African Women–On the other side of the Divide

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The society has for long carved an uncomfortable and seemingly uncontestable niche for its women, strategically placing them behind the broad shoulders of their husbands and the result of this is the unfortunate absorption of a misconception by upcoming generation of young women that their roles are within the confines of their husbands’ foot prints. The slogan “behind every successful man is a woman” has never gone down well with me and it is not because I am denying that a man’s success most times depends on the woman he marries but how apt it would have been to illustrate this position with “beside every successful man is a woman”

The current dispensation of the African woman calls for a redress because so far it has not served them well. History shows that the African woman played a very vital and important role in their communities and kingdoms. From old Dahomey (now called Benin Republic), where the Amazons went to wars and protected the citizenry of the kingdom from invaders to Zau Zau (in present day Kaduna State) where the warrior queen Amina reigned, expanding the kingdom of the Hausa and building protective city walls for the people which are seen till this day to the Ashanti Kingdom that had the great warrior queen Yaa Asantewaa who dared to fight the British over the maltreatment of the Asantehene to the military exploits of queen Candace of Ethiopia who even Alexendar the great refused to fight for fear of being defeated on his conquest of Egypt to Makeba, queen of Sheba who was famous for her alliance with king Solomon. The page would be exhausted if we were to name the great queens of Africa that held the continent in sway and commanded armies to war and fought victorious battles.

In Nigeria, during the colonial rule of the British, a number of women took it upon themselves to decry the harshness of British policies. Magaret Ekpo for one led the famous Aba women riot to protest the high tax imposed on the people by the government while Mrs. Olufunmilayo Ransome Kuti is best remembered for her role in the disposing of the Alake of Egbaland for his incompetent leadership and inability to cater to the needs of his people.

Having seen the historic feats of the traditional African woman, wouldn’t it be somewhat surprising that the reverse is the case in modern day Africa. Upon the conquest of Africa by the Europeans, a borrowed culture and a religion was forced on Africans and the relegation to the background of the women begun. A culture which had seen women in the forefront was sending them to the back. Black women were taught to be “roses”, a lifestyle that was alien to them. Caught between the dictates of a society fast losing touch with itself and their yearning to be heard, the black woman would begin to exhibit character traits that did not define who she was. Having copied a culture that watered down the role of women, she would soon be seen as a tool to be used and abused by her male counterparts.

This trend of subjugation of women has taken a dangerous trend as the women themselves have also adopted the belief that the second place reserved for them by the society is their rightfully deserved place. It is in conspicuous in their manner, evident in their speech and whole aura that some women don’t see themselves as worthy of having their voices heard above the din of masculine thunder. The numbers of women who show traces of their proud female ancestors are unfortunately few. African women have been placed behind their husband’s backs, at the other side of the divide and sthis has resulted to a stagnant nation, redundant economy and corrupt leadership. Under the administration President Olusegun Obasanjo, we saw prominent ministers like Okonjo Iweala, Oby Ezekwesili, Professor Dora Akunyili and a host of others display the leadership spirit of the black women of history. It made me proud that these women were able to accomplish what their male counterparts could not achieve.

It is not my intention to portray a very harsh and rigid feminist stance but I refuse the notion that the black woman is a “rose” that should be timid and behind the scene (It is not in us), I refuse the black woman is a member of the weaker sex (didn’t I mention Candace of Ethiopia, Amina of Zau Zau and the others?). I refuse to buy into the falsehood that we are on the other side of the divide, we are here. Just beside the men.

Umari Ayim wrote from Lagos

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