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Editorial: Conversations on Nigerian Feminism
and Women's Issues
by Dr. Gloria Emeagwali
Numerous questions may be asked about
the achievements of Nigeria's women's movement and the struggle for
rights, equity and empowerment. Traci Mayette, a graduate student of
Central Connecticut State University recently had the privilege of conversing
with two Nigerian scholars about some of these issues.
When Miss Mayette expressed interest in doing research on Nigerian feminism,
five women emerged at the top of the list as possible interviewees.
These were chosen on the basis of their commitment to women’s
rights, consistency of thought, visibility and in some cases, actual
membership and participation in Nigerian women's organizations such
as Women in Nigeria (WIN). On this list were Dr. Mojubaolu Okome, a
professor of political science at Brooklyn College, City University
New York, and Ms Ifeyinwa Iweriebor, a New York-based freelance editor
and consultant on women's issues. They were gracious enough to agree
to the interview and agreed to share with Ms Traci Mayette their experiences
and expertise on a wide range of issues. Views were expressed on the
outrageously punitive measures against two Nigerian women accused of
adultery - sanctioned by Sharia Law. Comments were made on abortion
and the right to choose, female circumcision, polygamy and some other
current issues on the agenda of Nigerian feminists.
Polygamy and female circumcision were not the most important issues
on Dr. Okome's list but she advised that activists must avoid alienating
potential allies and community sympathisers in their struggle to change
practices such as circumcision.
Mrs. Iweriebor commented on several issues including her role as one
of the founding members of Women in Nigeria (WIN) and the encounters
of the organization with the men in khaki uniform who were holding the
reins of power in Nigeria during some of the early years. (The civilian
organization of Muhammad Buhari overthrew the civilian regime of Shehu
Shagari in 1983, a year after the founding of WIN.)
We thank Dr.Okome, Ms Iweriebor and Traci Mayette for their contributions
to this issue.
Dr. Gloria Emeagwali
Chief Editor, AfricaUpdate
Conversation with Dr. Mojubaolu Olufunke Okome
Interview by Traci Mayette, graduate student at
Central Connecticut State University, 15 October 2002
Mojubaolu Olufunke Okome is an
International Political Economist whose regional specialty is the continent
of Africa. She is a professor at Brooklyn College, CUNY. She also co-edits
the online journal Jenda: Journal of African Culture and Women's Studies.
Dr. Okome is Yoruba. She has lived in New York for several years. To
assist in a research project on feminism in Nigeria, Dr. Okome spoke
with Tracey Mayette on October 15, 2002 about issues related to feminism
and the empowerment of women in Nigeria.
TM: What should be
on the feminist agenda in Nigeria?
Okome: Political power-not just by counting the numbers
of women who have political positions or who are elected into office
but in terms of whether or not those women represent women or push a
women's agenda when they are in power. I think given the structure of
the Nigerian political system there is a degree of male dominance and
so the women who get into positions of power get incorporated into the
system as players in that system. They really have not self-consciously
developed a woman's agenda with the exception of pushing for more women
in those positions and so forth. But I think it is not a question of
having the women there but what kind of politics those women subscribe
to. I also think one needs to have coalition building across class lines
among women's groups in Nigeria and a dialogue among the women's groups
that creates a real agenda based on both grassroots and elite understanding
of what women's needs are. We need groups that have a broad geographical
presence and are not bound by ethnicity or class or regional identities.
If that would happen it would possibly make the voice of women as a
group stronger in pushing for an agenda that is self consciously a woman's
agenda and increase the presence of women who would be representing
those interests in politics.
TM: Do you think a coalition is in the works at all?
Okome: Yes, there are efforts. It is difficult to build
coalitions. It is also difficult to work when you have deep levels of
economic insecurity and we have had that for many years in Nigeria.
But, there are efforts and some groups have tried to build those coalitions.
It's just that it has been difficult and it is not as extensive as I
would want to see. Still more work needs to be done because there are
divisions in Nigeria along regional lines and divisions along ethnic
lines. You also have division between intellectuals and women who are
not educated. So, I think all those divisions need to be breached. A
lot of work still needs to be done. I think what would convince me that
there is such a movement is-in the case of these Sharia judgments that
we have had-an overwhelming response from women's groups across the
board. I don't think that exists as such. We have had some groups respond.
