FEMINISTIC ACTIVITIES IN NIGERIA AND THE ROLE OF WOMEN IN THE SOCIETY
Background of the Study
The issue of feminism springs up from women’s consciousness of their situation in the society and various oppressive acts against them.
In traditional Africa the woman is an object of constant scorn, degradation and physical torture. In the past, women did not exist as individuals with personalities to defend. They rather existed as mere docile and exotic accompaniments to the males. Throughout that period, women lacked a voice to articulate their dilemma and their point of view. They, thus, accepted their fate without resistance.
In those days, these women, in addition to experiencing the same oppressive social condition as their male counterparts in a developing world, were subjected to extra repressive burdens arising from the socio-cultural structures of patriarchy and gender hierarchy. These years of subjugation have, however, produced in today’s women relentless questioning of the status quo. They protest against dehumanization, political enslavement and social oppression. They rationalize that the running of the African world is not the preserve for males and thus there should be absolute equality of both sexes in all spheres of life. Such a reaction is termed feminism, which is an ideology that urges, in simple term, recognition of the claims of women for equal rights with men.
The term feminism usually refers to a historically recent European and American social movements founded to struggle for female equality. Feminism by this designation has become a global political project.
African female writers have come a long way from the 1960’s when the few women that published fiction could be counted on one fingers and they were hardly noticed by critics or if noticed at all, were not taken seriously. At the end of the twentieth century, it was no longer out of place to talk about generations of female African writers or categorize female authors as ‘established’ or ‘emerging’. Nadine Gordimer, a female writer from South Africa had won the noble prize for literature in 1991. two years later, the African continent lost a leading female writer Flora Nwapa of Nigeria. A novelist, short story writer, and poet, Flora Nwapa held in her hands on her death bed on 17 October 1993, the first printed copies of her three new plays; sycophants (SIC). A pioneer African Female Novelist, she had published poetry and short stories before revealing her talents as a playwright, etc.
The phenomenon of female change was not limited to creative artists. African women scholars too, were no longer satisfied to have somebody else define for them the aesthetics of female writing, or patronizingly describe for them the dynamic and intrinsic reality of being a woman in the African socio-cultural and political environment.
This issue of African literature today is entirely devoted to African writers and the presentation of women in African literature. This in itself is a recognition of two important facts: first, that African women writers, as a number of articles in the collection point out, have been neglected in the largely male authored journals, critical studies and critical anthologies and secondly, that the last ten years or so have seen a tremendous blossoming of highly accomplished work by African women writers and it would have been in excusable to continue to ignore them. The second fact partly, though not entirely offers an explanation for the first. If the critical attention has been scanty, it is partly because up-to the end of the 1960’s the literary output of African women was also rather scanty. This is most probably due to a number of well known historical and sociological factors. Writing and education go hand in hand and for all kinds of sociological and other reasons the education of women in Africa lagged far behind that of men. Adetokunbo Pearce’s article on Efua Suther Land’s plays suggest precisely how public the role of the dramatist could be and usually is, but African societies have been slow in according to women this ‘senior’ position and public exposure.
In this regard it might seem strange, perhaps, that the genre in which African women have featured last is that of poetry, which is the most private of the genres. The face remains, however, that in so far as Africa is concerned, the role of the poet also has always been public. The death of African women writers, up-till the very recent past, is therefore probably in itself a consequence of traditional African attitudes towards women.
Feminism is the belief, largely originating in the west on the social, economic and political equality of sexes represented worldwide by various institutions committed to activity on behalf of women’s rights in interest.
Feminist is someone who supports the idea that women should have the same rights and opportunities as men. The term feminism tend to be used and the women’s right movement which began in the late 18th Century and continues to campaign for political, social and economic equality between women and men.
In Hook’s (1984) explanation in Akorede (1996; 50) feminism is the movement concerned with the positive promotion of the image of the woman and the creation of female consciousness and awareness.
Nnolim’s (1994:248) view is that feminism as a movement and ideology urges, in simple terms, the recognition of the claims of women for equal rights with men in legal, political, economic, social and marital situation. For Helen Chukwuma (1994: IX): Feminism in African Literature, it is a rejection of inferiority and a striving for recognition, it seeks to give a woman a sense of self as a worthy effectual and contribution human being. It is a reaction against such stereotypes of women which deny them a positive identity. It set out to enhance the position of women in a predominantly male oriented society. Chukwuma (1994: IX) states that what feminist writers articulate is the dire need of African women for recognition and partnership.
She further asserts that feminism is based on the theory of individuality, recognition of the personhood of women and equally opportunity for development. Filomina Steady (1981: 74) in the Black women cross culturally writers that true feminism is . . . a determination to be resourceful and self reliant.
For the gender training manual for Higher Education by Akin Aina and Taiwo (2000: 11) feminism is a label for a political position which indicate support for the empowerment of women.
We have two main branches of feminism: Radical feminism and liberal feminism.
A third theory of feminism according to Akin Aina and Taiwo (1999: 7) is radical feminism which places the concept of patriarchy at the center of gender inequality. Radical feminists claim that women as a class are and have probably always been dominated and controlled by men as a class and that this domination and control pervade all aspects of their lives. It is not only in the sphere of paid work and in the relations between the public and domestic spheres that women are oppressed but also in their child bearing and rearing in the family, in sexual relations such as rape and prostitution and in politics.
Akin-Aina and Taiwo, (1999: 17) “Development and Equality: an overview’”. Explain that liberal feminism stemmed from the increasing importance placed upon individual human rights and freedoms that occurred during the 1700’s.
Liberal feminists believe that as human beings, women have a natural right to the same opportunities and freedoms as men.