Elsewhere, their contributions to human development not only in terms of the household are invaluable and emblazoned in gold. They occupy very important positions in all spheres of human endeavor. In recognition of those invaluable contributions, holidays are declared in their honor, streets, festivals and institutions are named after them. Cultures that fail to properly harness their power suffer irredeemably as a consequence. Nationally, giant strides are being made towards empowering them and towards the utilization of their immense talent. However, there are still obstacles in pockets of geographical locations notably in northern Nigeria where women are victims of the purdah, the practice of segregation, seclusion and confinement. Ebira might be islamising very rapidly, safe for a minority radical fringe, we are not about to put barrier between the genders and confine our women behind the curtains. Having said that, there is still very much to be desired in terms of empowering women and accord them proper and due respect.
By: Mathew Raji Andah
It was not for nothing that our ancestors instituted festival, Echane, in recognition of the unique contribution the women made, are still making and would continue to make in the development and progress of the Ebira nation. Excellent managers by nature, they see to the upkeep of the family while the men, at least in the past, are away to work. The women bear the babies in their womb, see to it that the children are well clothed, well fed and the materials for the schooling are provided. Most of the domestic work that women do in their household, vital as it is, are not included in the GDP. Increasingly though women are overtaking the men as breadwinners, running businesses, ministries and corporations.
The international community is gradually coming to the realisation that the key to eradicating poverty lies, to a greater extent, in supporting women for inclusion in governance and active participation in the political economy of the developing countries. Anebira who normally cry foul of perceived marginalisation are themselves guilty of marginalizing the womenfolk. The ceiling appears to be closed to them in terms of appointment, selection or election as councillors or local government chairpersons. Till date, only Hajia Obadaki jnr has been able to break the ceiling as councillor in Okene LGA when it was then in Kwara state.
Historically, Ebira woman has evolved over the past century from a daughter growing up in a patriarchal household of a rural African village helping the mother in domestic choirs to adolescence and marriage contracted with the blessing of the parents to a suitable suitor who must be of the right pedigree and must have proven beyond doubt that he can maintain and care for his wife or wives. After an elaborate traditional ceremony including mezewueyi, otanuvogeh and ohigi the new wife is expected to be obedient and to serve the husband and his relations dutifully. She was more or less the property of the husband and would be transferred to the husband’s brother, kuogu in event of his death. Christianity, Islam and western education exerted profound influence. As young girls, they now go to school, earn diplomas or degrees and some are making career in the professions.
It is sickening to hear allegations of witchcraft, occult practices and purveyors of something sinister levelled against our women by the men folk who are perhaps envious of the successes being made by them in their callings. Natural and man-made phenomena like death and sickness are explained away as the work of diabolic women. This mentality, rooted in our culture, reflects a deep-seated gender bias and compounds the social problem inherent in the society today. It diverts attention from finding the real cause(s) of death and sickness. It also hinders any targeted preventive measures thereby putting the general population at grave danger. In 2000, when the popular singer, Mr Ofelele Salawu died in an auto accident along the notorious Okene-Lokoja-Abuja road, supporters wrongfully accused a lady from his hometown, Eika, of causing the accident. The hapless lady and her house were set afire.
There is no evidence in support of witchcraft or occult practice. The evidence in support of their good character, industry and resourcefulness is just too overwhelming. Ebira women might be blamed for not taking their reproductive decision seriously enough to deny association and or bearing babies with irresponsible men or boys but they have never had any direct involvement as perpetrators in the violence that we have seen so far. On the contrary, the women had been victims. The time to stop treating our daughters, sisters, wives and mothers as mere footnotes or an object is now. Let the domestic violence stop accordingly and the women themselves must be more assertive, insist on respect and equal treatment.