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FOURTH ANNUAL CONFERENCE AND MEETING
London, England
October 31 - November 2, 2003


A Report on

WOMEN’S ROUNDTABLE:
Women and Leadership in Urhoboland
(Held at  Goldsmiths College of London University  on November 2, 2005)

 By  Rose Aziza, Ph.D.

 *   *   *

PANELISTS

  Rose Aziza, Ph.D., Abraka, Delta State, Nigeria. Chair
L.O. Obiomah, Warri, Delta State, Nigeria

Helen Ekeh, Ph.D., Buffalo, New York, U.S.A.

Felicia Emesiri - Akusu, Brussels, Belgium

Alice Ukoko, L.L.B (Hons), London, England


REPORT

LEADERSHIP IN URHOBOLAND

The roundtable discussion began with a call for a distinction between two types of worlds: the traditional Urhobo world and the western/westernized world.

Traditional Urhobo communities are governed by the Council of Chiefs or Council of Elders, membership of which is overwhelmingly men.  Only very few old women are ‘privileged’ to be members. Women have never led such Councils in any of the 22 clans that make up the Urhobo nation and are not likely to lead them in the foreseeable future. Leadership of such fora is regarded as the exclusive preserve of men.  Although it was recognized that the Eghweya (i.e., Council of Wives) and Emetẹ (i.e., Council of Daughters) are powerful organs in the running of affairs in any Urhobo community, only men lead these communities.  Tradition! al Urhobo setting regards the woman as a property of the man and can be shared just like his other assets such as his houses, clothes, furniture, etc. in the event of his death.  No matter how young a man is, he plays the leadership role.  For instance, he speaks on behalf of the women in a gathering made of both men and women; he presents or receives the kolanut offered the group, even if his own mother is a member of such a group; he prays on their behalf and can take kolanut from the plate where his own mother cannot: she has to be given the kolanut by a man.  Thus, in traditional Urhobo society, the woman can only lead a group of women, not where both men and women are involved.

 In the westernized Urhobo setting, it was observed that women are grossly under-represented in education, government, politics, business, etc.  While it is possible to count the number of women who have excelled in their various fields (because they are few), it is not possible to do the same with the men.  The reason is mainly due to the fact that sons were the first to be favoured in education and exposure.  Although it was agreed that the Urhobo woman of today is making great progress and competing favourably with the man, a lot more still needs to be done to help the woman reach greater heights.


BARRIERS TO WOMEN IN LEADERSHIP

It was recognized that a number of barriers stand in the way of the woman in her aspiration to a leadership position. The following are  some of them:   

Male Fears of Loss of Status in the Face of Well-to-do Wives

Some men see an aspiring woman as a threat that should be stopped rather than encouraged and supported. Since Urhobo culture regards the woman as a property of the man, some men show a lot of resentment when their wives are making progress in their fields of endeavour. They become agitated because they are afraid that the woman might become better than they are. Such men believe that a successful woman is disrespectful to her husband and that when a woman earns more money than her husband! she becomes domineering and ungovernable.  These men see the home as where the woman belongs, to make and take care of babies, and would rather that she sits at home to attend to his needs and those of the children, even when he knows that such a decision is not in the best interest of the family financially and otherwise.  A woman can be successful only when she gets the necessary support and encouragement from her husband.  When this is lacking, either her progress is slowed down or the marriage breaks up.  It is no wonder that a number of women achievers are either single or divorced.

Balancing the Demands of Work and Family

This can be very difficult for the woman.  She is central to the home and requires to spend a lot of time to see to its smooth and successful running.  On the other hand, to excel in the workplace, she needs to spend a lot of time and energy doing her job and engaging in training and retraining activities necessary to better equip her for higher positions.  For example, as an academic, the woman needs to prepare her lectures, teach, carry out administrative duties that may be assigned to her in the workplace, be up to date with developments in her field by reading and writing books and journal articles, attending conferences, etc.All these are in addition to managing her home.  An understanding man who wants to encourage ! his wife to excel would appreciate these demands on her time, energy and health and try to help her with some of the chores at home and even with the job if he understands it.  On the other hand, some men would not care how the woman copes.  Many women complained that when both husband and wife return from the office at the same time, while the woman rushes into the kitchen to prepare the meal and see to other needs of the family without even taking off her clothes, the man has time to undress, maybe take a shower and relax in the sitting room reading the newspapers or watching television and impatiently waiting for his food.  However, some men pointed out that while trying to help their women with household chores, other women were the first to be derogatory and call them ‘woman wrapper’. The point was also made that some of these barriers were the result of envy by fellow women and not necessarily created by the men.

