulani. The status of women can be understood in two point de views: Islam and Modernity.

Since most Fulanis are Muslims, the status of Fulani women can be better understood from an Islamic point of view. Before the arrival of Islam, women in nomadic societies most likely did not occupy a high social status. Injustice against women was probably more pronounced during pre Islamic times, when their conditions were the worst they could be. Women were deprived of everything: the right to life (as a daughter), to honor, to fair treatment, to protection, to ownership etc., as wives and mothers. Islam then is considered as a religion that significantly improved the condition of women.

First of all, Islam abolished female infanticide and gave women equal right to men. Thus, as a daughter, wife and mother, a woman was endowed with many rights such as the right to inheritance, maintenance, education, protection, freedom of speech, the right to take part in many activities such as wars and so on (see table below: women and Islam). Islam, grants the wife the right to dissolve the marriage through what is known as Khulaa and she can sue for a divorce in case of cruelty or desertion without any other motive. Among the rights attributed to women in Islam are the right to choose a husband and the right to education. Women are free to choose their religion and are encouraged in Islam to contribute with their opinions and ideas. In short, Islam gave them all human, civil, social, political and economic rights.

Practical Knowledge

African women have a deep and concrete knowledge of their environment. In pastoral societies such as the Fulanis, women have detailed knowledge of the dynamics of their ecosystem and of the influence of livestock on it.

They can monitor the condition of ranges through milk production, an animals appearance, wool production, manure production, etc. Women frequently have a detailed knowledge of water resources, including their quality and quantity. They understand certain animal diseases, symptoms, pharmacology and cures, and herding practices designed to reduce disease incidence.

Poverty and Marginalization

Poverty and marginalization, even of male-headed households, has an added adverse effect on women. In the case of recently marginalized pastoralists, many of the traditional systems of wealth redistribution have broken down, and social networks are not as dependable as they once were.

Issues and Obstacles

The recognition of the human rights for all: rights to life, dignity, justice, freedom and equal access to economic and public goods including education, health-care and banking are the fundamental prerequisites to the successful development of the continent.

Yet, African women still do face particularly great obstacles. Adult female literacy in 1992 was only 45% in sub-Saharan Africa, as compared to a 59% average for all developing countries. Maternal mortality rates averaged 606 per 100,000 live births over the period 1980-1992, as compared with 7 for the U.S. and 351 for all developing countries. African women's work accounts for some 80% of food production, but they derive little benefit from government or international programs favoring cash crops for export. Women are particularly vulnerable victims of the continent's internal conflicts and natural disasters such as droughts and floods. Levels of domestic violence against women are very high, and even less well reported than in many other parts of the world.

However, in some areas, African women have made significant advances. Women's groups focused on legal reform, violence against women, conflict-resolution, economic empowerment and other issues are growing around the continent. Over the decades since 1960, the gap in primary school enrollment rates narrowed as enrollment grew much more rapidly for girls than for boys. For sub-Saharan Africa as a whole, by 1990 primary school female enrollment had reached 85% of that of boys. In government, African countries are ahead of much of the rest of the world. Five African countries are among the top 15 in the world percentage of women in their national parliaments ranking ahead of many developed countries. Fulani women too have benefited of the progress to some extent.

Fulani women have occupied high government and business jobs. Nevertheless there are still persistent problems including land tenure system, education, transition from pastoral life to urban life and access to government facilities.

. Women and Islam

" Full Person

" Spiritual Equality

" Can initiate divorce

" Right to Inheritance

" Freedom to own property

" Freedom to own and operate Business

" Equal pay

" Freedom to their use money as they please

" Total control of their wealth

" Right to vote

" Right to keep their own name after marriage

" Women have the right to remarry and are encouraged to do so

" A woman has final approval on a marriage partner arranged by her parents.

-A woman's testimony is worth half of a mans, especially in civil cases.

-A woman's share of an inheritance is one-half of a male relatives in the same category. Polygamy Issues.

-The husband is the head of the household, is the final authority, and has due obedience and cooperation from his wife.

-Men must pay a dowry to their wives. This money goes to the wife, not her father, and it is her private property to do with as she sees fit. Moreover, she is able to keep it even after a divorce.

-Women can inherit property from husbands, fathers, brothers, mothers, and sons, and it is their personal property to keep and use as they see fit.

Adapted from:

Women Livestock Managers in the Third World
by M. Niamir-Fuller (IFAD, 1994) and other sources