The forced exile of women to the peripheries of legal practice among the Asante (Ghana) under the British colonial empire, ca. 1890–1940

PhD Project

Recent scholarship has acknowledged the destructive impact of imperialism on precolonial discourses of law. However, what remains absent is greater visibility for the consistent deconstruction of gendered law practices via the imposition of masculinisation and male-dominated societal expectations by the British colonisers.

Serving as a case study, this doctoral project looks at female legal practices of the Akan in Ghana prior to formal colonisation (1890s) and the transformation of these practices in the decades that followed (1900s–1940s). This research will illustrate the specific impact British colonial law had on the disappearance of women from formal colonial and customary courts and their subsequent relegation to the peripheries of law-making and legal practice. Male legal power was not the standard amongst the Akan, which was common amongst many ethnic groups in West Africa prior to colonialisation. Internalised perceptions of gender in 19th-century Britain and British legal practices were forced upon ‘others’ throughout the empire, negatively impacting the stories of Akan legal actors. This case study on the role of women in colonial law demonstrates that the interconnectedness of the legal systems within the British Empire does not conform to the 'customary/colonial' dichotomy. Instead, what we see is an interplay of internal plurality (intraconnectedness) and external plurality (interconnectedness) resulting in the creation of a complex history of legal and gendered exchange.

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