It just seems to me that for many women who are not really politically
active, it is not their issue. I just left Lagos and went to some other
cities in the South. I never really did ask the question but it did
not seem to me that it was a pressing issue for many women. Southern
women think that that is a Northern issue.
TM: So you think it doesn't hit close enough for it
to really matter.
Okome: You know I am at a loss. I think probably what
needs to happen is consciousness-raising-to raise awareness of the seriousness
of the issues involved-awareness that these are constitutional issues
and issues that relate to the injustices against women.
TM: If there was an outcry, what do you think would
be the effect on changing the Sharia judgments and women's rights-how
can they merge?
Okome: This is an
issue that ought to have been taken up by the federal government because
it's a challenge. The Sharia has always been part of the Nigerian legal
system, but it - was restricted to personal law before two years ago.
When it was personal law, it was something that was used in judging
cases between Muslims and if there was a conflict between the judgment
of the Sharja court and the statutory law." ''law that has its
toots in colonial law and the British legal system-the statutory law
would take precedent. But the states that have established Sharia are
challenging that. I think it is an issue of state's rights versus federal
rights and so I feel that it should have been taken up as a constitutional
matter between the federal government and those states. But the reason
why it has not been taken up is political. The government in power now
owes its presence in power to Northern political big guns, I would say.
I think because another election is coming up in April of 2003 the administration
is leery about doing anything that would jeopardize its chances of winning
the next election because it can't win without support from the North.
So, what should have been challenged from the get go as a breach of
the constitution which says that nobody should be discriminated against
on the basis of their sex and their class and their religion and so
forth is left unchallenged. They are taking it as something that could
be resolved by the person concerned in their own private capacity. So
I think that is what is keeping it going. The federal government has
not responded. And maybe what would have pushed it to respond would
have been having overwhelming opposition to the continuation of that
kind of justice when women are punitively treated. But mind you also
the Sharia law is not only related to women. It's just that in these
cases where maternity and paternity out of wedlock are involved, the
judgments have been discriminatory towards the women.
TM: Those seem very skewed.
Okome: There are people who have had amputations done
on them. You've had people whipped publicly and all that kind of stuff
and those are extreme measures under any kind of standard.
TM: You mentioned the Shari a as a constitutional breach.
Are there other issues?
Okome: I think it's a constitutional breach for the
reasons I mentioned. It's in direct violation of the federal constitution.
If you say that there should be no discrimination on the basis of sex
and clearly if you have a pregnant woman and you say pregnancy out of
wedlock is a crime, two people committed the crime, right?
Okome: The two people who committed the crime should
be tried and equal standards of justice should be applied toward them
and that has not been done. The punishment that's given when people
are convicted of having done this criminal act is too extreme and it's
in the category to me of cruel and unusual punishment. So it should
also be challenged on those terms. And I think it should be the duty
of the federal government. Actually it's a women's group that is paying
for the defense of the first woman and now this other woman. It- shouldn't
be left up to private interests to take up these charges because I see
the direct challenge to the federal government that says states have
the right to have any kind of laws that they feel appropriate in their
own jurisdiction. The federal government ought to have control over
that. Once you start there, where is that sliding slope going to end?
In the constitution, you have clearly delineated what issues are under
the competence of the federal government and what issues are under the
competence of the states. In a conflict of laws, federal law ought to
take precedence over state law.
TM: But because of their political interests.
Okome: Because of their expediency, those kinds of
analyses are being ignored and I think been overwhelming opposition
by women who rose up and said, "this is not just. We want the government
to intervene." But, we don't really have that. There are groups
who have stated their opposition.
TM: But not widespread enough.
Okome: Not widespread enough as far as I am concerned.
TM: Is it your sense that the local people around these
courts feel it is unjust or do they just accept it?
Okome: You mean people who are living under the law?
Okome: There are Muslim intellectuals who disagree
with the rationale behind the judgments. While they subscribe to the
legitimacy of Sharia law, they are people who challenge the judgments
on the basis of their inaccuracy in interpreting the Qur'an.
TM: As far as a women's agenda is concerned, are there
other issues which come to mind that a coalition could effectively work
against-any other issues in the social arena polygamy and male versus
female domestic responsibilities?
