A couple of weeks ago, I attended the Umu Igbo Unite conference in Los Angeles, California. I had an amazing time meeting new friends while enjoying the beauty of Igbo culture. I also had the opportunity to share an article titled “Feminism is Not Foreign” published in the 13th Annual National Convention magazine. Hopefully, you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing:).
Joyce Banda, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Leymah Gbowee are household names of today used when we speak of African feminists.
For some strange reason, when an African woman exercises her feminist views, it is perceived as something different. Something new. Unheard of. Foreign. There is a misconception that feminism is a westernized concept, like many things, copied and pasted to slowly rid us of our rich Igbo culture. On the contrary, feminism has always existed in Igbo land.
Before we go any further, lets the define the modern day term “feminism”. According to Merriam Webster dictionary, “feminism is the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes”.
While the word “feminism” was brought on by the western movement dating back to the 1960s, Igbo women desired to create a movement that embraced their culture and traditional backgrounds long before the Feminism Movement ever existed. Taking into account that the past generation may have not termed themselves as feminist, we can all agree that they practiced its core principles. The principles they practiced was one that described the individual roles of umu nwoke and umu nwanyi acknowledging the concept that we can be equal but we are not the same.
It is almost as if the word, feminist, makes these principles negative. When an African woman is well versed in capitalism, mental health, politics and foreign affairs – western topics – the first thing that comes to mind is that she is smart, educated. But the moment she mentions women equality, she is automatically assumed to have western influence. She’s an Americanah. She has been indoctrinated into the European or American way of life. African feminism has been going on for centuries. It is time we recognize we have a long history of feminist in our continent, especially Igbo culture.
Let’s take a brief journey back in time.
Before the Aro Expedition in the early 1900’s, things were normal.[define normal] The war against the British and the people of Arochukwu rattled the norm of things and women (while did not fight in the actual war) were forced to help their husbands during the war. Women took on roles to care for the wounded, spy on the enemy, transport weapons and do other things that were not in the umu nwanyi handbook, so to speak. The disturb in this order kicked the umuada and ndi-inyom (lineage daughters and wives) organizations into action because the British colonization will lessen the influence the women had in their communities already.
The goal was not to fight for political positions in Arochukwu, but to preserve what is the basis of the female existence that included caring for her family and community. These organizations sought to create a sisterhood among the women in the villages and attended to feminine issues in Igboland. Even during the time of Okonkwo in the famous book, Things Fall Apart, describes that “women had their own clubs and title associations that complemented those of men. [And] they controlled certain spheres of community life… and also gained status by amassing wealth through trading, farming or weaving.” In her article, Akachi Odoemene describes that “the advent of colonialism introduced some policies which put [Igbo] women and their activities down, and considerably diminished the women’s status and agency in Igboland.”
In addition, the modern day August Meeting was created to serve for the same reason. While the other Igbo women organization were usually created for certain age groups or statuses, during the month of August, many villages witnessed the return of women to their matrimonial homes to partake in this annual assembly. During these meetings, Igbo women gather to discuss community development, conflict management, issues surrounding children, health care development and creating peace in the community. According to Akachi Odoemene’s article, “the August Meeting among Igbo women has a critical mandate in the political affairs of respective Igbo communities, and represents the socio-cultural, political and economic development initiative of women within the public sphere” which, arguably, aligns with modern-day definition of feminism.
This and many other instances like “Ogu Umunwanyi” (The Women’s War) in 1929, have proven that feminism existed long before the western feminism movement. With women organizations and retaliations, they sought to protect their culture and place in society. While they were not fighting to be the next Eze or Obi, they were essentially equals by contributing to their society in their own way. It is critical to understand that this movement recognizes that both genders are different and each play a critical role in their society. With that being said, they both knew their places and it brings a whole different meaning to the word equality.
With examples from our history and the fight against colonization, it is very evident that feminism was practiced in our own way. If you made it to the end of this article, your perception of feminism should no longer be one that originated from the west, instead, a practice that has been in our history all along. Like I said, Feminism is not Foreign.
From 9 – 5, she is a Production Management Engineer and from 5 – 9, she is the creator of Ivery Arie: The Contemporary African Woman blog. Ijeoma Ejimadu is a 21- year old igbotic girl born in Houston, raised in Port Harcourt, Nigeria with a passion for writing and women empowerment.