By Chimalum Nwankwo
There was nothing artificial about  this fourth WAAD conference , a powerful female dominated gathering of writers ,scholars ,thinkers, activists, bureaucrats and quite an exciting and even intriguing  variegated spectrum of intellectuals from all over the world.

The gathering first took place at the University of Nigeria at Nsukka in 1991, the second was at the Island of Madagascar, the third was at Indiannapolis, USA. The focus is women’s issues always.

The convener is the tireless Professor Obioma Nnaemeka, now distinguished Chancellor.

Professor at Indiana University-Purdue University. This time the theme of the conference is  “Education, Gender, and sustainable Development in the age of globalization”.

The gamut of presentations is as compound as the theme encompassing every imaginable register of gender and class issues all over the world where black people live or are represented,and the problems of agency in the evolution of human society.

Some of the highlights included  a special presentation by a Kenyan female parliamentarian who revealed some of the astoundingly proactive strategies which the government of Kenya has adopted to ensure female representation in all precincts and echelons of national administration.

The strategies involved  special slots for women in governance from local government  stations to special functions at all levels of the system. The conference keynote was to be delivered by internationally famous Egyptian writer and political activist, Nawal El Sadaawi.

The event was called off because  word came in that the celebrity was suddenly taken ill and could not attend. That was a minor hitch which was made up with two other presentations, a high-voltage and well-articulated tribute to Flora Nwapa by Professor Molara Ogundipe, and of course the Jessie Obidiegwu Memorial Lecture which I delivered.

The proceedings were occasionally punctuated with intellectual interventions by Professor Nnaemeka to keep the conference on course in terms of schedules and revisions or modifications of program.

The Jessie Obidiegwu lecture was titled

“NNEBUCHI  : Lessons from the Past, Women and Human Destiny”

The fulcrum of the presentation is Igbo land. The fulcrum kept in view information from other cultures both Western and African to assist the clarity of the issues and questions which the paper raises.

Among other issues, there was a rebuttal of what too many western feminists have had to say about the meaning of the Igbo word NNEBUCHI and other such names with their associated meanings and implications like  Nneka, popularised by Things Fall Apart as Mother is Supreme. Confused by spousal conflicts,Western feminism thinks  that motherhood is unreal and mythical. Not so.

Nnebuchi , Igbo people know, means mother is chi, maker, creator. The notion is not  just restricted to the Igbo world. It is in numerous other cultures and cosmologies or worldviews. One that interests me very much is associated with, I believe, the Zulus of South Africa.

I hear they fondly refer to mother as the Big House. That is an expression which covers so much that goes beyond the association with the myths of creation to extend to the very scientific birth of the universe and cosmic system.

It is an expression which extends to many vital principles of human existence. The principle of shelter , of accommodation, of protection, and a general and generous providence and so forth is involved.

In the Igbo case, it is a principle which is bolstered by mores and values with very deep roots in a matriarchal foundation related to the very deities worshipped by  Igbo people.

The expression mother-earth is not strange to anybody neither is it strange to observe that all over the world, the surest way of provoking a fight is to speak disrespectfully or disparagingly about some one’s mother.

By and large, in various cultures and societies especially in Africa, the female principle is so powerful that when matters are out of hand, the intervention of women is always anticipated, and gladly accepted when it does happen.

When you look at African societies of the past carefully, you will find out that the following helped the women as drivers of social action: stories of origins which are consistently equalitarian with no gender bias; religious systems which do not discriminate with regard to priesthoods;secular and sacral investitures are achieved by both sexes and not ascribed like the European lords, barons and ladies, countesses and ducheses; extended family structures and systems which protected women whether married or unmarried; and traditional women’s guilds which protected the interests of women in all social circumstancs.

Women used those advantages very productively.

My example, of course, was the life of Madam Jessie Obidiegwu of Agulu, an ordinary uneducated village woman who strived to educate not just all of her seven children but also assisted in the education of the children of other villagers.

I pointed out that what was lacking in today’s African woman is that kind of consciousness, a consciousness with a non-discriminatory social and work ethic.

When feminist issues embrace man and woman and eschew class differences, everybody in human society wins.Above all, human society is better off with equal opportunity for everybody especially in the field of education.

The conference must be ranked best compared with the three previous runs at The University of Nigeria, Madagascar, and Indiannapolis. Though the conference opened rather creakingly with goodwill messages by a disappointingly inarticulate group of female Nigerian government representatives, it was followed by an evening of  beautiful poetry reading captioned “Women on Men and men on Women” Events concluded with a sumptuous banquet on August 8, with an exciting Abuja city tour on August 9, 2009.

Chimalum Nwankwo
Professor and Chair, Department of English, North Carolina A&T State University Greensboro.

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