The Federal Government has congratulated Mo Abudu, Chimamanda Adichie and Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde, on the honours recently bestowed on them on the global stage. He called them great ambassadors of Nigeria. Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said the three honourees are iconic women in the Creative Industry, who have brought great honour, not…
A few weeks ago, the University of Lagos Women Society (ULWS) rolled out the drums to celebrate 50 years of its existence. One of the highlights of the celebration was the public presentation of the book, which documents the uncommon impact the society has made in the life of the University of Lagos.
The story of the University of ULWS is one of humble beginning. A few years after the establishment of the University of Lagos in 1962, some young women who dared to think came up with an idea that was uncommon at the time – that of the formation of a women’s society whose objectives, among others, were to promote goodwill and understanding among members of the university community and provide social, recreational and educational facilities for children and members of the university community. Significantly, this idea was to crystallise into ULWS with its formalisation in 1967. The new set-up brought about the birth of a nursery school that would take care of the children of staff members while they were at work . On assumption of a formal status, the society began to expand its objectives and in no time, it included the administration of ULWS Nursery School as one of its primary objectives. Over time, the objectives of the society have continued to expand. Apart from the nursery school whose purpose was to take some stress off the young families that populated the university community at inception, the ULWS has also established a primary school. This was in 2002. Fifty years down the line, the society has left a bold imprint on the sands of the University of Lagos. If the history of the university is to be written today, the ULWS will occupy a pride of place in the scheme of things.
It is gratifying to note that in a male-dominated society such as ours, the women who have been behind the ULWS did not toe the line of least resistance. They did not settle for the easy way out. Rather, they broke loose from the shackles of societal and institutional inhibitions, which were commonplace at the time. Like all human endeavours, the success that we are celebrating today did not come by sudden flight. It is a product of many years of patience, perseverance, commitment, doggedness and never-say-die disposition. Brushing aside all the inhibitions and hangups that came their way, the women trudged on like Spartans. Fifty years after, the society has cause to celebrate. A bright, new dawn is here and everyone who has played a role in this triumphal journey has a good reason to rejoice and make merry.
But the success story that is the University of Lagos Women Society can hardly be told without taking recourse to the age-old wars, which women the world over have had to wage in their quest to hold their own. It is a well known fact that the story of women has always been one of emancipation. Societies are structured in a way that women must struggle to find their face and voice and, where they surmount this, aspire to climb the social ladder.
In fact, the story of women has always been one of historical controversy. The woman has been perceived in terms of stereotypes, which mark her out as a special, not well-understood category of human kind. Judgements about her character have also been wholly dependent on sexual motives, which are accepted as axiomatic. Owing to this gender-based portrayal, it has been convenient, especially in male circles, to depict her image in an unenviable light.
In 17th Century America, for instance, patriarchy played a dominant role in male-female dichotomy. To emphasise the maleness of the patriarch, the perfect wife was expected to be submissive, weak and dependent. Men as patriarchs are to be obeyed by wives, children and slaves. Patriarchy also recognised that the truly civilised lady did not work, for work was demeaning. The woman should be divested of all work. Only then could she emerge as completely helpless, a totally dependent being whose identity and worth flow from the male patriarch. Against the background of this dichotomy, the woman was, at best, assigned the role of wife and mother.
Over time, women began to raise objections against the negative image with which they were associated. If we take another recourse to the American society, we will readily see that the 1830s witnessed the struggle for the battle of images, especially between black women and writers of pro-slavery South. It was in this era that black women activists like Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Ida Wells, Maya Angelou, Zora Neale Hurston, Gwendolyn Brooks, Margaret Walker, among others, came to the fore. They rose against the age-long attempt, especially in white circles, to keep the woman at the lowest rung of the ladder in the Great Chain of Beings. In their rejection of this unenviable role assigned to them, their quest for authentic womanhood within the cultural value-judgements of their communities began. It was also in the face of this mental assault on womanhood that suffragettes like Mary Wollstonecraft, an English feminist writer, philosopher and advocate of women’s rights, came to limelight. Her seminal book, “A Vindication of the Rights of Women”, remains a reference material on gender issues.
It is worthy of note that the ULWS example draws strength and impetus from what obtained in civilised climes. The society is a product of club movement. It is to be recalled that in their crusade for justice, black women in America were propelled to the next stage of their political development through the creation of black women’s organisations. In 1895, for instance, Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin issued a call for a national convention in Boston, Massachusetts. In July of that year, 100 women from 10 states met to formulate plans for a national convention. After meeting for three days, the women announced the birth of the National Federation of Afro-American Women. Then, by 1896, the Federation and the National League for Coloured Women, which had earlier been formed merged to become the National Association of Coloured Women (NACW). At the formation of NACW, St. Pierre Ruffin gleefully announced that “our women’s movement is woman’s movement in that it is led and directed by women.” This is very true of ULWS. The society is peculiarly a women’s movement. Yet, this has not hampered its activities in any way. Just as the Coloured women in America, according to Ruffin, were “coming to the forefront” through the formation of NACW, our women in this great citadel of learning are at the frontline through the formation of ULWS.
The reality of the situation here is that women must be involved in working for and uplifting the society in which they live. They must not be passive or docile. If the women who conceived and nurtured ULWS to fruition were doclie, we will not be celebrating this success story today. The past presidents, members, teachers and schoolchildren, who have told the story of their involvement with ULWS would have had no worthy story to tell.