Okome: I don't think that many women in Nigeria think
polygamy is a problem in and of itself. They are more easy-going with
it. It is recognized that men may have children out of wedlock and still
be manied to a woman. Even if the woman raises hell, the resolution
would be, "take it easy-it's not the end of the world," and
all that kind of stuff. It's not something that is believed to be enough
grounds for divorce. So I wouldn't say polygamy-but the unjust treatment
of a woman under the polygamous system may be a problem. If! could generalize,
I would say that people would believe that even if a man has another
wife who is now the favorite wife, all of the women who are married
to him ought to be treated fairly. Is it a women's issue? I think you
would find that there is a divide between the women who feel that if
you are married under statutory law. . .or you are married in the church,
you are supposed to be monogamous. But there are so many people who
flout those laws and nothing really happens to them. So that is why
I think it is not really considered of such importance.
TM: What would be an important issue?
Okome: I would say widow's rights are an issue. When
a man dies, there are questions of inheritance. There is no automaticity
to your husband dying and you inheriting the property because there
is a conflict between what is statutory law and the customary practices
that people have. Customarily, in some groups the woman does not inherit
ITom the husband and the husband similarly does not inherit the property
of the wife. But the children can inherit that property and what would
happen would be someone in the family of either the husband or the wife
would, if they are minors, be trustee to kind of hold onto that property
until they reach the age of majority. What it actually means is that
somebody if they are unscrupulous could take over the property and use
it for themselves. So widow's rights I think are an issue. People feel
that widows ought not to be put through an ordeal. Issues of inheritance
also need to be clarified and since there is a conflict between customary
law and statutory law I think there needs to be a unity of laws around
the issues of inheritance. Also in cases of customary law, the woman
does not necessarily have the right to the children once they are weaned
and I guess many women who are modem and feminist in their thinking
think that this is a problem and something that needs to be resolved
in favor of the woman.
TM: Has there been progress over the past 20 years
regarding some of the family rights for women (widow's inheritance,
custody) or do you think the situation is the same as the 1980s.
Okome: There has been some progress but just not enough.
There is the issue that there may be laws that protect the interests
of women but if you don't have money you can't really pursue a case
and pursue it until you get a resolution to your advantage. If you don't
have the resources and if there is no free legal assistance, you know-so
those are things that prevent women from challenging unjust disposition
of their affairs. But I would say yes there have been progressive changes
but some of the things that impress me about the life of the women in
Nigeria is the fact that working women who work in the government sector
have a lot of rights, maternity-I think they have 3 months to take maternity
leave and they let you come backit's not a disability thing. You come
back to work and take your old position. There was, in the past, a disparity
between leave allowances and how the allowances were paid to men and
women and I think over the last 20 years it has changed for the better
where women are being given equal entitlements to the men but that's
in the government sector. In the private sector, I guess the large corporations
do likewise but people who work in small or medium scale industries
that are privately owned probably don't have the same conditions of
service and so those conditions need to be broadened to include those
women. But how do you do that? The only way it can be done is with government
oversight and the tendency since 1986 has been for the government to
do less and less because Nigeria has been in a debt crisis since then
and there's been less done to monitor the activities of those companies
in those respects.
TM: On a different topic, you had mentioned in one
of your articles the organization WIN, Women in Nigeria. Do you think
there has been any meaningful change that WIN has brought about for
Okome: I think one
of the things WIN has consciously set up was trying to build those coalitions
that I said need to be built across class lines to bridge the divide
and ultimately cross religious lines. And WIN also has male members.
I think WIN has done a lot to broaden the base of its membership to
be more inclusive than many of the other organizations. There is also
a group, I wouldn't be able to state exactly when it came into existence
in Nigeria, but I would say it is very recent, Women Living Under Muslim
Law. There is a Nigerian branch. There is also the organization, BAOBAB
for Human Rights. These organizations have been instrumental in helping
women to defend the two women in the Sharia cases. But, I'd say that
in the first case, I didn't really see them as being as proactive as
I would have wanted. But maybe that's because that was something that
was so new and unusual that it took them some time to mobilize. Among
Muslim women there are so many different organizations. There's one
Federation of Muslim Women's Organizations in Nigeria. That's like an
umbrella group that has been prominent but it tends to be a little conservative
in its politics. But it's an organization where women also campaign
for women's equality and enhancements of women's rights. But in their
thinking it ought to be done within the framework of Islam and not outside
TM: We've covered a lot of topics. I have a few random
issues I wanted to get your perspective on. What about female circumcision?
