To be born a female in Igboland used to be one of the most depressing events in the life of any individual. We are talking about a culture that historically denied many women the opportunity to dream and to aspire. A culture that quashed on any desire to achieve great things. Then, women in Igboland had their destiny already mapped out for them.
A woman born in the olden days knew that her place was in a man’s house. And that all the training she received only served to prepare her for that defining moment, when her hand was given to a man in marriage, to help him start his own family. For this reason, formal education was considered a waste of scarce resources, and was given mostly to boys.
A woman who could not stay in a man’s house had failed in life. This was the case even if the breakdown of her marriage was not her fault.
She had to have children to earn a future in her home, and male children helped cement her place in her husband’s house. A sacked wife had no place of refuge, hence many women had no option but to stay in abusive marriages.
It was believed that the female child had no need to share in the estate of her father. Lands and properties belonging to her father would be shared among her brothers. Men who, with the education they received, had a head start in life. It was the woman’s lot to depended solely on the kindness of her new family.
Women in Igboland Today
These sentiments are still widely held today, but things are changing rapidly. In many places, female enrolment in school has surpassed set targets. Women are being empowered economically and politically.
My own father built a two storey home in the countryside and decreed that his only daughter would own a flat in it, just like her brothers. She remains a member of the family, even if she were married to a man. When I discuss with her about Igbo traditional beliefs which put women at a disadvantage, she laughs at the absurdity of it all.
Laws are needed to combat some of the cultural practices which subject many a woman to a life of misery and poverty. This recent Supreme Court decision which restored the woman’s right to inherit from her father is a significant milestone. However, laws are not enough. People’s mindsets must change. These conversations must be had across dinner tables, in churches and in schools. From the market places to the highfalutin arena of the Internet. Women and men will ultimately be able to develop their natural abilities and talents; that is the true meaning of equality.
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