The Power of Women in West Africa




Queen Mothers


Ritual: Gelede


Gender Roles




African Art Homepage


            For West Africa, one aspect remains consistent: the African people have a very different approach to power among women than the traditional western conception implies.  When people in the West consider the concept of equality between the sexes, they think of men and women sharing equal roles in society.  However, in traditional West African culture, power actually lies in the dynamic differences between the roles of men and women.  It is within these unique characteristics that are distinctively male or female that the power emerges.

             This analysis of the power of women concentrates primarily on the cultures of Benin and the widespread Yoruba people.  The power of women is evident in much of the art of the Benin and Yoruba people.  Royal, spiritual, and feminine aspects are all described here in the short analysis of Queen Mothers, the Yoruba Gelede spectacle, and the roles of women in relation to men in Yoruba society.  Queen Mothers are the epitome of power.  They are women who have reached one of the highest positions of power.  The Gelede ritual celebrates the power of women and offers some remarkable insight into the lives and natures of powerful women.  The nature of women is also investigated in the art depicting women in gender roles.  All of these provide a mere glimpse into the concept of the power of women in West Africa and the art that depicts it.

           Benin is located between Nigeria and Togo in West Africa.  The Yoruba are found primarily in Nigeria, and scattered in places throughout the regions of Benin and Togo.