Interviewer: What about gender? Is there a change in the struggle for women’s liberation?

Sam: The struggle for women’s liberation in Nigeria and the rest of Africa has come a long way.

In the sense that, our society, which is patriarchal in nature, emphasises the role of the man. In many African societies, as I tried to point out in my book, the role of women is diminished, reduced to almost to footnotes. But the truth is that even in traditional African societies, if I use the tradtional Igbo society as an example, the role of the women is critical, is central to the creation of balance and social harmony. But most of the time it is underplayed.

Interviewer: You’re talking about the role women play as leaders?

Sam: Yes. You might not believe it, but let me tell you something – one of the less obvious manifestations of African society. In traditional African societies, in traditional Igbo society, for example, a woman who is unable to give birth for the husband, assuming the husband dies, and the woman is faced with the reality of not continuing the lineage at her own death, it was common for women who find themselves in this situation, to marry another woman. So when Africans say lesbianism, or women marrying women, or men marrying men, is not traditional to us, any clear-headed political analyst, anthropologist or sociologist in this part of the world, would know in Igbo society it was common for women to marry women, when faced with that situation in the absence of their husband, and be seen as the wife of the older woman. Maybe the older woman might also bring a man who sleeps with the younger woman and begins to raise offspring for the memory of the late husband.

The traditional African society would not achieve balance and harmony without the role of the women. Their role was critical to the resolution of disputes. In Igbo resolution of land disputes, family disputes, and intractable social issues, the views of women, especially those who were seen as women who have made some achievement materially was continually sought by the men folk in traditional African societies.

Moving away from traditional African society to the present day, education has been the critical force in the liberation of women. Women go to school, in Igboland today there are more women in school than men. Because the men go off to do business, trading activities. Increasingly, in many primary and secondary schools the number of female pupils outnumbers the males. Many families have realized that if you train women, you train a nation, if you train a man, in some cases, you are just training an individual.

The importance of women in our society is continually being reasserted. The courts of law have played some role in trying to liberate women from being the underlings of society. In Igboland in the past, women could not inherit the estate of their fathers, even if they were the only children of their parents. There is now a court document that says a man can make a will and devolve his estate among his male and female children equally. In cases where the man did not have male issues, he can devolve his estate among his female children.

So we’ve recognized some advance. There is virtually no course in university where you do not find some women folk – medicine, engineering, geology, computer science, not just the humanities and arts. Women are everywhere, even in the military. But I would say still, given the fact that our society is 50% male, 50% female, there is still a lot room for improvement for women. It is an ongoing struggle. It is not something that is likely going to end. The momentum we have have achieved is such that the future looks very very bright indeed for women’s liberation and gender equality in our society.

This is an excerpt from an interview with Sam, recorded in March 2012 in Enugu Nigeria. You can also read the full text or listen to the audio of the interview.

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