Aidoghie Paulinus, Abuja
The 2020 edition of the International Women’s Day (IWD) may have come and gone, but the memories created by the event held on March 5 at the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Centre, Abuja, will remain indelible in the minds of Nigerians. It was an evening of introspection, soul-searching and laughter.
But beyond the glitz and glam, the programme provided a unique opportunity to ruminate on the idea of womanhood, particularly the challenges faced by women in Sub-Saharan Africa.
The audience, largely made up of women and young girls from different fields of endeavours, gathered to savour the scintillating atmosphere provided by a stage play to relive the memories of the Aba Women’s Riots of 1929, otherwise known as the Women’s War. The riots broke out as a result of restrictions and social exclusions women suffered during the British colonial administration.
Driven by frustration, women, particularly of Igbo extraction from the Bende District, Umuahia and other places in Eastern Nigeria, came out in their thousands and travelled to Oloko to stage a protest against the warrant chiefs, alleging restriction in the role of women in government. The protest also had women from Ibibio, Andoni, Ogoni, Bonny and Opobo ethnic groups.
Strangely, 91 years after the anti-colonial revolt organised by women to redress social, political and economic grievances, millions of girls in Nigeria are still facing oppression and exploitation, a sad development that is encouraged by out dated culture in certain regions, where women are treated as second class citizens.
Today, many young girls in rural Nigeria have been forced to become mothers and denied access to quality education and basic social amenities. These demeaning practices have eclipsed their chances of reaching the pinnacle of any career or vocation.
In an effort to balance the imbalance, several global bodies celebrate the IWD annually to emphasize the vital role women play in global peace and prosperity and the urgent need to close the social exclusion gap.
At the 2020 edition in Abuja, Head, European Union (EU) Delegation to Nigeria and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Ambassador Ketil Karlsen, led the EU to the event, while the United Nations (UN) Women Country Representative to Nigeria and ECOWAS, Comfort Lamptey, led the UN delegation. Nollywood Actress, Gloria Nobert-Young, led the casts in the stage play titled; “August Meeting”, organised by the EU that awed the audience.
At the end, many applauded the stage play as it perfectly depicted the Nigerian women’s age-long struggles against oppression. The play also provided the platform to amplify the need for women empowerment by discarding harmful practices and injurious ideologies that degrade rather than upgrade the value of women.
Karlsen said the fight for women’s fundamental human rights was one that had been going on for several decades, noting that the play aptly told a story of an event that took place in 1929.
She regretted that after almost a century the protest took place, not so much has changed in the struggle for women inclusion in the scheme of things, especially in Africa:
“So, making sure that we continue fighting for women everywhere, seeing that generation equality that this year’s International Women’s Day celebration is all about, seeing that materialising is really rightful.
“And in Nigeria, we have some significant challenges to overcome. Seeing more women participate in politics, seeing less gender-based violence, making sure that there is not early marriage for far too young girls in this country and this is a priority for the European Union.”
He said putting an end to gender inequality in which women get the same opportunities as men required all hands to be on deck, which was what the event reminded everyone of.
But for Comfort Lamptey of the UN, unity among women and forging a common purpose will assist in no small measure in achieving the set goals of women.
She said: “I think if there is any message that this play showed to us, it is really just another confirmation of the strength and the resilience of the women of Nigeria.
“We saw a situation where for more than 90 years ago, women actually came together and challenged the system. And actually, had some sacrifices. They made some lots of stuffs. In the end, they came out victorious and I think this story resonates very much today.”
Lamptey also said the only way that women could bring about the change that they need in terms of women’s political representation was if women came together and be united for a common purpose to help bring about the needed change.
Nobert-Young said: “This is like a call for women. It is to tell them that the major issue is themselves and they should sit down and think of how to better themselves.” Producer of the play, Chioma Onyenwe, said renewed talk about feminism and women’s rights necessitated the play.