Nigeria At 60: ‘The Women In Nigeria’ – By Anyanwu Ezinne Vivian
“In a country of over 200 million people, whose natural skills, abilities, gifts or talents, courage, fortitude, fearlessness or grits, and passion sparkle and shine like the precious and ever-glowing Diamond that we are, this to me is a sufficient appreciation to our most precious assets, Our People but most especially, Our Women.”
The White and Green colours on our national flag represent our warmth, welcoming spirit and love, as well as abundant and bountiful wealth inherent in our human capital and the richness of our land. All these qualities make us verifiably the most prosperous black nation in the world and Africa’s largest economy.
Our founding fathers, in spite of the very pellucid differences in our faith, culture, tribe and tongue, came together to fight for Nigeria’s independence. This however shall be a befitting tribute to the struggle of our Women in the past, and in the present day. So it is therefore with a deep feeling of national pride, to the glory of God and in celebration of the attainment of the Diamond Age of Sixty (60) by our Great Nation that I write this untrammeled personal view on the situation of Women in our wonderful country.
“We stand on the shoulders of the Nigerian history and past that have made us strong in every way, we stand on the threshold of history, in order for us to be able to look into the bright future this beautiful nation has in store for us. The recounting of these wonderful memories, scenes, and episodes in history, wouldn’t ever have been possible without our phenomenal Women.”
Nigerian Women have come a long way from the precolonial, to the colonial era and then to the contemporary era. There are great stories that seem not to have been told about the Nigerian women. The inability to adequately, sufficiently and satisfactorily capture the stories may have been due to inefficient communication and documentation. These stories bring out the essence of these women not only in nation building, but as custodians of a great legacy in a country with rich cultures and potential.
In spite of the great role that women play in this clime, it seems that little or no effort is made to portray, promote and document their role. When the narratives surrounding Nigerian women in their journey towards political, social and economic empowerment and of course, the influence of media and communication in aiding women to achieve empowerment in all spheres of their lives, through great memories and projected visions of possible futures is properly looked into, the media is a powerful tool that can be used to assist Nigerian women in asserting their voices so that their stories can be heard, told and documented in an emulative manner.
“Communication according to scholars like Lasswell, Macquail and Wright; informs, educates and mobilizes, sensitizes and informs; therefore theories of communication and how they can be used to better the lives of Nigerian women are examined in this writing. The focus here is the use of the media especially radio which is the most widely used medium of women in Nigeria, especially women at the grassroots, to effect communication and change.”
From precolonial times to the early 21st century, the designation that denotes the roles, status and social stratum of women in Nigeria have continuously transformed and evolved. However, the image of a helpless, oppressed, and marginalized group has underestimated their proper study, and little recognition has been granted to the various integral functions that Nigerian women have performed throughout history.
In the precolonial period, women played a major role in social and economic activities. Division of labour was along gender lines, and women controlled such occupations as food processing, mat-weaving, pottery-making, and cooking. Moreover, land was communally owned, and women had access to it through their husbands or parents. Although a man was the head of the household in a patrilineal system, older women had control of the labour of younger family members. Women were also central to trade. Among the individuals constituting the Yoruba tribe, they were the major figures in long-distance trade, with enormous opportunities for accumulating wealth and acquiring titles. The most successful ones among them rose to the prestigious Chieftaincy Title of Iyalode, a position of great privilege and power.
In politics, women were not as docile or as powerless as contemporary literature tends to portray them. The basic unit of political organization was the family, and in the common matrifocal arrangement, which allowed a woman to gain considerable authority over her children, a woman and her offspring could form a major bloc in the household. Powers and privileges in a household were also based on age and gender, thereby allowing senior women to have a voice on many issues.
“Furthermore, because the private and public arenas were entwined, a woman’s ability to control resources and people in a household was at the same time an exercise in public power. She could use food production to gain respect, she could control her children and influence men through this power, she could evoke the power of the spirit or gods in her favour, or she could simply withdraw and use the kitchen as her own personal domicile for interaction with her colleagues, friends, and children, which in my opinion, isn’t very advisable.”
Moving on, aside the household level, power was generally dominated by men, but in many areas specific titles were given to women. The Queen Mother, a Powerful Title among the Edo and Yoruba, could be bestowed upon the King’s mother or a free woman of considerable stature. In her own palace, the Queen Mother presided over meetings, with subordinate titleholders in her support. Yoruba and Hausa Legends always describe periods when women were either the actual Kings or Heroines. Such women as Moremi of Ile-Ife and Amina of Zaria are notable legendary figures, as are the powerful Queens in the Ondo and Daura histories.
The most serious threat to the influence and the privileges of women occurred in the 20th century, when Patriarchy combined with colonial changes to alter gender relations. As male chiefs collaborated with the British colonial administration in collecting taxes and governing, the position of Female Chiefs declined in importance. When the economy became increasingly geared toward the production of cash crops for export, Nigerian men and European firms dominated the distribution of rubber, cocoa, groundnuts (peanuts), and palm oil.
Women, pushed and relegated to the background, were forced to shift to the production of subsistence crops. A previous land-tenure system that had prevented land alienation gave way to land commercialization, favouring those with access to money gained from the sale of cash crops. Western-style education also favoured boys over girls and thus largely excluded women from many of the new occupations introduced by colonialism.
The most powerful agency of change for the modern woman has been Nigeria’s formal education system, from which a large number of elite women have emerged. Intelligent, educated, and confident, they can be found in all leading occupations; they now challenge many aspects of patriarchy and are gradually organizing to ensure that the political arena expands sufficiently to accommodate them.
“Nigerian women have great histories and bright futures. Some of them have been able to break through the glass ceiling in their chosen fields. However, to be able to move them to the next level of greatness they need to be mobilized by the media through the narratives woven around them. Recently, the gender equality bill was thrown out of the Nigerian senate, little or no publicity was given to this unjust deed, this shows the imbalance in the coverage of media issues which we have been asking the media to change. It is pertinent to note that with these great memories and narratives of Nigerian women, it can be argued that the projected future holds great potentials for them. However, these potential cannot be achieved if the media do not partner with the women to empower and project them.”
The media have to be more focused on issues with effect women.
They endeavor to create programmes which can empower women, socially, politically and economically. While doing this they must not forget the women at the grassroots who also need their stories to be heard and told. There still several issues militating against women in Nigeria one of the key ones is education. Many women in Nigeria especially those at the grassroots still lack basic education, and education is a key factor of empowerment. The media should take it upon themselves to lead a campaign for the education of women and girls in our society. Inadequate education creates the problem of low income generation. The media should help in the development of income generation skills in women so that they can be empowered economically. Politically there is still much to be desired for women as they are not well represented in leadership though they give their massive support during elections.
“I really hope that our leaders become really full of ardor, become fervent and very passionate concerning the issues of our extremely outstanding country in order to recognise the unrealized abilities of our Women, which will include turn enable the recognition of our sojourn in Nationhood, identified challenges faced all through and what is required to move Nigeria to its enviable stage among the comity of Nations.”
HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY!!!!
ANYANWU EZINNE VIVIAN
LL.B II, IMO STATE UNIVERSITY