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New dawn in Okpogho as monarch appoints women into cabinet

….Says they are not permitted to climb palm tree, break kola nut just yet 

From Petrus Obi, Enugu

In the traditional Igbo society, women were meant to be seen, not to be heard. Thanks to His Royal Highness, Igwe Chimereze Linus-Pius of Okpogho Kingdom in Ezzeagu Local Government Area of Enugu State, that time now seems to belong to the past.

With an executive fiat he has turned that age-long unwritten rule upside down by not only bringing women into his cabinet but by also allotting some prominent roles to them. Times have, indeed, changed.

According to him, before now, women in his kingdom had no say in the community affairs, but having come in contact with the “Voices of Change”, a gender equality advocacy being promoted by the United Kingdom-based Department For International Development (DFID), he decided to dance to their tune. Women, he says, can now speak for themselves.

“I have brought them into the cabinet and made the men to believe in what they can offer; and presently, they are championing development programmes in my community,” he told Oriental News. But as you were wondering how diehard male chauvinists among the Igbo would receive the news, his voice cuts through your thoughts. “It sounds strange, but it shouldn’t sound so much strange if we all understand what the cabinet is supposed to do,” he said. “The cabinet is not just there to organize masquerades and all that. These days in Igbo land the traditional stool works in tandem with the town unions to develop their communities. So, the women should not be excluded; they have endowments from God that can be harnessed in developing the community.”

The traditional ruler who was among hundreds of people that testified on the impact of the DFID-funded “Voices for Change” programme in Enugu noted, that there are still no-go areas for women in the Igbo society such as climbing of palm trees, breaking of kola nuts and active involvement in masquerades activities, pointing out that “the Igbo man would resist that to the last but to tap their natural endowments to develop the community there is nothing wrong with that.”

In his remark, the Deputy Speaker, Enugu State House of Assembly, Hon Donatus Uzoagbado, urged the menfolk   in Igboland not to see the change being advocated for as a threat.

“I don’t think this change will bring about a man not being a man, or a woman now marrying a man here in Nigeria,” he explains. “No, what it means is, let there be equal opportunities in the social, cultural, religious things in our society. And while they are advocating for women, they should also advocate for men. If they continue to talk about women alone, the men will feel threatened.”

Also speaking at a winding-up forum for the five-year programme, the state Commissioner for Gender Affairs and Social Development, Princess Peace Nnaji, described the mood as one of sadness and joy.

“Joy because of the impact and successes the programme recorded, and sadness because everything that has a beginning must certainly have an end,” she told Oriental News. “As one that is aimed at projecting positive societal beliefs, Voices for Change sought to create a new Nigeria for girls, women, boys and men by inspiring new ways of thinking and behaving and widely promoting those new ways for others to adopt.”

Expatiating on the vision of the programme, the deputy team leader, Oiza Nicholson, noted that the organization is a movement for gender equality in Enugu State; an ideal that has already been imbibed by all the participants; men’s network that the organisaton has been working with, traditional and religious leaders, students and people generally.

“We are mainly facilitators,” he told the audience. “The decision whether to take it further is that of the people of Enugu State. It’s a movement that is open to all; anybody that believes in gender and equal opportunities for men and women is welcome to join the movement.” 

Wunmi Asubiaro-Dada, a gender advocate, urged concerned citizens of Enugu State to come together, discuss issues that are still pending and agree on how to address them. 

“For instance, there are perceptions that women should not participate in politics, that women in politics are not responsible but these are wrong,” she remarked. “Some of these perceptions still affect some participation because the women would want to pull back, they would not want to participate in politics. The effect is that you are only having one perspective on the table when decisions are being taken in the state.” 

She also talked about physical, emotional and sexual violence against women, noting that, “you find girl children being violated; some of them raped, some beaten, and some denied their rights to education. This violence is gender-based; you find that the person perpetuating the violence knows that these girls or women cannot fight back or are not expected to fight back.”

She disclosed it is for such issues that the movement was formed.  “We have gender advocates themselves, religious, traditional rulers, students as members. We have members of the civil society, we have people from professional bodies, associations like market women association, Umuada, people who are concerned about the state of things in Enugu society and they have come together to say enough is enough, to speak with one voice, to begin to demand for equity in the state.”

What Voices for Change has done is to provide an  avenue for the first meeting, she said. “Once the movement takes off they won’t even need to meet in a hall before they address issues,” she informed. “It will just be a matter of if they heard of a woman raped somewhere, they send messages to themselves and go as a delegation to the head of that community where the woman was raped and let them know that they stand by the woman, that they want justice to be done, they want the perpetrator to be taken to court.”

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