An introduction by project director Prof Claire H Griffiths
The project combines historical research, based primarily on archival material as outlined below, and research on gender discrimination today conducted in regions of Africa that were formerly subject to French colonial rule. Please see the Gender and Literacy section for updates on contemporary research.
This archive project evolved from research on postcolonial gender politics in countries of West and central Africa that were annexed by France during the European occupation of the continent. It started back in the late 1990s when I was exploring the history of gender and development policy and searching through government papers in the Senegalese national archives in Dakar.
On learning what I was doing, the chief archivist at the national archives wisely steered me towards his complete – but crumbling – copy of a study focusing on how women were experiencing life under colonial rule written by French journalist and colonial agent, Denise Savineau. The relevance of this monumental body of work and its resonance for issues of gender rights and social justice in the current era was immediately apparent.
From this first encounter the ‘Savineau Report’ has served as a key document in a multidisciplinary analysis of the aftermath of empire in Africa. Incidentally it also resulted in a precious archive being preserved, you can find the only complete copy now in digital form on this website and the project director’s translation into English of Savineau’s summary of her key findings (See Report 18 under Savineau Report).
Contemporary research on gender justice in the aftermath of empire
In this project, research themes and lines of enquiry cross the colonial-postcolonial temporal divide.
We work from the hypothesis that the colonial infrastructure that gendered the economic, social and educational worlds in which people lived in the era of empire-building was not dismantled at Independence. Indeed, in large part, has still not been dismantled in the decades that followed the end of colonial rule. Women remain more vulnerable to poverty in the region, girls remain less likely to access quality education and the impact of this is still being felt in the third decade of the 21st century.
These inequalities and injustices are being monitored in this project in relation to the global community’s commitments to the Sustainable Development Goals 2015-2030. These goals address all the key structural issues Savineau reported on in her critique of life in the colonies in the 1930s. She drew our attention to an absence of literacy and a lack of facilities for girls in schools. She noted the lack of financial autonomy among women, excluded as they were from many roles in the colonial economy, and she noted with disapproval an imbalance of power in both ‘modern’ and ‘traditional’ marriages.
Of particular interest also are her comments about those women she encountered on her mission who enjoyed more equality and liberty in their ‘traditional’ African communities than women in France and Europe in the early 20th century.
Research-led educational materials
The new resources uploaded on to this website include the English translation of Savineau’s key findings, and translations into English of six of her field reports, also by the project director. Digitised versions of all the original French reports are available as a corpus searchable with Voyant corpus search tools. We have also digitised copies of related correspondence on Savineau’s mission all housed in the Senegalese national archives (including correspondence from local governors, one of whom considered her a meddlesome troublemaker!). Some of these digitised materials are now being deployed by newly-qualified teachers of French in English schools teaching the new A level syllabus introduced in 2017. That new syllabus provides better opportunities to extend the study of French in schools beyond mainland France.
In addition, teaching materials for use in Geography and History teaching are available in the LEARN and ACTIVITIES sections of the site.
In addition to the teaching resources outlined above, an online gallery and exhibition tour entitled: Re-Exploring the Empire: African Lives and Colonial Encounters is being produced as a resource for envisaging and engaging with colonial histories and their aftermaths in the Global South.
 As calculated by Vincent Bollenot, MA student, History Department, University of Lyon 11. (Research/Secondary sources and research bibliographies)
 Known as ‘Subaltern Studies’, Indian scholars of the British Raj have been at the forefront of our understanding of how colonial history and archives have traditionally reflected the interests and realities of those who were in power, not those over whom they ruled.
Denise Savineau, Report 8, Part 3, Section 12.