Vol. X, Issue 2 (Spring 2003):Conversations on Nigerian Feminism and Women's Issues



Gloria Emeagwali
Chief Editor

Walton Brown-Foster
Copy Editor

Haines Brown


Olayemi Akinwumi

Zenebworke Bissrat

Paulus Gerdes

Mosebjane Malatsi
(South Africa)

Alfred Zack-Williams
(Sierra Leone)


Tennyson Darko
Asst. Dir. ITS, CCSU

Peter K. LeMaire
Professor, CCSU

Bernice A. LeMaire
Website Designer

For more information concerning AfricaUpdate
Prof. Gloria Emeagwali
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Table of contents

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

A 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?

TM: 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?

TM: Yes.

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 women?

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 of it.

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, correct?

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 involved?

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."

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Interview 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 in Nigeria.

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 anti-government.

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 work.
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.

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The Regional Editors of AfricaUpdate

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 Berlin.
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.

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