Do you consider that a form of gender based violence?
Okome: Ah. Do I think
it is? No. I think female circumcision is painful, it's not necessary,
but I don't think the intent in the societies that practice it is to
wreak violence on women. I think the intent is to actually-within the
philosophical world of those groups-to bring the women that have these
practices done on them into full membership in the society. I don't
think there's been much good research that really tells one about why
these practices are done. I think these practices are done for religious
reasons, for reasons of integrating women into society within the philosophical
understandings of the society and there's a deep-seated belief that
if this isn't done, neither the women nor the society would have stability
or peace or whatever. I think it's a good thing to campaign for its
eradication. But in order to make that campaign effective, one has to
understand why the practices are still believed to be important. Then
one also needs to know how problems are resolved in those societies
and use the methods that are effective in resolving problems and in
eradicating injustices in those societies to work toward the eradication
of female circumcision, widow's rights and whatever other problems there
are. Because the more you throw abusive language and look down on people
on the issue, the less light you throw on it and the more likely it
is that people wouldn't even pay any attention to what's been said because
they feel that you really don't understand what they are about.
TM: So you think the approach should not be gender
based but rather there should be a different approach to stop the practice.
Okome: I really don't think that the reason it's done is to perpetuate
gender-based violence. Among some groups, it's part of the coming of
age rites and it's a time when young women of the same age are brought
together to be schooled about how to be a responsible woman within the
context of the society, about their sexuality, about cleanliness and
hygiene. Those women become a tight group when they get out of the school.
At the end of the schooling, the circumcision is done and it is something
that binds them together with the women that have gone before and the
women that are coming behind. It is not something that ostracizes women
as dirty or dangerous; it is something that is celebrated. If people
are so committed to it and are still practicing it, I think the intelligent
approach is to really try and understand why it is that people still
hold on to this very painful process. Some people say it's dangerous
but the statistics as to how many deaths and infections occur, I don't
know the extent of their accuracy. Male children are also circumcised
and if the number of deaths are that high for either female or male
children, there would be an examination within the group as to why this
is going on. So I don't think of it as dangerous, I think it resonates
with the philosophies and world views of people. The way in which the
body is conceptualized is very different in many African societies from
how it is conceptualized in Western societies. There is this belief
that you can't have pleasure without pain and that in order for something
to realize its full potential, you may have to go through pain to get
to the higher level-reaping the rewards of your labor. The body is not
supposed to be something that only feels pleasure and sometimes some
pain is believed to be a good thing. So I think there needs to be a
more complex kind of theorizing with what exactly is going on because
I not to be viewed as just a practice that older women do to punish
or control younger women or that men do versus women.
TM: It's much more complex.
Okome: Yes, and the reason it keeps going is that it's
serving some purpose to the society that it believes to be more useful
than whatever rhetoric is out there about the practices.
TM: How about the issue of abortion? Abortion is illegal,
Okome: Oh, yeah. Abortion in Nigeria is illegal. For
many, many years the Nigerian Medical Association and the midwives,
another organization, and some women's organizations have campaigned
and lobbied for abortion to be made legal in Nigeria but it is still
not. Abortions do happen in Nigeria but this is something where class
comes into play. Women who are middle class or affluent have easy access
because they can walk in, see a medical doctor and have an abortion.
Women who are poor really don't have such opportunities. So I believe
that that is a very dangerous situation. If there is a women's movement,
that is an issue which I think ought to be taken up as a very high priority.
Besides abortion, both maternal and child mortality are very high so
I think that is also an issue that ought to be taken up. People should
not be fearful when they are going to the hospital to bear children.
Since the introduction of structural adjustment and the cutbacks on
government spending on things like health care and investment in the
hospitals, if you have money to go to a private clinic and have your
baby, you have all the facilities. Or when you're going to one of the
public hospitals, you have to bring everything that you need-gloves,
whatever-you get a whole list of things to buy in order for you to be
able to have a safe, sterile childbirth. For many women, it's just not
affordable, so they will only go to the hospital when they try to have
a home birth and complications crop up. And that makes a case where
high mortality would come into play.
TM: And until the government is financially able to
provide that assistance.
Okome: If the priorities are gotten right, that is
an area of high priority where the government should make a point of
duty to rectify the really terrible state of the hospitals.
