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Women, help thyselves

By Francis Ewherido

I was at the 50th Anniversary celebration of Urhobo Ladies Association (ULA) two Sundays ago. One of the first things that struck me, when I arrived at the venue, was the ageing membership. What can be responsible for their inability to attract younger women? That was the thought going on in my mind.

File: Women

The answer partly came in the president’s speech. Membership of the association is restricted to only women who are paternally Urhobos. I was stunned to hear that. Why can’t emor’emete (women whose mothers are Urhobos) be part of ULA?

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The irony is that majority of the executives and someof the members listed in the brochure are married to non Urhobo men. By that criterion, even their daughters are shut out from membership of ULA. For me, this criterion is obsolete.

It could only have made sense long ago when our societies were still mainly patrilineal. Also, the world is now a global village with many cross cultural marriages. Curiously, one of the awardees at the anniversary was Mrs. Abimbola Fashola, who is maternally Urhobo. On what moral ground did ULA give her the award, when it does not admit emor’emete? See the contradiction?

I congratulate ULA members on their 50th Anniversary, but if they want the association to celebrate its Centenary Anniversary, they must review the criteria for membership to accommodate women, who are maternally Urhobos and wives of Urhobo men, who are currently shut out.

When a woman marries into a family, she adopts the husband’s name and becomes a member of the family and by extension, the ethnic group. How can a woman bear Umukoro,  Okotete, Emosivwe, Emetesuona—all Urhobo names—and is not eligible to be part of an Urhobo association. Yet, women, who due to marriage bear non Urhobo names, are members. Unless ULA members do something drastic, the association might go into extinction when majority of the current members will be too old to be active members.

Incidentally, the guest speaker at the anniversary celebration, Prof. Joe Abugu, of the University of Lagos, spoke extensively on unfair practices to the girl child, women and widows. As I juxtaposed his talk with the criterion for membership of ULA, my position that women were sometimes their worst enemies, was reinforced. In the mid-70s, shortly after my mother had her seventh child and seventh boy, one of our aunts visited us.

Right before us and my mother, she told my father to seriously consider what the extended family had been telling him: take a second wife. “Aye ovohwooshio.” (Crudely translated, it means sleeping with only one woman kills the penis).  Where is it scientifically proven that sleeping with only one woman leads to impotency?

If my mother’s seven boys then were girls, it would have given them the excuse to mount unbearable pressure on my father to marry a second wife to give him the “almighty” male children. But since that was not the case, my aunt had to invent another excuse. I know what women, who did not have male children, went through in those days and it is still happening.

Even when the husband is happy with his daughters, his family members give the wife hell. The mother and sisters of the man are the tormentors-in-chief. Even when they know that a man determines the sex of the baby, they still play the ostrich.

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Another scenario, where women are their worst enemies, is female circumcision, a euphemism for female genital mutilation. When I was growing up, the impression I got was that it was impossible for a woman who has not been “circumcised” to have a baby. I recall how pregnant women—both married and unmarried—were hurriedly “circumcised” before their due date. I recall the women saying it was an abomination for a child to pass through the birth canal of an “uncircumcised woman.”

Till date, in some cultures, if a man insists that his fiancée must not be “circumcised,” he is forced to pay money and the ceremony is simulated to pacify ultra-conservative members of the family. No prize for guessing who the majority of these family members are: women.

I am not into women liberation or gender equality, whatever they mean. I just believe all members of the society, irrespective of sex, religion and ethnicity, should be given the opportunity to realise their full potentials without inhibitions. People’s peculiar circumstances should also be taken into consideration to ensure that they are not inhibited.

Talking about gender equality, my position is that God created man and woman to fulfil different roles. For instance, it is the role of both husband and wife to come together to make babies, but it is the woman’s exclusive role to carry the pregnancy and breastfeed the baby. It is also the woman’s role to prepare meals at home.

The husband may assist, but it remains the woman’s role. While we were growing up, each of us had to take turns in the kitchen, since we had no sister, either to assist my mother or take full charge when she was not at home.

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I spent the longest time in the kitchen; eight years, from 1974 to 1982. Till date, I am still very much at home in the kitchen environment and prepare my meals and my wife’s regularly. But I still firmly believe it is my wife’s responsibility to prepare meals.

It is a man’s responsibility to provide for the family. In some homes today, the wives carry out that responsibility, but it remains a man’s responsibility. Biblically, culturally and historically, the wife is a helper. Unless the man is permanently incapacitated, the role of a woman as a breadwinner should be limited to a period before the man gets back on his feet financially.

Even where the wife earns more, the man should still earn enough to be the breadwinner. Any man who has surrendered the responsibility of the upkeep of the family permanently to his wife is an agbaya (irresponsible man). The woman remains a helper and should give the husband support, especially when necessary.

Societies develop faster when every member of the society is given the opportunity to develop and unleash his/her potentials without inhibitions. Former President Barrack Obama is only maternally American, but rose to become the President of the United States, the first black man to achieve that feat. Were America patrilineal, history would not have been made.

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Closer home, former Ghana President, Jerry Rawlings, is maternally Ghanaian, but rose to become their president and helped to give Ghana a new direction. Culture is dynamic and must take cognizance of current realities. We must pull down all cultural barriers that hold women down in our society and in this onerous task; women should stop being obstacles to themselves.


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