African Culture and the Status of Women: The Yoruba Example

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 by O.O. Familusi, Ph.D. fameofame@yahoo.com Department of Religious Studies, University of Ibadan, Ibadan, Nigeria

Abstract

Issues relating to the rights of women across the globe are a major focus of contemporary scholarship. Quest for women emancipation has been on the increase in religious, political and economic spheres. This is premised on the fact that women are always at the receiving end. This however has been discovered not to be true in its entirety as women in every society enjoy some inalienable privileges. This paper therefore discusses the status of Yoruba women in traditional Africa from a holistic perspective, with emphasis on how culture has impacted negatively on their well-being, although there are benefits derived from their status in society. Thus, it recommended that cultural practices that are harmful to women should be discarded, while caution must be exercised in the quest for the liberation of women so that African cultural values can be retained, and thus not destroyed under the guise of civilization.

Key words: Africa, culture, Women’s right, Yoruba

Introduction

Discourse on the rights of women in Africa has been a major focus of contemporary scholarship in Africa. Many scholars of feminist studies have been largely unanimous that aspects of African culture are hostile to women, hence the need for a paradigm shift so that the supposed hitherto marginalized woman will be emancipated, this paper discusses the right of African women in a Yoruba context with emphasis placed on two divides of culture as possible agents of women oppression and therefore, its relevance in promoting rights of women. Hence, this is a way of correcting misconception about culture in relation to the gender question.

Culture has been variously defined; it is understood as a way of life of a people. Thus, culture is made up of the customs, traditions, beliefs, behaviour, dress, language, works of art and craft, attitude to life among others, which varies from society to society and suggests that cultural values are largely relative. And similarly, E.B. Tylor has acceptingly defined culture as “That complex whole, which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom and any other capabilities and habit acquired by man as a member of society”. (Edo 2005:2) The Woman in Yoruba Culture

The Yoruba people predominantly belong to the Oyo, Ogun, Ondo, Osun, Ekiti and Lagos States. They are equally form parts of Edo, Kwara and Kogi states; (Awolalu and Dopamu1979:3) and some parts of Republic of Benin and Togo.The question of their origin is debatable and in the present state of knowledge, not much is categorically known about it. (Idowu 1996:4) However, two different answers are found in oral traditions. The first holds that their founding fathers were immigrants from a northern source variously identified as Egyppt, Meroe,Yemen or Arabia while it is claimed in the second body of traditions that Ile-Ife was the first habitable place created on earth, from which all earthly creation began. For this reason, Ile-Ife is referred to as the cradle of the Yoruba race. (Akintoye2004:1) In this paper, emphasis is on the Yoruba people of Nigeria. The Yoruba nation like many other African societies is essentially patriarchal; hence men are understood to be more privileged than women. Such a society is described by (Ubrurhe 1999:82) as that which is characterized by male super ordination and female subordination. Men show superiority over their women counterparts, who are usually relegated to the background. Therefore, socially, politically, economically and religiously women are to a very large extent, disadvantaged since decision were taken mostly by the males. This has consistently manifested in various way as shall be established in this section. According to Adetunji, (2001 :106) the cultural and gender problem, which African women have been facing dates back to their birth as in many homes the birth of a baby girl does not receive the kind of enthusiastic reception that is usually given to that of a baby boy. Thus if somebody is treated with inferiority right from birth, it may be difficult for such a person not to be perpetually caught in the web of such a treatment. Olabode (2009:136) is also affirmative that:

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