TM: Will that change when more women are politically
Okome: When more women are politically involved and
when you have women as representatives who are conscious of women's
interests. And even men, if men are made to understand that, "we're
going to vote for you but you're going to also represent our interests."
Return to Table of Contents
with Ifeyinwa Iweriebor
By Traci Mayette, 4 November 2002
Ifeyinwa Iweriebor, a New
York-based freelance editor and consultant on women's issues, speaks
with Traci Mayette. Ms. Iweriebor was involved with several organizations
while residing in Nigeria and was a founding member of the activist
organization, Women in Nigeria (WIN). She has written several published
chapters and articles on aspects of women's lives and women's issues
TM: How do you think WIN actually affected women over
time? What was really impOliant about it?
Iweriebor: I think a lot of it was awareness because
most of us were members of what you would say broadly the Nigerian intelligentsia.
We had skills of expression, connections in the media, and we suddenly
brought quite a few issues to the consciousness of women of all classes
and particularly, we brought a lot of women's issues to the attention
of the government and its agencies. I think we played a very powerful
role in terms of conscientization.
TM: As you look back on your years with WIN, are there
any particular aspects or campaigns that you think really were successful
or reforms that stand out in your mind that you know WIN was really
responsible for in a specific way?
Iweriebor: It wouldn't be possible for me to definitely
say WIN was responsible for A, B, C, D but what I observed, and again
maybe someone else has to research on this, it could have been my imagination,
but what I did observe and what a few of us did feel was that if we
held a conference on say "Women and Education," within a year
or two years later, we would be hearing pronouncements about women and
education from government agencies and other women's organizations.
There would be some flurry of activity which would appear to have intensified
soon after we had a conference or made some noise about it. This happened
with "Women and Education," this happened with "Women
and Agriculture." It happened with "Women and Health,"
"Child Abuse," and "Domestic Violence," to name
a few. So, that is why I say definitely we played a role in bringing
to the floor a lot of issues. This doesn't mean we were the originators.
A lot of these issues had been discussed, addressed, talked about, fought
about long before we came on the scene, generations before. I think
we just helped to bring a lot of them to a head and that was a particular
time in Nigeria's history when a lot of things were happening. This
was twenty years after independence. It was post-oil boom time; there
was the beginning of a recession of sorts. This was a time when you
had a generation of a critical mass of educated women who could articulate
and who were thinking about things and putting thoughts together. Of
course you had the real issues on the ground of the economic depression,
there was SAP, Structual Adjustment Program, and all that went with
that and the reaction to it. People were seeking alternative ways of
making a living. People were concerned with improving their lives and
the lives of their children and family. This was a time of expansion
in education for everybody, including girls. The government was making
specific efforts to expand educational opportunities even in terms of
trying to cater to women of the more conservative faiths like building
teacher training colleges that were single gender only. This was to
cater to the people who felt that was necessary to encourage them to
send their daughters to school. So there was a lot going on and we fit
in at that time to articulate a lot of what people were thinking.
TM: When you were involved with WIN, how would you
describe the relationship with the government?-and I know there were
different regimes while you were in Nigeria.
Iweriebor: Well, when we started, it was 1982, we still
had a civilian government of Alhaji Shehu Shagari and then there was
the coup that brought in Muhammad Buhari. Right up until when I left,
it was mostly military. The past four years there has been a civilian
government and WIN has continued to function. In fact, there was a news
article that was brought to my attention a few days after you called
me the first time. WIN was marking its twentieth year of existence.
. . Some government spokeswomen were at the function and they made a
couple of speeches so that suggested that definitely they are still
very active and in the news and still making an impact even though I
personally cannot say I know any of the current generation. The relationship
with the government I think is similar to the relationship of any activist
group. The main thing was WIN wanted certain things to be done for women
and of course, the government was the best agency in the position to
do those things. You can't say you want better education and then you're
going to do it on your own. So you're bringing the attention of the
government to these issues: education, agriculture, health and so on.
The military formally is not a democratic institution but it did have
possibilities. It (the article) was in The Guardian of Sunday, October
20th. It was a Special Advisor to the President on Women's Affairs who
was speaking. She was speaking at the twentieth annual conference of
Women in Nigeria held in Lagos. She was talking about encouraging women
toward electoral success, getting involved with politics. This is good.
Here is the National Coordinating Secretary of WIN, her name is Mrs.
