Women’s Rights: Debunking The Myths

By Ikenga Chronicles March 8, 2019

Women’s Rights: Debunking The Myths

–Nnaemeka Oruh,

Sometime in the late 90s, and in a tiny Pentecostal Church at Ikwuano, in Abia state, a man of God was sweating profusely as he taught a class of young persons during Sunday School. 

He had told his eager listeners that women were not meant to be leaders, but rather followers and to buttress his point, had said it was “an injunction from the Bible”.

But there was a young man in his class that day, who had read about Judge Deborah in the Bible, so he wanted to know why Deborah was raised as a Judge by God, to lead her people. The Bible tells us in the book of Judges that Deborah raised ten thousand warriors with which she defeated Sisera. In other words, even the Bible has an account of a woman who was raised by God to be a leader of men, and who did great things!

The man of God was stuck and could not find a cogent answer to that question.

Our society today reeks of such misinformation as was being peddled by that Man of God on that day in the 90s. In order to convince people that the woman or girl child is primarily meant to be subservient, several stories (which we consider as myths here), are told to give credence to things that are nothing but half-truths and deliberate distortions of facts.

For instance, the assertion that the Bible itself, as the word of God, has stated that the woman should be subservient to the man is nothing but a half truth. Many go as far as quoting the creation story, and using it to buttress the fact that the woman was created as a weaker version of the man.

While it is not within the purview of what we are talking about here, to delve into the historical stories of how certain aspects of the Bible were doctored to entrench patriarchy, what we must note is that, even in the Bible as it exists today, the woman was created simply to “complete” the man– to be his associate. The book of Genesis 2:18 was clear on this;

“The LORD God said, ‘It isn’t good for the man to live alone. I will make a suitable partner for him.’”

The key word here is PARTNER. God did not make for the man a slave, but a partner who should complement him. In other words, then, the woman was created to COMPLEMENT the man. And that is the whole truth.

And in complementing the man, nothing says that the woman cannot be the source of strength where the man is weak, or the source of wisdom where the man is not really up to it. The story of Judge Deborah again buttresses this. And in truth, even among the older generation, this complementarity of the sexes was the norm.

In fact, even the Igbos, looked at as some of the most patriarchal people in Nigeria, acknowledge this complementary role of the woman.

In the Igbo society, the Umu Ada, as anybody will tell you is one of the most powerful bodies in the society and they comprise of only women. In fact, to buttress the complementarity of both genders, is the age long practice of planting yams after mounds have been made, and then planting cassava and cocoyam by the side. But nothing best captures the fact that complementarity reigned amongst our forefathers than what I have come to term “The Nnemiri story”.

Among the Obuohia people of Ikwuano, in Abia state, there is a very popular god known as Nnemiri. In another work, and in my book of poems In Memoriam of a Modest Shame, I have described already, the physical attributes of Nnemiri–Nnemiri is famed to have breasts like a woman and beards like a man. And for those who understand Igbo, “nne”, of course refers to mother.

Now, Nnemiri, mythical or otherwise, by being an assemblage of both male and female physical features, becomes a strong testimony that contrary to the half-truths that women were never considered important by our African forefathers, our forefathers even through their imaginations considered women important and worthy of being revered. 

How else would one explain the existence of female gods, the Umu Ada, Queen Amina of Zaria, the Amazons, etc?

The truth remains that whether through religion, or culture, no matter the myths being projected, there are answers in them to show that the girl child has always been important and revered.

My father loved to tell stories a lot. Somehow, I was that child who always showed enormous interest in listening to him and asking questions. Now, we had a towncrier in my village then, called Dee John Ngwama. “Ngwama” in my village is a feminine name. So, I asked my father why the man had a “female surname”. He revealed to me that since the man was not learned, he was still answering the name with which he was always known as. Then he revealed that in those days, a child was always differentiated from another by the name of his or her mother. So, for instance, to differentiate one John from another, born of the same father, the mother’s name is attached. Which in essence showed that female surnames were in fact encouraged by our forefathers!

