Matri-legal Feminism: The development of a theory for studying African women in law

By: J. Jarpa Dawuni, Ph.D.


In the beginning

As a graduate student pursuing a Masters in international development at Ohio University, one of the first assignments I had was to write a critical review on Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences winner Amartya Sen’s book—Development as Freedom. I panicked. How could I, a graduate student, write a critique of a book written by a Nobel Laureate? I was later to learn the hard way that academic work entailed a critique of existing theories, knowledge systems, epistemologies, and the development of new theories.

I came into the graduate program with two disadvantages. My first disadvantage was being the product of an educational system based on learning by rote. I had not received training in deconstructing existing knowledge, critical thinking, analytical framing, and theoretical reexamination of received knowledge. I was the product of an educational system that famed Brazilian scholar Paolo Freire in Pedagogy of the Oppressed refers to as the “banking education” system. A system of learning that is uncritical, totally receptive, and non-liberatory.

The second disadvantage was that I had just completed law school and jumped into a new educational system that was highly interdisc