Nigeria’s underdevelopment regarding the status of their women, due to a long history of colonial exploitation and oppression, has brought about a distortion of Nigeria’s economic, educational, religious, cultural, social, ideological, and social orientations. The social role of women in Nigeria varies according to religious, cultural, and geographic factors. However, many Nigerian cultures see women solely as mothers, sisters, daughters, and wives. For instance, women in Eastern Nigeria are more likely to be secluded in the home and farm, than women in Southern Nigeria. Modern challenges for the women of Nigeria include Child marriage, Female genital mutilation, rape, and domestic violence.
In history, the Igbo land engaged in traditional and cultural activities that were strictly reserved for men. Women dare not aspire to get involved in such traditional activities. One of such is women being members of the cabinet of traditional rulers. However, the times are changing, and a lot is changing with the time. With growing demands for inclusiveness and agitation for rights of women, some communities have begun to change some of these native rules and regulations which prohibit women from doing certain things, including holding certain traditional positions.
In Abor Community
Long from time immemorial, the ears of the people of Abor community, Udi Local Government Area of Enugu State ache in pain when they hear about women taking a seat in the palace to exchange words or even ideas with them. women in Abor community are to go to the farm and do the minor work of weeding and travel to the market for sales. Leadership is taken far away from them, and men take over every leadership position making all the necessary decisions in the land.
One will surely ask “who will salvage these women?” Things took a new turn when Women Empowerment and Peace Building Initiative (WEPBI) introduced the Women’s Voice and Leadership Nigeria (WVL-N) project, funded by Global Affairs Canada (GAC) in Abor community, men and women of the community were sensitized, trained and awareness created on the importance of women participation in leadership, and the benefit it brings to the community. Through rigorous and mind-blowing discussions with community leaders, perceptions and behaviors were changed as women moved up the scale from listeners at community meetings to making contributions.
As confidence begin to grow and voices of women heard, women slowly began to take over strategic positions at traditional levels as many were now appointed as members of different traditional cabinet councils, which is the highest governing body of the community and placed at positions of decision. Armed with this Power, women of Abor community came together to form a coalition of women groups to speak up against ill traditional practices against women and girls, such as FGM, child marriage and disinheritance, campaigning around community peace and conflict resolution and other changes that contributed to development.
Through the course of this development, and the positive impact made, traditional ruler has added seven more women as part of the town union executive of the community.
In Ndiabor Community
Known for its numerous agricultural activities which makes the greatest part of their economic growth, Ndiabor community, Ani nri local government area of Enugu state has owned up to its name which means ‘Land of food’ as farm produce like rice, cassava, beans, and other crops are cultivated and serve as food and means of livelihood for them.
But as time passed the community suffered the advert effect of climate change alongside the destruction of crops by animals owned by people in the community. With farming as one of the means of livelihood for women of that community, nothing was done to remedy this situation. Council meetings were held but no reforms or remedy was made to resolve the issues.
Ndiabor being a community of the Women’s Voice and Leadership Nigeria Project in Enugu state, WEPBI a partner of ActionAid Nigeria under the above project set out on advocacy visit as well as sensitization to the Igwe cabinet and other leaders of the community who were obviously men. Discussions around the inclusion of women in cabinet councils were discussed, disagreements were made as the men said it is a taboo (abomination) for a woman to sit among men or talk when men are talking. As part of the WVL project goal to eliminate harmful social beliefs and practices, sensitization for women and leaders of the community intensified through multi-year funding from Global Affairs Canada (GAC)
Harmful social cultural norms such as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), disinheritance, women abuse, Sexual and Gender Based Violence, harmful punishment for speaking up as a woman among others were still ravaging the community and nothing was done about it. The narrative changed when eleven (11) women were appointed as members of the Igwe cabinet council, laws and reforms were immediately implemented for the destruction of crops, ideas around levy for offenders were implemented, FGM stopped completely, sanitations days implemented to reduce the high record of cholera, dysentery, and diarrhea at community health centers.
Seeing the changes made within the fleeting time of women in position, the people of Ndiabor could not hold their excitement as songs of praise were pouring in and joy expressed. “Before this change men were the only gender ruling us in this community, we women had no say, we could not speak at gathering, our girls were circumcised, and our right taken away from us. But now I am so happy for this development as we now have a voice and our women placed in strategic positions in the Igwe council” An excited community women exclaimed.
“hmmmm What can I say, if I look back at the ideas brought by these women on peace-making processes through mediation and dialogue, am excited, as never was this thought about when we were all men in this cabinet, they immediately took over mediations and case settlements between villages and families, and I can tell you that they are the best in reconciling opposing sides as they use their motherly approach to reinstate peace in the community even more than the men” This are words from the Community leader of Ani Nri, HRH. Igwe Ben Eze.
Though the road to achieving this change was rough according to the women appointed, but the motivation from WEPBI through the WVL project and continuous sensitization through the Women Leadership Academy (WLA) and peer group education, their eyes have been opened and their voice strengthened which giving them the confidence to stand firm and make decisions at community level and beyond. Imagine a world where women are seated in political, national, and local position, we are guaranteed change at all ramifications.