Customary Issues Involving Women in Nsukka: What can the Church do? Vol. 6, No. 9

Catholicism has come to Igboland and continues to influence the lives of the people. However, the faith is not yet very strong because of the failure of integration of the faith with the good aspects of the people’s lives, accepted customs and traditions. This type of integration that is needed has been described in various ways. Some regard it as “enculturation”, “adaptation” or “substitution” while others talk of “inculturation.” There is still the preponderant tendency among some. Catholics to stick to their old ways of life which are not in consonance with the doctrines of Christianity, and the faith needs to be so deepened that the faithful will turn totally away from old traditional practices that could still be regarded as unchristian
That is to say, we are contended with numerous oppressive, degrading and discriminatory cultural practices which grossly impede women’s constitutionally guaranteed rights. Such discrimination under discourse are legion, they include inter-alia; legalized wife battery; or chastisement; wife inheritance; harmful widowhood practices; payment and refund of bride-price; marginalization of women’s right in the event of dissolution of customary law marriages; Female disinheritance; Female gender mutilation; Female trafficking; and Son-preference syndrome and Polygamous nature of customary law marriages, igba okwa in Nsukka. etc. More still, in Igbo culture ozo title-taking for example is reserved only for men. Women could become Ezenwanyi, Lolo etc. but are forbidden from taking the ozo title. It is a title that makes a man really a man; those men who do not take it are regarded as weaklings. This traditional institution was carried out in a pagan way but in 1960 it was “Christianized” in the Archdiocese of Onitsha. The worrisome aspect of this problem is that, these discriminations appear to be so deeply rooted in our Igbo cultural system, that uprooting same have for decades proved an uphill task. These discriminations regrettably persist despite the global upsurge in feminist jurisprudence, which has culminated in the enactment of international and national treaties and instruments on women emancipation and empowerment. Can the Church really arrest this pitiable situation?
Inculturation is not just about using palm wine to celebrate the Holy Mass or wearing loin cloth instead of chasuble, sewing unto our traditional clothes (ákara) the Roman collar which at times makes some of us look like members of Olumba-Olumba Church.True inculturation involves the total penetration of the Christian faith into the fertile soil of our cultural and traditional ways of life. This includes, recognizing that the male and female sexes all belong to the people of God and have equal rights and responsibilities in the family of God.
When the explorers and the missionaries arrived the territory now regarded as Igboland, one of the efforts they made was to emphasize the equality of the sexes (even if theoretical because some slave merchants preferred male slaves to female ones). The missionaries particularly regarded all as the sons and daughters of God. But that did not make man and woman equal in Igbo culture.
Many people in Nigeria and Africa including women are already clamoring for inculturation. If inculturation as explained above entails the Gospel message fertilizing and impregnating our culture, then it might include those aspects of our culture where women are discriminated against. In our local churches there are hundreds of examples, just as there are also in our culture.
According to research, women are active in the Church when they are on their own. They know how to get things organized. The Catholic Women Organization (C. W. O.) is the strongest statutory group in almost every diocese in South east Nigeria and even in the western part of the country. Women alone have sponsored the building of Churches, rectories, halls, etc. They know how to get money. Although men are aware of this gift which women have, they have rarely given them opportunity to get bazaars and harvests organized in the parishes. The reason behind it is that men discriminate against them even when they are aware of their talents and the contributions they are able to make.
In a typical Igbo society no woman ever puts her hands inside the mouth of a man except the man is her husband, child, brother or very close relative. Women have the authority of the local ordinary in some parishes overseas to act as extraordinary ministers of the Holy Eucharist. In Nigeria, in the West, professed sisters have the permission to carry on the function in big cities like Lagos, Ibadan, Benin, even in our chaplaincy (UNN) etc. Yet many men (including women) never go to receive Holy Communion from them because of cultural reasons. In Igboland when the late Archbishop S. N. Ezeanya wanted to introduce it in Onitsha, many men opposed it at the pastoral council meeting.
