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December 2015 Vol. 53 No. 4

Ohio University Press/Swallow Press


The following review appeared in the December 2015 issue of CHOICE:

Africa
53-1881
HQ1001
2015-7751 CIP
Burrill, Emily S. States of marriage: gender, justice, and rights in colonial Mali. Ohio University, 2015. 239p bibl index afp ISBN 9780821421444, $80.00; ISBN 9780821421451 pbk, $32.95.

Burrill (women's and gender studies, Univ. of North Carolina, Chapel Hill) offers a theoretically sound, gender-specific legal history through the reading of civil and criminal court records on marriage disputes in Sikasso, Mali.  She explores the ambiguity of colonialism and patriarchy as oppressive practices that nevertheless offered women what some feminists call the "patriarchal bargain" of rights to property and against patriarchal violence.  Although the colonial authorities saw their efforts to reduce bridewealth as part of their mission civilistrice to end "slave-like" conditions that breed domestic violence, the book exposes the structural violence of colonialism that denied educational opportunities to most, and also imposed new forms of patriarchy on the colonized.  The resistance to colonialism united men and women, but women and their allies also fought through the courts against patriarchy.  The book echoes the original contribution of Nkiru Nzegwu (in Family Matters, 2006) that the oppression and exploitation of women were at the center of colonial policy.  Burrill analyzes this history of legalized oppression at the local, national, and transnational levels.  The struggles continue today in Mali, where the elected president was overthrown in 2011 shortly after he signed a watered-down law recognizing the rights of women within marriage against opposition, even from Islamist women.

--B. Agozino, Virginia Tech

Summing Up: Recommended. All levels/libraries.