Tafa Balewa gestures his support in this photo Girl Child education
Premier of Northern Nigeria, Amhadu Bello encouraging girl education with gesture captured on photo. Patriarchy in Nigeria still keeps female literacy level 19 points below male average at 49% , six decades after. Source: NNP

Patriarchy is a social system in which men wielded all powers and use it to their advantage. The issue of women subjection and oppression in Africa is a protracted contest and struggle on a continent almost 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; 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.

In Africa, the experience is a complex function of diverse factors. The prominent among them is the inherently discriminatory African culture based on patriarchy. Fundamental to the grasping of the situation of African Women is the fact that they directly shoulder the burden of the cultural, social, economic, religious and political practices that characterize the region. Despite efforts in some sectors to improve the worth of women on the continent, the realties of African women are still generally those of second class citizens. The rightness of their lives and the wrongness of their lives are rooted on African cultures and values. Women subjugation per se, is not a cultural trait or value, but a misinterpretation and misapplication of such traits and values. The second class positions which has been tagged their rights and the leadership role and position which has been tagged their wrong are products of a misconstrued belief system, values, and the family social structure.

Women Right

Women Activist and novelist, Flora Nwapa
Flora Nwapa, praised as mother of African Literature, proclaimed herself a womanist, believing that a woman must be economically independent in her own right. Photo: OMG The Musical

Right is that which is generally accepted to be correct. While wrong is that which is generally agreed to be incorrect and is abhorred. The African woman’s rights have always been what the society decides for her. Her agitation against such rights and her refusal to be defined that way is her wrong from the optics of the society. The fulfillment of these rights becomes fundamental to the woman’s attainment of full womanhood.  Questioning these rights and what they stand for is frowned at by the society. The struggle for emancipation from these rights is judged by the society as her wrong.  No matter how much prosperous she might be in the socially constructed wrong- leadership roles, challenging career etc, which are outside the domestic sphere, she is still judged by roles which have been made her rights. Roles have, in all ramifications made the concept or the word woman synonymous with domestic, misfit, fragile, week, incomplete, sex object, debased/second class and a bundle of mobile sensation. The men enjoy the opposites of these judgments. No mater how much we try to pretend that this stereotyping does not exist anymore, we still, by languages and character imply them. A man cannot hit a woman not because she is a human being and it is wrong to hit a human being but because that is a woman and it is wrong to hit a woman. She is that person represented in music as sexual object, and praised always in music for her sexual prodigies.

In family circles, males are appreciated more than the females. In most cases they face discriminatory family treatment based on the conception of right- what is right for them as women and what is wrong for them as women. And any attempt to aspire for equality becomes their wrong. The argument has always been that the male children will be the successors in the family lineage, and thereby retain the family name. Any family, especially nuclear family, made up of females alone is seen as futureless. In most communities in Africa today, despite the computer age mindset sweeping across the world, the males, from their youth are prepared for enabling professions, and brighter future, and marriage is not seen as the ultimate goal of life, while women are being prepared for marriage as ultimate goal. Even if any of them aspires higher than what the society sets for her, it is still believed to be her wrong, but the right of the male.

It is also believed that women are naturally unfit to live their world by assuming full responsibility and, therefore, needed masculine prodding, guidance and protection. This conception makes the female gender look like a property to be acquired for comfort of the man. This mentality encourages polygamy, infidelity by the male and wife battering.  And in all these situations, it is her right to remain obediently in the marriage and her wrong to revolt against such acts. If she finally gets out of that marriage, she will, by language and character be deemed bad and arrogant. No matter how prosperous she might be, once she gets a divorce or is divorced, culturally, her value wanes and she will be, consciously and unconsciously be referred to with terms connoting and denoting unfulfilled, bad, foolish and without identity. And at times, is detested by her own family.

In the areas of law, power, policy and decision-making in communities, the males have definite advantage over females, even when it has to do with the female welfare. They have very little public power and with a derisory role in decision-making process. Despite the wave of political changes both on national and state standpoints in Africa, which now sees women holding political position and leadership positions, they (women) are still conceived and at times treated as nonentities who should only be seen and not heard.   These upheavals against the female are not divinely or naturally ordained but a psychological, cultural and social issue, man made acts.

Genital Mutilation & other cultural biases

Genital mutilation otherwise known as female circumcision is another type of cultural rights of women. The act itself is dehumanising. It makes the female less than human beings.  This practice entails the extraction of the clitoris and parts of the labia majora of the girl.  The aim of this is to curtail promiscuity and to ensure chastity before marriage and faithfulness thereafter. But the question now is what about the male? Of course they are not reprimanded for extra marital affairs.  They claim by men to be polygamous in nature’  is a contraption to satisfy their selfish ends.  This practice is detrimental to the health of the female. In some cases, the victim lives with traumatic experiences. But, the society has marked it out to be performed on her and it became her right. If she stands up against it, then she is judged wrong by the society. Whether it is detrimental or not, the society does not care.

The right to bear children is assertive in the culture, as well as the wrong not to bear children. Her womanhood was assessed by her actual ability to bear children. Where she is unable to bear children, her esteem waned.  She must prove to the husband, his family and the society that she is fertile (can give birth),  before she is fully accepted as a wife either by church weeding or traditional weeding.

In mixed gathering, Igbo Land for instance, women are not presented with kola nuts. They cannot break cola nuts either. They are even prohibited to eat certain parts of animal for example the gizzard.   This is because these parts are believed to be the parts stipulated for sacrifice so they must be men’s exclusive reserve and right and women’s exclusive prohibition and wrong.

Under normal circumstances, a widow is to be pitied and helped out of psychological trauma into which the death of her husband puts her. Some people argue that the emancipation of women is a misunderstanding of the social roles played by women. Even at that, we cannot deny the obvious fact that the so-called social roles are so worked out by the male counterparts to relegate the woman as second-class citizen or even something below that.

When women clamour for their rights, it is believed to be their wrong. And when the wrong is carried out on them, it is believed to be their right. A man working in a hotel as a cook is just doing a job while back home the wife performs the same duty as a right.

Most dominant world cultures have been patrilineal, although some examples of matriarchy/matrilineal can be found. The vast majority of these dominant cultures have systematically limited the power of women in their social, political, and religious institutions. These limitations are tagged their rights.

African women have always been relegated to the margins of social and political life. Cultural values have made them underprivileged members of the society and chattels, that even the most educated of them does not escape this culturally defined and mentally affixed role and is still relegated to domestic domain.  She is viewed as the second-class citizen or the inferior sex, that exists according to the whims and caprices of the man remain a thought that even in the civilised communities, they are still struggling with. In Igbo metaphysics the concept of the human person shows the equality between the two sexes. The term ‘Mmadu’, which literally means the beauty of life presupposes their equality and dignity as human beings. This generic term shows that no gender is the primary instance of being human. Even the biblical story of creation shows that God created male and female equal in essence, but with different functions. The word “Man” is used in its generic term. It is a misinterpretation of the concept, which comes from wrong translation of the bible, which informs the instances drawn by African Christians to support and already existing bias.

Tope Apoola
Profession: Writer