Of the various strategies employed by both free and slave women to achieve greater social mobility, the most widely used were marriage and skills. More often than not, it was a combination of these two factors employed together, depending a great deal on happenchance. Marriage as a vehicle of social mobility was a strategy favored by both free and slave women alike, and its employment on a large scale can be seen during the pre-colonial era and the years of colonization as well as during the nascent stages of the European encroachment in the coastal regions ofAfrica. During the pre-colonial period, a woman could hope to achieve considerable social status with marriage in a higher social order. This, of course, mostly depended on the social rank of the woman and her family before marriage, but this was not always the case.
In such societies, the structure of the tribal kinship, a woman’s hereditary lineage and the family that she married into played a pivotal role in ascertaining her social standing. However, only a few societies like the Hausa believed in restricting women to domestic affairs, and mostly women were allowed to participate in economic activities, such as trading, farming and manufacturing. Their work was essentially seen as complementary to and as equally important as the one being done by the men of their community. Thus, once again, a woman could exercise indirect social and political influence on the basis of her age, familial connections, and more importantly her contribution towards the well-being of the tribe in terms of her fertility and economic productivity. (Terborg-Penn and Rushing, 1996) (Sudarkasa, 1973)
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