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Role of Women in West Africa

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Paper #1: Groups: The Role of Ibo Women in Nigeria, West Africa
The Role of Women in many West African countries is vastly different that that of the
Role of women in Western Societies like the United States. West Africa is comprised of a lot of
countries with varying expectations of women,so therefore for the purposes of this paper, an
analysis of the role of women in specifically, Nigeria, of the Igbo Tribe will be discussed, and
references to other West African countries that have similar matriarchal roles may be referenced.
Igboland is the name of a Southeastern region in Nigeria. To better address the role of women in
Igboland, a look into the history of Igboland, the roles of men vs women, and the role of women
domestically in reference to marriage and hierarchy will be discussed.
To understand the role of women in Igboland Nigeria, one must first understand the
history of the Ibo people. The people of Igboland are referred to as Ibo people, and traditionally
speak Ibo. Igbo land originated in 1967 as an independent nation, or region of Biafra. The
wealth of the Ibo people was centered primarily around agricultural gains. Meaning the more
land and animals one owned, the wealthier they were seen. The main source of living and
income came from agricultural work. “Most Igbo traditionally have been subsistence farmers,
their staples being yams, cassava, and taro. The other crops they grow include corn (maize),
melons, okra, pumpkins, and beans. Among those still engaged in agriculture, men are chiefly
responsible for yam cultivation, women for other crops.”(Britannica) During the primary stages
of the Igboland tribe, women and men worked almost hand and hand in the fields cultivating
crops. Although men harvested more of the bigger crops and women focused on much smaller
crops. This is, in direct reflection to the British colonization. The British colonization of Nigeria
forced most Nigerian people to essentially become indentured servants working on fields
producing Monocrops as the main source of income, so even after the Nigerian independence in
1960, many natives still used subsistence farming as their way of living.
The role of Ibo women in contrast to the role of men is most notable distinguished in
terms of role in marriage, and religion. “Birth, marriage and burial are considered the three most
important family events in most cultures, and Igboland is not an exception to that” (Igboguide)
The worth of a woman is dignified in her ability to get married and to whom she is married to.
Many women from a young age are trained to be good wives. They are told, a good wife is
submissive to her husband, she is not too talkative, loud and proud. Rather, she should exhibit
traits like openness, humility, fear of God and quietness. If a women was too loud and
opinionated, they were told that this would negatively affect their husbands appearance and bring
shame to the family. “No matter how prosperous a man was, if he was unable to rule his
women[wife] and his children, he was not really a man. (Achebe, p. 37).” This is in contrast to
the United States, because here, there is a drive to be equal. Women are not expected to form
duties that fall into the categories of traditional gender roles. However, in Igboland Nigeria, if a
man was seen washing the dishes in his home while the Wife was in the home, the wife would be
seen as disrespecting her duties and not living up to the expectations of a good wife. Women are
called “Oriaku”, that is, those who enjoy the wealth of their husbands.
(AfricanScholarPublications) Further exemplifying the idea that women are not expected to be
the money makers of the home. This again, contrast the expectations of a woman in the United
States. If a household is not generating enough income here in the United States, it is not look to
be the fault of a man for failing to provide, but usually, rather both parties Husband and Wife,
come together to try and find solutions to bring more money home. There is far more quality
domestically when it comes to finances in the Western Hemisphere. If an Ibo village women
were to go out to work in a city job to help generate more income for her family, the man would
be looked down upon by the woman's family and fellow villagers because the inability to
financially provide for your family is synonymous for the lack of manhood in Igboland, as well
as many other West African countries.
Women, depending on age, have the least amount of power in a
typical housing structure. Typically, the father of the house has the most power.
He has the most say regarding all family matters. The next in line for position of
power is often switched off of the oldest male and the wife/mother in the house.
The Wife/Mother, as stated above, is expected to nurture, care for the children
and the husband as well as the spiritual needs of the household, however her
oldest son has more financial obligations to the household than his mother would. Which
then gives him more power than is mother to provide for the family. Also, no matter the
age of the eldest son in the family, in contrast to the daughter/sister, the males in the
household have to approve of any man that is coming to marry a women out of the house.
For example, it is not untypical for a 30 year old male, coming to marry a woman out of
an Ibo household to have to come and ask his potential wife's 10 year old brother and
father for permission to marry. Usually, gender and age have a positive correlation in the
Ibo tribe, but marriage is the expectation. The males have, by far, the most say. At the
bottom of hierarchy in the household would be the youngest female in the house who
would virtually have no say in the affairs of the house.
Although the power of women in the household from Western onlookers may seem very
limited, Ibo women have also had a lot of power when it came to matters of religion. Spirituality
is a vital aspect to Ibo culture. Ibo Women were responsible for carrying the family through
spiritual hardships. Before the introduction of Christianity by the British, natives practiced
traditionalists and Herbal religions. They believed there was one God, “Chineke or Chukwuka”
however there was varying methods used to reach this God. Ibo people held the belief that
ancestors protect their living descendants and are responsible for rain, harvest, health and
children.”(Igbo Guide) So, therefore it was the woman's responsibility to contact these ancestors
for guidance, or spiritual blessings to hold the family together, bless a family with children, or
even finances. Women were able to carry positions similar to that of a priest, in local
communities. They would gather, make sacrifices, visit shrines and conduct duties all for the
welfare of their home and local community. In the case of power and religion, a woman's role to
provide spiritually for the home is parallel to that of the man's responsibility to provide
financially.
In conclusion, the power structure between male and females in the Igboland varies
greatly than that of in the United States. Women and men are not seen as equal because a women
in Nigeria is also supposed to be submissive to her man. An Ideal wife should be viewed as one
that is able to be controlled by her husband one that caters to the needs of her family and
household. Contrary to popular belief many women do not feel that they are being suppressed or
oppressed because in the Ibo culture marriage is very significant, and so a woman who is able to
be a good wife, is said to have lived a good life. Often times, outside speculators do not
understand that fathomability of an women taking pride in being a housewife or having to cater
to the needs of her husband, but if you are trained to take pride in marriage and essentially your
whole life’s worth falls on the ability for you to find a husband, a lot of women desire marriage.
As a west African woman myself who grew up in America, I can attest to the difference in
expectations from women. Personally, as the oldest female in my household, I am responsible for
catering to my siblings needs, if my mom is at work and my dad comes home from work before
him, I am responsible for making his meal and cleaning up after him and my siblings. When I do
all of these things, I am praised for “doing the right thing” and told I will be a good wife. I
admittedly, get a sense of pride and happiness through these remarks because in my culture, my
ability to serve is reflected on how I was raised by my mother. So it brings me great pride to be
acclaimed for my ability to show hospitality to others, especially my elders. It is hard to
understand such a concept when looking from the outside in, but through my experience with
both the American and Ghanian cultures as well as upon my research of the Agriculture, the best
way I can portray the role of women without it sounding like an oppression sentence is: The
woman is like the light of fire in the darkness in terms of the home because she brings warmth,
light and comfort through her roles.
Works Cited
Achebe, Chinua Things Fall Apart. London, Heinemann Educational Books, 1958.
African Scholar Publications - Academic Research and Publications.
www.africanscholarpublications.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/GENDERDIFFERENTIALS-IN-IGBO-SOCIETY.pdf.
"Igbo Religion." Igboguide.org, www.igboguide.org/HT-chapter6.htm.
"Igbo | People | Britannica.com." Encyclopedia Britannica, www.britannica.com/topic/Igbo.
"The Role of Women in Igbo Society & Igbo Religion." Bright Hub Education,
www.brighthubeducation.com/social-studies-help/68095-womens-roles-in-igbo-society/.
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