  Fear of Adultery

The fear that their wives may be snatched from them by other men if they go out to work and excel has made some men to discourage their wives from reaching their full potentials.

 OTHER ISSUES RAISED

a)       The role of women in forging leadership in Urhobholand in the future. 

It was agreed that women have a great role to play in forging leadership in Urhoboland as there can be no meaningful development of a society without the active participation of its women. Therefore, rather than look down at the Urhobo woman as inferior to her male counterpart, she should be seen as a partner in progress who should be encouraged to contribute her quota to moving Urhoboland forward.  To achieve this, the following were suggested:

It was agreed that women have a great role to play in forging leadership in Urhoboland as there can be no meaningful development of a society without the active participation of its women. Therefore, rather than look down at the Urhobo woman as inferior to her male counterpart, she should be seen as a partner in progress who should be encouraged to contribute her quota to moving Urhoboland forward.  To achieve this, the following were suggested:

i) All forms of discrimination against women should be stopped forthwith.  Equal opportunities must be given to sons and   daughters to excel in life. It was noted that men and women are endowed differently and their potentials can be harnessed to achieve greatness for Urhoboland.  <>

ii) Both men and women living in traditional Urhobo communities should be educated to see the need to encourage equal participation of both men and women in the affairs of the community. This would help to identify the women among them who have the potentials for leading such communities effectively. 

iii) The Council of Chiefs/Elders should admit more dynamic and younger women and everyone should have equal right to lead such councils. The claim that there are certain traditional activities which women are not allowed to participate in and consequently exclude them from becoming leaders of such fora should be reviewed and modified. This is more so that most of our communities have become more modernized and not as traditional as in the past. These days, some of our lvies, i.e., traditional rulers, are Christians who would not participate in some of these traditional activities. Moreover, since society worldwide is dynamic, aspects of our culture that are no longer relevant can either be modified or discarded.

 iv) Legislation. It was observed that although Nigeria is a signatory to a number of conventions, which encourage equity in the distribution of amenities between men and women, acts of such conventions are rarely implemented. For instance, at the Beijing Conference in 1994, it was agreed that at least 30% of the workforce in any organization should be reserved for women. However, nine years after, of the 23 Civil Commissioners appointed by the Executive Governor of Delta State, Nigeria, only 3 i.e. 13%, are women. The story is the same in all the states of the federation, including the Federal Government. This is mainly because, most communities while selecting their representatives would rather choose a man than a woman. It was suggested that Urhobo, and indeed the whole of Nigeria, need to take a cue from Ottawa, Canada, which has the ‘ Act of Equity’ as an act of parliament and it ensures that equity is maintained in education, employment, etc, between men and women

b)                The Urhobo Language Question.

It was observed that since Urhobo language is an identity marker and the embodiment of our rich cultural heritage, it should serve as a unifying factor and any discussion on leadership must recognize the central role it plays in the life of the individual and we must all work towards sustaining it. We cannot talk of leadership when the leaders and the led have different mother tongues and display different cultures. Language controls the thought process and since leadership is relevant to a particular society, only those who know the language with which the society expresses its needs and aspirations can effectively lead such societies. When the language of the society dies, its people lose their identity and so that society also dies. Therefore, the Urhobo language is central to forging and maintaining leadership in Urhoboland. For leadership to be effective, everyone has to speak the same language, i.e., Urhobo. It was agreed that women have a central role to play in bringing up their children in Urhobo language and culture since they spend more time with the children than the men. The fact that the native language of an individual is called his mother tongue underscores this point. However, it was also emphasized that the women cannot do it effectively without the full support of their men. The husband must support the wife’s efforts by helping to enforce the use of the Urhobo language, at least in the home and the children should be exposed to their rich cultural heritage.<>

c)                 The issue of Inheritance.

The question was asked whether or not a woman should be allowed to inherit her husband’s property at his death. This question generated a lot of excitement. It was obvious that while more women supported the proposal on account of the fact that women contribute to their acquisition through encouragement, creating a conducive atmosphere at home and managing the resources well enough for him to be able to acquire the assets, many men argued against the proposal mainly on the grounds that women might re – marry and take the late husband’s property to another man. <><>

All in all, the Women's Roundtable at the Fourth Annual Conference of Urhobo Historical Society was a very exciting and rewarding session. But time was not on our side. The session had to be cut short to allow for other activities.

I wish to thank everyone that made the session so lively, particularly the members of the panel. I also wish to thank immensely the organizers for the honour of making me chair such a distinguished session.

May God bless us all of us and may God bless Urhoboland and its people.

 

ROSE ORO AZIZA, Ph.D.
Chair, Roundtable,

Women and Leadership in Urhoboland.    
 

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