If we want a virile Church in Igboland, serious effort at inculturation must take into account how to surmount the traditional feelings of the people, bearing in mind that the Church is a family of God where men and women are equals (or should be equals).
If aspects of our culture that discriminate against the womenfolk were allowed to be inculturated, women would continue to be marginalized. They should therefore see inculturation as an opportunity to get engaged in the activities of the Church, without succumbing to the cultural and traditional bias against them which some aspects of inculturation may seem to uphold or support. One of the first ways of achieving this is that women should get more involved in all aspects of inculturation. They should make their views known.
Meanwhile, we’re not unaware that women played various roles in the early Church and the New Testament is replete with instances of the contribution of women to the ministry of our Lord and how he cherished and helped them. Women feature as the main protagonists in a series of miracle stories, all of which come from Mark’s Gospel, originally, and have generally been retold by Matthew and Luke. These pinpoint the attitude of Christ towards the often discriminated and downgraded gender in Judean culture and tradition.
Articles, texts and books abound that discuss the social, religious and political roles of women in ancient Near East, Egypt, Greece and the Hellenistic world. Our emphasis here is on the need for women to be duly considered in the effort towards an African Church that is really incarnated in the African soil because women and men have rights and belong to the one family of God. A twenty-first century Church in Africa should be openminded and “the Church in West Africa (Igboland) will be a success or failure, a strong or weak church to the extent…inculturation is successful or not in this sub-region.” Women should not be considered only as the weaker sex, the bearers of children and keepers of the house.
Inculturation is something that has come to stay. Women should struggle to make sure that discriminatory aspects in our culture are not inculturated and incorporated into the future Church in Igboland. The future of the Church may depend on how women are treated with regard to inculturation. History has shown that women in Igboland can get themselves organized to defend or mar a decision or a process they consider unwarranted. The Church in Igboland cannot do without the contributions of women who are our mothers and our sisters.
It’s not the responsibility of the Church alone. There should be legislative intervention. Law as an instrument of social change is definitely an indispensable weapon in the hands of our legislators and policy makers to effect this much desired changes in Igbo customary laws. Men of the legal profession are looked upon in every society as the last hope of the common man, therefore the bar and bench have a multi-dimensional role to play in this crusade, if a meaningful change is to be achieved. The judges should not hesitate to strike-down obnoxious discriminatory cultural practices which come before them for adjudication. Justice Niki Tobi, has been commended by Justice C. C. Nweze for his historic decision in Muojekwu v. Muojekwu.
Lack of education, especially at the grass root level has been a factor that has created a fertile ground for the continued entrenchment of these obnoxious cultural practices in Igboland. Education, no doubt empowers a woman, enlightens her and sensitizes her on her rights. The girl-child has for decades been discriminated against with respect to education, as the boy-child is preferred to the detriment of girls.
The Nigerian media should devise effective awareness creating programme e.g. radio jingles and plays, facebook, what’s app and twitter, especially at the grassroots, in order to bring to the fore the evils of these obnoxious cultural practices and the need to jettison them forthwith. Nigerian government, both at the federal and state levels is called upon to beef up her female political appointments. President Jonathan, recent appointments of females in his cabinet is an improvement .The need for integration of women into the mainstream of decision making in government can never be over-emphasized.
Far more importantly, there should be establishment of more Gender Violation Monitoring Agencies by the Nigerian government, especially at the grassroots level where such violations are more prevalent. This will facilitate an effective monitoring and reporting of gender rights violation against the female genders in Nigeria. The efforts of the traditional rulers governing body can as well effect lots of changes on these unhealthy customary laws against women in Igbo land.
it is however, firmly believed that if the recommendations of this Sunday evening instruction, are accepted and religiously implemented by all concerned i.e.the Church, Nigerian government, women rights activists, traditional rulers and other stakeholders then our customary laws will begin to wear a new face, and accord with global trend toward gender equality.

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