BY VINCENT UJUMADU
AWKA — ANOTHER August has come and married women in Igbo land are again busy with the annual event in their various communities. The annual August meeting has been entrenched in the calendar of Igbo women and they always look forward to it. It has become customary for most women who are civil servants to fix their annual leave in August to enable them interact with their fellow women in the rural areas without having to worry about their offices during the period.
For those who are teachers, August is usually the holiday period and so, they do not have to worry as they have time to attend, while the women in business have to sacrifice whatever gains they make during the period in the interest of their various communities.
The main idea behind the August meeting is for the women to assemble and fashion out ways of bettering their immediate families, churches and communities by planning and executing development projects.
South-East Voice could recall that serious challenges faced August meeting in its early years, which predated the Nigerian Civil War. In those days, many well-to-do women used the August meeting to intimidate their fellow women with expensive dresses and jewellery, so much so that some of the poor women began to feel inferior during such gatherings. The resultant effect was that some women began to lose interest in August meetings, until there was a fundamental reform in its organisation.
An octogenarian, Mrs. Alice Nwadiugwu went down memory lane on August meeting when she told South- East Voice that the issue of attire almost marred the essence of August meeting as attendance began to drop in many communities.
She said: “In those days, some women would package three different attires for the three days the meeting usually lasted and the topic shifted from discussing community affairs, to the reigning dresses in town. The issue also began to cause dispute in some families as wives began to mount undue pressure on their husbands to buy expensive dresses for them for August meeting.
“It was, therefore, a big relief when a decision was taken that women should appear in a uniform during August meetings to end the competition on quality of dresses to wear during meeting. Since the era of wearing uniform at the August meetings, attendance has increased tremendously and the friction in many families over dresses to the meeting has ended.“
Usually, August meeting is broken into three segments. The first is organised at the village level, then at the community level and finally, at the church level during which the women offer thanksgiving in their various churches to formally end the meeting.
The founder of Umuada Igbo Nigeria and in Diaspora, Mrs. Kate U. Ezeofor, in an interview said: “August meeting is a product of the Catholic Women Organisation, CWO, formed by a lady, Mrs V. V. I. Okoye of Onitsha Ecclesiastical Province before the Nigerian Civil War. Lady Okoye opened many CWO branches in provinces in Nigeria and beyond. In fact, because of her activities, the Pope gave her papal honour.”
Though the dates and time of the meeting vary from community to community, the important thing is that it falls within the month of August. It is customarily binding on women to attend the August meeting as non-attendance attracts surcharge by the leadership of the women organisation. Fundraising and execution of projects usually form the crux of the meeting and that is why projects funded by women dot many communities,
According to Ezeofor, while the Catholics have theirs in the Catholic Church, the Anglicans hold theirs in their Anglican Church, same with the Pentecostal churches and even the traditionalists. Then on a Saturday, they all come together as a body.
“When the women finally come together, they have professionals among them such as doctors who talk to them on health matters and lawyers who talk to them on legal issues such as inheritance matters. There are also people who talk to them in the area of managing their homes. They discuss their communal problems where people give their opinions on how to make their community a better place. The person in charge of the general meeting is usually the President-General.
“One of the most important advantages of the August meeting is the coming together and seeing people you have not seen for a long time and interacting with them. Another impressive thing about August meeting is that it helps to foster unity. When two persons or groups are quarrelling, they settle it at the August meeting. And women love to attend August meeting because they learn a lot from it.”
In the past few years, August meetings had been celebrated at the state level. For instance, in Anambra State, the wife of the state governor usually kick- starts the August meeting and delegates from all the communities in the state attend it. After this, the various communities were then free to choose dates to organise theirs.
This year’s August meeting in the state was started at the Alex Ekwueme Square in Awka by the wife of the governor, Chief (Mrs) Ebelechukwu Obiano and in attendance was the wife of the Vice-President, Mrs. Osinbajo. After the one at the state level, the Awka Catholic Diocesan August Meeting was flagged off by Most Rev. Peter Ebele Okpaleke, at Cana House. It was graced by the senator representing Anambra Central, Chief Victor Umeh and other prominent people in Anambra Central.
Apart from words of encouragement to the women, Senator Umeh emphasized the role of women in repositioning the political system of Anambra State, describing them as key actors in the journey.
“The women have been instrumental in the progress we have recorded in Anambra State. I have special empowerment programme for women in my budget,” Senator Umeh said.
At the community level, the priests began the meeting with church services after which communiqués were issued to guide the women for the next one year.