One can only look to a combination of patriarchal influences from Europe, a distortion of the Bible, and indeed historical manipulations aimed at massaging the egos of some men, to the sole reasons for brutally attempting to emasculate the girl child.

But patriarchal society was not done with finding excuses to harm and subsume the woman. In trying to ensure that the woman is deprived of sexual satisfaction, certain societies came up with the atrocious practice of Female Genital Mutilation(FGM). To ensure that it is religiously enforced, lies about how the first child born off a woman who is not circumcised will die. In truth, the selfish reason for FGM as revealed in series of interviews I personal carried out in 2015-2016, was to “curtail promiscuity”. Anything to ensure that the woman is deprived of sexual fulfilment. Research has since shown that FGM and the stories of how the offsprings of those who do not participate will be harmed, are myths concocted to stifle the woman, and further hurt the girl child. 

And then, there is the myth of the woman being responsible for the sex of her child. Often, one would hear people say “the wife could not give birth to a male child”. Science has since proven that if in fact anybody should be held responsible for the sex of a child, it should be the man!

According to science, a baby’s gender is determined by the sperm cell that fertilizes the egg. Naturally, men bear the XY chromosome, while women bear the XX chromosome. So, if a man releases a Y-chromosome bearing sperm cell and it meets with the woman’s egg during fertilization, a male child will be the result. If the man however releases an X-chromosome bearing sperm, a female child will be formed. In essence, the woman, at all times bears the XX chromosome and can only release the X chromosome. It is the man, who can release either of the X or Y chromosome. Thus, in the real sense of the word(if anybody has to be blamed), the man bears the responsibility for the sex of the child!

A few days ago, one of Nigeria’s finest short story writers, BuraBari Nwilo wrote on Facebook:

“I saw this ad a year or two ago and complained but since nothing has been done about it, maybe I have to keep complaining. 

Maggi, the seasoning cube, has an advert that has the slogan ‘with Maggi, every woman is a star’.

I understand that the ad is traditional, with the expectations that only a woman cooks. But that could be corrected to ‘with Maggi, everyone/cook is a star’. 

People grow. Societies grow. Norms change. Challenges are addressed. That’s one way things change. And no one knows it all but we act as watchdogs to the society and help fix things. 

I hope this post enables a change with the company.”

Nwilo’s outburst was focused on the myth that women are natural cooks, and by extension, meant to be handling domestic chores. This is a myth that is the product of a mentality tilted towards letting gender determine chores. I am aware that some of the greatest chefs in the world are men.

There is no biological configuration needed for one to be a cook, or a better cleaner. Cooking and cleaning are learnt and so either of the sexes can effectively and efficiently handle them. Pay no mind to anybody who tells you that cooking or cleaning are chores for women/the girl child.

I will like to end this chapter by talking about another myth which is even being perpetuated by people who are proponents of women’s rights. This is the myth that women, because of some form of biological configuration are naturally peacemakers! There is no biological constitution that imbues one with peacemaking abilities. And since men and women are only biologically different, it becomes a fallacy to say that women are naturally peacemakers. Saying that women are naturally peacemakers is an excuse to continue to raise our boys wrong, while imbuing the girl child with the extra responsibility of being the one who “looks out for her brother, and takes care of him”. It is quite simply an excuse to give boys the go ahead to be terrible individuals.

Both boys and girls should be raised to be conscious only of their biological differences, and nothing more. Nothing says that the male child cannot be the peacemaker, and the girl child a warrior(if that is what gives her fulfilment).Trying to stop her is hinged on that subsumating practice of saying; “behave like a girl”. This is nothing short of creating an avenue to make sure that the girl child is restrained from self-fulfilment. It is a way of casting chains on her, and until such chains are broken off, the girl child cannot attain her freedom and thus be able to contribute completely to the society, in a balanced manner.

Under whatever guise they come, myths are simply creations aimed at delimiting the girl child and the responsibility of us as adults, and by extension the responsibility of girl children, is to interrogate these myths and cast them aside so that our girl children may develop properly.

  • This piece first appeared in the book Rainbows of Hope