Deadlier than the male? Women and the death penalty in colonial Kenya and Nyasaland, c.1920-57
University of Exeter. At the time of publication, the author was at the University of Cambridge.
Stichproben: Vienna Journal of African Studies
Department of African Studies, University of Vienna
The position of women and the operation of justice were both contentious issues in colonial Africa. However, when combined in the discussion and sentencing of African women charged with murder and facing the death penalty for their crimes, a relatively coherent gendered discourse emerged: African women were frequently regarded as lacking the emotional and mental development to render them fully responsible for their actions before the law, and consequently liable for the death penalty. What challenged this benevolent, patriarchal discourse were the actions and responses of the women themselves, transgressing supposed gender stereotypes and social hierarchies in their use of lethal violence. This article attempts to analyze violent African female crime in Africa through the medium of High Court murder trials in Kenya and Nyasaland, focusing on both colonial judges’ perceptions of women as perpetrators of violent crime and on women’s responses and perceptions of their own criminality. Contrary to much existing feminist criminology, this paper will argue that women were not just reluctant killers; they could also be violent in their own right and for their own self-interest.