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Six Mountains On Her Back

BEVERLY HILLS, May 10, (THEWILL) – The typical African woman, it used to be said, lumbers around with six heavy mountains strapped on her back. They are oppression from outside, traditional institutions against her, ignorance and her colour. The last two are herself and man. And so monumental are the forces weighing against women that it naturally spawned feminism to sort of protect the rights of the long-suffering opposite sex.

Most women are still of the view that compared to men, their lot has not improved by much. They still languish under such traditional laws which force them to shave their hair when a husband dies, for instance. They have less job opportunities than their men folk. And even while employed, there is a glass ceiling. In other words, women cannot aspire to rise above certain positions in the work place. Women invariably suffer most during wars. Worse still, some of them are condemned to spend their lives in the kitchen cooking for men who so eagerly oppress them.

All that is enough to make the charge stick that men truly subjugate women. But how true is that is open to debate. Of a truth, women have risen in dozens of professions unlike it was decades ago. They also seem to be better at multi-tasking and also more adept than the men folk in computer-based technology. Still, the opinion is strong that women are slightly less empowered than men.

That view is what this handy collection that you can slip into your pocket explores. And in doing that, it taps from the knowledge and experience of a gaggle of eminent academics, poets and writers. There is Reverend Father Professor Obi Oguejiofor of Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Ikenga Ken Oraegbunam, Ijeoma Nwajiaku and Chibuzor Asomugha. Oraegbuna is a senior lecturer in the Department of International Law & Jurisprudence in the Faculty of Law of Unizik while Nwajiku and Asomugha are lecturers at the Federal Polytechnic, Oko.

It started as a colloquium organized by Professor Ezenwa-Ohaeto Resource Centre in Awka. Indeed, this is the second of such colloquium in remembrance of the late poet and scholar who shared LNG prize for literature with poet Gabriel Okara. Ezenwa-Ohaeto, it must also be said, wrote a magisterial biography of fellow author, Chinua Achebe. The colloquium, therefore, is meant to keep alive the name of a prolific writer and academician who died of cancer. And what better way to do that than latch on to a topic that is forever in the front burner of academic discourse?

Starting off with a foreword, Ngozi Ezenwa-Ohaeto, the daughter of the deceased writer and also CEO of Ezenwa-Ohaeto Resource Centre, sets the pace for the lecture by making a case for a level playing field not only for women but all genders. She accurately notes when women started agitating for their own rights. “The very first sign of agitation by women against the prevalent trampling on their rights, subjugation and dominion by men in their various forms and all kinds of oppressive and exploitative machineries systematically set by societies (men are the beneficiaries of this set up) was first felt in the nineteenth and early twentieth century.” According to her, “The wave extended to Africa and since then, a lot of movements have cropped up with various nomenclatures and theories.”

With the number of feminist movements in existence today, it is hard to fault her. For readers who are not in the know, there are movements now like Womanism, Black Feminism, Africana Womanism, Femalism, Stiwanism (Social Transformation Including Women in Africa), Nego-Feminism, Motherism, and even Snail Sense Feminism, etc. All the movements, Ngozi-Ohaeto insists, “have one prime agenda – to re-channel as well as redefine the society in order to create a level ground and equal opportunities for all genders.”

In his own presentation, Prof. Oguejiofor whose lecture is the longest and the most engaging looks to English philosophers Bertrand Russel and Thomas Hobbes to define what power really is and why humans hanker after it. As  Russell so memorably put it, “when a moderate degree of comfort is assured, both individuals and communities will pursue power rather than wealth; they may seek wealth as a means to power, or they may forgo an increase of wealth in  order to secure an increase of power.

Hobbes defines holding power as the “present means to obtain some future good.”

Continuing, the erudite professor of philosophy posits that Hobbes does not much differ from his compatriot in the human quest for power: “I put for a general inclination of all mankind a perpetual and restless desire for power after power that ceaseth only in death.”

In allowing that the topic has become more than relevant, Oguejiofor writes that “gender studies have become one of the most interesting and expanding novel courses…gender studies have therefore been gradually finding a place in Africa, even though much of it is still overly axed on gender representation in literature resulting in such terminologies as African Feminism, Africana Feminism, Stiwanism, Womanism…”

How all that affects gender relations and nation building is so brilliantly laid bare for readers. As the chairperson of the Board of Professor Ezenwa-Ohaeto Resource Centre Odia Ofeimun gave the opening remarks to an ancient topic that has kept scholars and intellectuals musing on the fate of men and women. Ofeimun likened male/ female relationship to kolanut. His point is clear: men and women can only coexist by being fair and just to one another.

“Along gender dimensions,” he writes, “we can imagine the two-lobed kolanut as a representation of the union of man and woman, making a whole. Once split, however, neither is respectable enough to be wedged for presentation at ceremonies.”

A colloquium with many scholars in different disciplines is bound to throw up some opposing views. True. Asomugha, for instance, makes a different case against women. In his view, it is men who are enslaved to women. To prove it, he references Chinwezu’s famous publication on and about women, The Anatomy of Female Power. No wonder Asomugha’s title is “Men are Almost Slaves of Women.”

Alex Asigbo, a professor of Theatre Studies at Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, agrees with Asomugha, asking whether women are really slaves “I have never shared the view that sees women as the weaker sex or the marginalized gender,” he writes. “I want to believe that women are stronger than men, and what this tells us is that most times, it is because we are louder, so we tend to make more noise but actually we are like the head and women are the neck.”

Asigbo does not stop there. He makes reference to a person some women would consider the ultimate woman-hater, Chinwezu. Quoting Chinwezu, he says that “women are the puppet masters while men are the puppets. Most times they work behind the scenes but they will always get the man to do what they want.” That, Asigbo insists, has “been in practice for years.”

Contributions by other writers are equally engaging. In all, the book is a balanced presentation of a topic that has kept both genders working their brains and getting known for that, too. Without feminism or talk about women, it is doubtful if women like Germaine Greer and Gloria Steinem would have achieved the kind of fame that has come their way. This book, also, is keeping the name of Ezenwa-Ohaeto more than alive. There can’t be a worthier memorial.