In Africa, as in other parts of the world, women's movements have wrestled with how best to address women's concerns by working with the state. From independence through to the early 1990s, the presence of authoritarian one-party regimes and/or military regimes posed enormous constraints on what was feasible and the extent to which women's movements were able to influence policy. Nevertheless, various governments initiated policy changes to improve the status of women, especially in the area of social policy and in some of the legislation adopted regarding women's employment, maternity leave, and, to some extent, family law.
African governments were generally responsive to United Nations efforts to create national machineries to advance women and to international treaties such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). However, the readiness and capacity to commit resources toward realizing the goals of these institutions were often illusive. This has been the biggest challenge in incorporating women's concerns into the state and policy apparatus, although, as this chapter shows, it is by no means the only one.
It was not until the 1990s that coalitions of international women's movements and UN agencies began to exert pressure on governments to deliver on their promises and to adopt policies to advance women's interests through a process of “gender mainstreaming” (True and Mintrom 2001).