Toro Oladapo. This is her opinion-it's just a few lines. It says, "she
disclosed that WIN has been noted for its meaningful contributions toward
the upliftment of women and the oppressed. We can proudly say that a
greater awareness and sensitization among women today is to a large
extent a result of WIN's hard work as the members have gone through
thick and thin, weathering all storms, especially during the era of
military dictatorship." So, you can see that even ten years after
I left there, members have the same opinion as I did of the organization.
Like I said, you didn't have a formal thing where you go through an
elected house of representatives but the Nigerian military was always
very consultative; it had its own forum for getting ideas from people.
A lot of it was through symposiums and conferences and so on. Sometimes
it would host itself or sometimes it would send people or sometimes
it would simply respond to a petition. A good example that springs to
mind happened in 1985 when we had attended the United Nations conference
in Nairobi on the end of the Women's Decade and we had gone as part
of the NGO conforum. Of course there was a government delegation as
well which comprised of the minister and ladies who were more established
institutionally. We were regarded generally as extremely radical relative
to them. There was some suspicion and all of that. The rumors were very
rife. We had arrived and presented-the NGOs, the non-governmentals,
had their forum a week before the government forum. By the time the
government people arrived, we had presented a workshop based on the
WIN Document and rumors were rife that this was a treacherous, treasonable
group of people that was being very anti-government. In fact, orders
had been given that when we returned, we should be picked up by the
equivalent of the CIA. As soon as the Minister of Social Welfare arrived-at
that time women's affairs came under social welfare so he was there-he
demanded to see us and demanded to see the papers we had presented.
We delegated two or three people, which included Ayesha, who went to
see him with copies of our paper. He said he was going to go through
them that night and he did. This is what I mean about the era of having
educated people-this particular man was high up in the air force, he
was also doing his master's degree on the side so he was definitely
educated. He has completed his Ph.D. since then. He went through the
document and said, "look, I don't find anything treasonable in
this whole thing. You're talking about issues which concern you, the
language may be a bit strong but it's not a threat to national security."
He gave orders that the instructions to pick us up be rescinded. He
assured us because we then met him at a forum the next day-I think some
get together the Nigerian embassy in Kenya was having for him. Suddenly
we were honored guests. I was wondering if I was ever going to see my
kid again-you know, you're scared with this kind of thing-but we were
honored guests. I remember sitting at the same table with the then permanent
secretary and at the table he gave us a phone number. He said if they
still pick you up, this is a phone number to contact and everything
will be all right.
That was an example for me that shows the government would hear allegations
but it would have its own way of investigating and in this particular
case it found that we were okay. Had it found evidence that we were
not okay, it would have treated us as harshly as it would have wanted
to. Even before then their secret service people would come to our conferences.
I remember one particular conference, Women and Agriculture, that I
had been involved in hosting. They came; we ended up talking to them.
It was like, "why are you criticizing the government?" and
then you have a conversation with the agents. Are you criticizing the
government if you go to a hospital and you can't get the medications
you require? We're not criticizing the government; we're just bringing
it to the attention of the government. It all depends on the packaging
and opportunity to have discourse. As harsh and as frightening as a
military government could be and can be, most of the time there was
some room for dialogue.
TM: How about other risks or dangers that members faced?
Iweriebor: There were risks of work, of losing your
job. I remember when the second in command was raising some alarm about
organizations that were considered saboteurs. My bosses at work were
half threatening and half teasing me that if WIN was found to be one
of those then they couldn't really keep me so there was that threat
and worry. There was the possibi1ity of being picked up. As I said,
they were investigating. They would come to my office, the agents, and
just sit. That was just harassment. They would sit around. This particular
case was when I was getting involved in hosting a conference and I had
persuaded my employers to let my establishment be the venue because
we were connected with agriculture; it was an agricultural training
institute so it seemed appropriate to be the venue. These agents would
come and sit around and that kind of thing-it was quite nerve-racking
at that time. I wasn't doing anything underhanded; it was a conference,
that's all it was. They asked what was WIN's purpose and I gave them
all the literature so we would dialogue. Of course, if something didn't
make sense to them then they could have picked me up. The (WIN) state
coordinator of that time was a university professor and she had been
engaged in the situation where the doctors were asking the government
for more money and making a lot of demands on the government. The government
was very angry with them at that time. University professors were holding
a press conference to support the medical doctors and the agents picked
them up. She was one of those picked up. Because of her connection with
WIN, they were very, very suspicious of WIN's activities at that particular
time and really investigated us. We had reports from members all over
the state, all over the country. It wasn't just me, I'm just describing
my experience in the particular state I lived in. Other people didn't
have it as easy-sometimes they were booed out of places, interrogated
harshly. So my experience was relatively mild but even mild as it was,
it was quite nerve-racking. We had other members that subsequent regimes
after I left actually had imprisoned-not necessarily because of WIN
but because of their connections with other people who were considered
TM: Do you think there was any increased tension or
wariness with WIN because of its feminist leanings or was it just because
it was an activist group?
