Women Rights

Funmilayo Ransome Kuti addressing a crowd in the 50s
Funmilayo Ransome Kuti addressing a crowd of women in the ’50s

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 often been what the society decides for her. Her agitation against such rights and her refusal to be defined that way usually 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. Her prosperity notwithstanding, 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, weak, incomplete, sex object, debased/second class and a bundle of mobile sensation. The men enjoy the opposites of these judgments. Stereotypes continue to be implied by languages and character.

It is 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.

Genital mutilation otherwise known as female circumcision is another type of cultural rights of women. This practice entails the extraction of the clitoris and parts of the labia majora of the girl. The aim is to curtail promiscuity and to ensure chastity before marriage and faithfulness thereafter. The male, on the other hand, 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 or traditional wedding.

Widowhood practice is another right of the woman which has stood the test of time in the modern world. Widowhood period is a period of hardship and deprivation. It includes varying degrees of physical seclusion, and a state of ritual contamination or impurity calling for purification. Shaving of hair follows after the burial of the husband. The picture the widow cuts is that of wretchedness. In some cases, she is made to sit on the floor for the whole length of the funeral ceremonies. She will neither shake hands with sympathisers nor converse with them. No smile or laugher during that period. In this case, the suffering is not only psychological but also physical. The widow begins to feel some numbness due to long sitting on a hard surface. In some case, it is believed that after the death of the husband, the widow is unclean; hence, the cleansing rite is performed in order to purify her. They even recluse for almost a year. In some cases, the first step taken is to accuse widow of being responsible for the death of her husband and stigmatised as the killer. It becomes her right to be punished and her wrong not to accept the punishment. The situation at times gets to oath taking. And another batch of rights is defined for her. The female gender begins another journey down the subjugation lane fashioned by the male definitions of rights and roles. They are as well part of the assets and liability to be inherited at the demise of their husband.

There has been a view that the wrong of the African woman is actually her right. That wrong is the right to be free, the right not to be dehumanised by these cultural practices, the right not to be regarded or treated as a second class citizen or chattel; the right to make choices and decisions for her welfare, the right to be equal members of the society, the right to be regarded as rational specie of the human person. And this wrong, it is said, is rooted in the inherent invaluable worth of the human person- the Human Dignity. When the society operates on the biased cultural framework that subjugates women in the name of rights, it directly dehumanises a specie of the human person and tears this inherent invaluable worth of the human person apart.

Tope Apoola
Profession: Writer