First Place


HIST 303

Publication Date

Fall 2020


African Languages and Societies | Women's Studies

Description or Abstract

A woman in modern Limpopo, South Africa explained traditional marital expectations by re-telling what her aunt once said to her: “Lady, you must know that this man is your head, you are the neck. Whatever he is telling you, or whatever he is saying, that’s the word, he’s the head, you don’t have to challenge him”.1 This quote shows that unequal familial structures pervade Southern Africa. The traditional structure of marriage in Southern Africa empowers mothers while disparaging wives, consequently minimizing young women’s economic opportunities, while preserving older women’s economic security. Traditional Southern African marital customs have significant influence over the current institution of marriage, as do colonial impositions on marriage. After South Africa established independence, the Recognition of Customary Marriage Act demonstrated the ongoing conflict between upholding tradition and protecting women’s rights. This paper progresses through history from immediately before colonization to the early 2000s, identifying the legal and social sources of conflict for women, as they struggle to maintain traditionalism's empowerment of mothers, while maximizing wives’ equality and opportunities.