Gender Inequality

In the Victorian era when David began exploring, ideas about the roles of men and women in Britain were very different to those in Southern Africa. In Victorian Britain women were treated unequally to men. The ideal place for a woman was believed to be the private sphere of the home, where she was responsible for housekeeping, cooking, cleaning and raising children.

Working class women however, had no choice but to work in factories or in the domestic service of richer families. Men, like David, worked and provided food for their families. On the whole, men held the positions of authority and power in society.

Unlike in Britain, the wives of missionaries stationed abroad played a much more active role in public. Throughout Africa women were spiritual leaders, chiefs and warriors. These were very different to the roles of women in Britain at the time, as the women David encountered often did the same jobs and tasks as men.

However, during this time women were often excluded from historical narratives due to beliefs around gender roles and stereotypes of women and men’s roles within society.


Women in the Mill

Working class women often worked in factories, textiles or domestic services. However, women were often excluded from census records because their wages were thought of as secondary earnings to men’s wages. Wages were often low, conditions were bad and working days were extremely long for both men and women working in the mills. Some women worked on the machines alongside men, but did not tend to do tasks that involved heavy lifting.

As a result of these inequalities, women in the UK organised together and began to campaign for better working conditions and rights. Women all around the world are still campaigning for equality with men.

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Mary Livingstone

David’s wife was the daughter of two well-known missionaries, Robert and Mary Moffat and was born and brought up in Southern Africa. After she married David, they settled together in Kolobeng, where she taught local children and did many domestic tasks like washing, scrubbing and milling maize for porridge.

She also joined David on many of his early travels and was the first white woman to cross the Kalahari Desert. She was of vital help to David on some of his expeditions due to her ability to speak Tswana and status as the daughter of Robert Moffat, who was well known and respected by local rulers. Mary was key in helping David navigate these regions and negotiate with community groups, teaching local women and children.

How different do you think Mary’s life was as the wife and daughter of missionaries? How different was it from women back in the UK? And how different would her life have been if she was alive today?

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Chief Maneko

In Southern Africa, David encountered women who were in positions of political power like Chief Manenko.

Throughout Africa women were spiritual leaders, chiefs and warriors. These were very different to the roles of women in Britain at the time, as the women David encountered often did the same jobs and tasks as men. He wrote about these encounters, describing his thoughts and what he had seen in his writing.

Read what David wrote and reflect on this meeting and how the two of them might have felt...

Chief Maneko
Chief Maneko (PDF)
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Malala Yousafzai

Both Mary Livingstone and Chief Maneko were very impressive and strong women.

There are so many powerful women throughout history and today – although sometimes we aren’t so good at celebrating them as we should be. Think about the women who inspire you. Who are they and what makes them so interesting and impressive?

Watch this video about the youngest ever Nobel Peace Prize winner, Malala Yousafzai from BBC News.

What makes her so inspiring? What do you think motivated her to do the things she did?

Research Competition

Women’s history has often been overlooked, and because of this it’s sometimes easy to forget how much women have achieved. Historically, stories about oppressed and marginalised people have not been studied, re-told and remembered. At the David Livingstone Birthplace, we want to research these stories, so that we can present history with more balance.

Have a go at doing some research of your own. Pick a woman from history and research her life, for a chance of having your research published on our website.

Competition Instructions

Choose a famous woman from history that you are interested in and research them further! You can look online or find books in your local library. Check out Wikipedia or Britannica Kids to start off with.

Use these questions to inspire your research or fill out a fact file. We have provided a Fact File Template (PDF) to download, but you can also design your own. Check out these example fact files of Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai and medical professional and suffragette Marion Gilchrist.

Here are some questions to think about:

  • What is her name?
  • What is she known for?
  • What was her childhood like?
  • Did she have access to education?
  • How was her life different because of her gender? What difficulties did she have to overcome in her life?
  • What inspired her to achieve the things she did?

Send finished research projects submit here. We will publish the best entries on our museum's blog for everyone to see and learn from.

Enter Competition

Tunya Investigates - Gender Inequality

Hello and welcome to another episode of Tunya Investigates!

In this episode, Tunya speaks to Kate Simpson about the women in David's life including his wife Mary and his cook Halima.

They talk about some of the difficulties of researching women's history and what Kate is looking forward to about the new museum exhibition.

Also see our other Learning Resources and Learning sections for more information.

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We would like to acknowledge the support and help of our partners in creating these resources.

WOSDEC - Global Learning Centre