Gender education taught in Female Institute shown here, Lagos, 1886
Teachers and pupils of Female Institute, Lagos, 1886. Scholars have pointed European missionaries as introducing highly defined gender roles and patriarchy into local cultures. Photo: National Archives, U.I. Audio after 1st par. is Seun Rere by Christy Essien Igbokwe.

Gender as a concept is described by Marjorie Mclatosh as the differing roles and expectations a given society imposes upon women as opposed to men. It has been argued by one Oyerone Oyewunmi that the contemporary concept of gender which seem to place primacy on the man was alien to Yoruba consciousness. This allusion has been severely criticised by Bibi Bakare-Yusuf who posited that women in precolonial Yoruba had normative roles. As illustrated by Sophie Oluwole, sexes are not as defined by exclusiveness of roles or moral values. Women are regarded as mothers but may also be respected as a businessperson or as a titleholder in the town. The idea of male superiority became strong among the emerging elite, with the expansion of British cultural values in the country. Several media especially in the 1940s and 1950s promoted the concept of male space. Early girl education was centred on domestic trainings, which Christian missionaries proudly claimed would prepare them for life as wives and mothers.

Among Igbos of Nigeria, a wife is traditionally regarded as, or actually is dependent on her husband for subsistence, no matter how wealthy she may be.  The height of humilation was to refer to a man as onye nwayi na-azu (a husbad whose wife subsists). For most of Africa, women subjection and oppression is a protracted contest and struggle on a continent that is patriarchal in structure and plagued by poverty and conflict. In most part of the world today, women are trying to assert a spirit of recognition, create awareness of and assert their dignity and rights, independence and freedom, a feeling of self worth, clamour for a better place in the scheme of things or state of affair and deletion of all stereotyping about woman, re-project and reposition women. African women are not left out of this trend. However, the burden of the age long idea: The male is by nature superior and the female inferior; as affirmed by Aristotle in Politics, that one rules and the other is ruled weighs heavily on them. Evidence of old tradition and myth of human existence has often given the place of eminence to men to the detriment of women. This tradition is built on the belief that women’s deficiency in the universal faculty was such as to render women as different from men as plants are different from animals.

Kofoworola Abeni Ademola, one of the first African women to graduate from Oxford
In 1935,  Kofoworola Ademola (2nd from left), princess of Egba kingdom bagged an Oxford degree, becoming one of the first African girls to so do. Photo: StHughsCollege


Tope Apoola
Profession: Writer