African Culture and the Status of Women: The Yoruba Example

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Discourse on the rights of women in Africa has been a major focus of contemporary scholarship in Africa. Many scholars of feminist studies have been largely unanimous that aspects of African culture are hostile to women, hence the need for a paradigm shift so that the supposed hitherto marginalised woman will be emancipated, this paper discusses the right of African women in a Yoruba context with emphasis placed on two divides of culture as possible agents of women oppression and therefore, its relevance in promoting rights of women. Hence, this is a way of correcting misconception about culture in relation to the gender question.

Culture has been variously defined; it is understood as a way of life of a people. Thus, culture is made up the customs, traditions, beliefs, behaviour, dress, language, works of art and craft, attitude to life among others, which varies from society to society and suggests that cultural values are largely relative. And similarly, E.B. Tylor has acceptingly defined culture as "That complex whole, which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom and any other capabilities and habit acquired by man as a member of society". (Edo 2005:2)

The Woman in Yoruba Culture

The Yoruba people predominantly belong to the Oyo, Ogun, Ondo, Osun, Ekiti and Lagos States. Theyequally formparts of Edo, Kwara and Kogi states; (Awolalu and Dopamu1979:3) and some parts ofRepublic of Benin and Togo. The question of their origin is debatableand in the present state of knowledge,not much is categorically known about it. (Idowu 1996:4) However,two different answers are found in oral traditions.The first holds that their founding fathers were immigrants from a northern source variously identified as Egyppt,Meroe,Yemen or Arabia while it is claimed in the second body of traditions that Ile-Ife was the the first habitable place created on earth,from which all earthly creation began.For this reason,Ile-Ife is referred to as the cradle of the Yoruba race. (Akintoye2004:1) In this paper, emphasis is on the Yoruba people of Nigeria. The Yoruba nation like many other African societies is essentially patriarchal; hence men are understood to be more privileged than women. Such a society is described by (Ubrurhe 1999:82) as that which is characterized by male super ordination and female subordination. Men show superiority over their women counterparts, who are usually relegated to the background. Therefore, socially, politically, economically and religiously women are to a very large extent, disadvantaged since decision were taken mostly by women the males. This has consistently manifested in various way as shall be established in this section. According to Adetunji, (2001 :106) the cultural and gender problem, which African women have been facing dates back to their birth as in many homes the birth of a baby girl does not receive the kind of enthusiastic reception that is usually given to that of a baby boy. Thus is somebody is treated with inferiority right from birth, it may be difficult for such a person not to be perpetually caught in the web of such a treatment. Olabode (2009:136) is also affirmative that:

Immediately a child is born, the question that will be posed will centre on sex, not minding of health of the mother. If the baby is a female, the mother will be scolded and treated as a lazy, good for nothing woman. On the other hand if the child is a male, praise will be showered on the mother, not considering the fact that Biology has shown that it is the father who determines the sex of an offspring.

Oduyoye 's view is that African culture is replete with language that enables the community to diminish the humanity of women.(Oduyoye 2001:3) While Akintunde believes that African culture has been a long tale of discrimination and injustice to women as there has not been equity in the opportunity, dignity and power between men and women. Her reason is that there are various aspects of African culture which restrict them from attaining equal status with men. …


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