In recent years the African state has received considerable attention, but rarely from the viewpoint of gender, which has been subsumed within class, ethnic affiliation or religious persuasion, under the assumption that these identities, rather than gender, define access to the state. This paper challenges that assumption, asserting the particularity of the relationship of women to the state in Africa (and elsewhere) and consequently the need to study gender-state relations, as well as other social divisions, in order to understand both the nature of the state and the place of women in it. We are concerned with women's access to the apparatus of the state, the consequences of their underrepresentation in the state, and the mechanisms women have constructed to cope with their slim hold on the levers of power.