Iweriebor: It's more to do with it being activist.
The one thing with WIN is that it was for women but it wasn't a women's
group as such. It was an activist group for equality and better enhanced
development for everybody, national development. It still is, I shouldn't
say "was." More narrowly based women's groups were considered
safer. It's okay, you want more education, you want this, you want that,
okay, let's see how we can fit you in. You want a little quota for politics,
let's see how we can fit you in. But we were dealing with land, we were
dealing with oil, we were dealing with politics. We were talking about
unions, about all sorts of things. At any state, at any time, our dialogue
was more embracing and therefore at any time it could set off reactions
that were more extensive than the government would have liked. (That
was more dangerous to the government.)
TM: I think that covers a lot and helps me fill in
based on the documents and essays; it's nice getting a personal perspective
as well. Is there anything else you would like to comment on dealing
with WIN or any of the issues?
Iweriebor: Are you just dealing with WIN what really
is your scope (for the research project)?
TM: I'm looking at the status of women twenty years
ago and how some changes have t,w.issues to the forefront. I am talking
about feminism in general but doing a case study on WIN. What were the
issues in the 1980's, have any of those issues changed, has there been
any change for the status of women? The biggest thing that WIN wasn't
dealing with twenty years ago is the Sharia courts. That's come about
as more of a recent issue. It seems like all of the issues the group
originally dealt with have evolved a little bit but still need more
Iweriebor: I can't find the article now but I think it was around 1995
I did this article on women's education and it was in response to a
report by a World Bank person saying since the world began, nothing
had changed in terms of women's education. Women in the North were oppressed
and this, that and the other. It was very simplistic, in my opinion.
So I looked at the figures that were available: government figures,
numbers of people in school, numbers of schools, people taking exams,
education opportunities that had expanded from a situation of one university
in 1948 or, in fact, at independence. Other universities started immediately
after independence. So in the 1960's I think four universities came
and made it five. In the 1970's, they started pushing for every state
to have a university. I think now there are over forty universities
in the country and opportunities have opened up for people, including
women. Theoretically, there is equality in education. Theoretically,
there's equality in salaries. That wasn't WIN; that happened before
WIN. That's why I say it's very difficult-even when you are doing a
case study, it's very important to get a sense of what had been going
on before, the context of women's activities.
TM: Thank-you for your time and perspective.
Return to Table of Contents
- Olayemi Akinwumi
- Olayemi Akinwumi is a professor at the University
of Ilorin, Nigeria, West Africa. He just published a biography on
the Aku Of Wukari, a descendant of Kwararafa Kingdom. He served
as a Visiting Scholar at the Institut fur Ethnologie, Freie Universitat
- Zenebworke Bissrat
- Zenebworke Bissrat served for several years
as Senior Management Expert at the Ethiopian Management Institute,
Addis Ababa. She is at present associated with the CMRS, Ethiopian
Catholic Church, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
- Paulus Gerdes
- Paulus Gerdes is the Rector of Mozambique's
Universidade Pedagogoco Maputo, Mozambique. He has extensive publications
on African mathematics and is the Chair of the Commission on the
History of Mathematics in Africa.
- Mosebjane Malatsi
- Mosebjane Malatsi is a Senior Policy Analyst
at the Development Bank of Southern Africa, based in Johannesburg.
He is a leading member of the Pan-African Congress.
- Alfred Zack-Williams
- Alfred Zack-Williams is from Sierra Leone.
He is a professor of Sociology and he teaches in the Department
of Historical and Critical Studies at the University of Central
Lancaster, UK. He is also a member of the Editorial Board of the
Review of African Political Economy (ROAPE), United Kingdom.