GENDERING HISTORY AND GOVERNANCE IN
PRE-COLONIAL AND POST
A. A. JEKAYINFA
Department of Curriculum studies and Educational Technology
This paper analysed how the existing literature on Nigerian history has been gender blind and gender biased against females. Klienberg (1988) has pointed out how historical literature seem to lack awareness of the description of gender and how they tend to see gender as no other thing but male. The paper also highlights how governance in the pre-colonial Nigeria has been gender conscious and gender sensitive by involving the females in the various administrations but during the colonial and post independence periods, the female gender was marginalized. The paper however is of the opinion that unless Nigerian historians and policy makers are gender sensitive in their analysis, the contribution of the female population to development would remain invisible and by implication the overall development of the country would be hindered.
The place of females and their roles have appeared to be hidden from Nigerian history and existing historiographical framework. As Awe (1992) puts it: Our history has not been gender-sensitive and at the same time, our history to data has demonstrated neglect of female’s (sic) contributions to their societies”. This may perhaps be the reason why policies do not reflect a sense of historicity, that is, an attempt to reflect the changing conditions of females through the ages. Nigerian policies also appear to be unaware of modern efforts at integrating the females into their societies.
It is the submission of this paper
therefore that Nigerian historians have not adequately presented the
contributions of females to development processes in
(a) the concept of Gender; (b) the representation of Nigerian females in history;
(c) the extent of participation of Nigerian females in governance after independence; (d) the case for gendering history and governance for national development.
The contributions of females in the
developed countries of the world cannot be over-emphasised. Historians have agreed that the success of
the French revolution could not have been possible if not for the
“Citizenessess” who encouraged their men and even assisted them in fighting in
the barricaded streets of
The Concept of Gender
Gender is an analytical concept used to assess various forms of social relationships and inequality between male and female populations in any society. Often, the concepts of sex and gender are misinterpreted to mean the same thing. Sex is connected with biology and every society uses it as one criterion for describing gender.
Brett (1989) has argued that the gender identity of men and women in any given society is socially and psychologically determined. This means that gender is also historically and culturally determined. In determining gender, social and cultural perceptions of masculine and feminine traits and roles must be considered. Gender is learnt through a process of Socialisation and through the culture of the particular society concerned. An important criterion used by every society to describe gender is biological sex. Gender relations are not universal so, it is not possible to make assumptions. Gender relations are culture and context specific which can and do change. Gender relations can be resistant to change and women are often subordinate in gender relations.
Representation of Nigerian Females in History:
The work of Imam (1988) on the “Presentation of African female (sic) in historical writings” summarises how they have been represented in Nigerian history. According to her, the presentation of African female in historical writings has been characterized by four main approaches: (i) First and most obvious is that females have simply not been presented at all; (ii) female have been seen as inferior and subordinate to males; (iii) females have been seen as playing equal and complementary roles to those of male and (iv) the emerging movement towards seeing females as active agents in historical processes.
Some scholars have corroborated the fact that female have been underrepresented or even not represented at all in historiographical frameworks. For example, it has been observed by Klienberg (1988) that:
It is one of the scandals of the world in which we
live that female have been systematically omitted
from accounts of the past, indeed it warps
history by making it seem as though only male
have participated in events though worthy of
preservation and by misrepresenting what actually
happened (pg. 1).
Nigerian historians are guilty of
the above scandal. They have tended to
perpetuate in their writings, the masculine-centred view of history. For example, Awe (1992) opined that many
people believed that it is the male (sic) who have, by and large, been
responsible for the doing and writing of history, it is their definition of the
legitimate historical project which has prevailed… “Thus the eighth volume of
General History of
It can then be concluded from what
have been written above that the conventional approach to the study of history
The Extent of Participation of Nigerian
Females in Governance Before
Before independence, females played
prominent roles in governance in the different societies in
In the Hausa land for example,
females had a very high status before the advent of colonial rule. This is because, the Hausa people belonged to
a civilization characterised by matrilineal succession in the ruling class and
the females held high political offices.
For example, the 15th century History of Zaria witnessed the
rule of Queen Amina who succeeded her father and conquered all the towns around
Zamfara and Nupe and dominated these regions for 34 years. She also introduced fortifications into the
Hausa cities during her time (Palmer 1928 – pg 9). After the Fulani conquest of
the Hausa land, in the early 19th Century, Islam started to expand,
this changed the position of the females in the Hausa community. The institution of purdah spread from the
nobles to the peasants in the rural areas.
This reduced the participation of females in Hausa politics during the
colonial period. However, because
Southern Nigerian females, (Yoruba and Edo including Muslims did not practice
seclusion, they moved freely and controlled the market politics among the
In the Oyo Empire, for example, the system of government was hierarchical and it was based on the system of checks and balances so that no king or chief could exercise more power than he traditionally deserved. The females were not excluded in the government of the empire their position were very sensitive and they performed important roles. They have positions such as Iya Oba, Iya Kere, Iyalagbon, Iya Mode and Iya Lode.
The Alafin’s many wives acted as the “eyes” and “ears” of the king. They were his secret service in the cause of their trading activities and they contributed to the smooth running of the palace. The Iya Oba was the king’s official mother who gave her advice and words of wisdom to the king. The Iya Kere wielded the greater power and authority in the palace. She was the custodian of the palace treasury including Royal insignia and the King’s paraphenalia of office. She was also responsible for crowing the king in the coronation ceremony. Her position was of great political significance because she could sabotage any of the Oba’s public appearance by refusing to allow him the use of garments of office (Afonja, 1996).
The Iya-lagbon – the mother of the Crown prince wielded great authority and ruled over a part of the capital city. The Iyalode was responsible for the Oba’s spiritual well being. The Iyalode looked after the women’s trading interests. These groups of women formed effective groups of spokes women for political stability and humane rule as well as for the interest of females at the highest political level in the kingdom. The high socio-political status of females in traditional Yoruba society was also evident among the Edos (Afonja, 1996).
The Igbo who lived in the modern
With continued growth of party politics in the 1950s, Yoruba females became active politically, organizing female’s wing of political parties. Each of these female’s wing had their party leaders who mobilized them for campaigns to assist male leaders. Examples of such party leaders were late Mrs. Oredola Fadoju (Akure). Mrs. Esther Adejuwon (Akure) Mrs. Fabunmi (Efon Alaye) and Madam Jane Dago (Ikare).
Participation of Nigerian Females in
The period under discussion
witnessed two important factors which were crucial to female’s access to power
and participation in decision making. The first factor is that the period
witnessed the alternation of political power between the civilian and military
classes. The second crucial factor is the character of civilian and military
regimes. Theoretically, civilian regimes
are democratic regimes while military rule is authoritarian. As authoritarian as it may be, however,
military regimes in
During the first Republic, 1960 to 1966, very few females contested for election and none won a seat in the House of Representatives. Therefore, there was no female in the Federal Cabinet. One female was appointed to the Senate in 1960, the second one was appointed in 1964. In the 1961 regional elections, three females were elected to the Eastern House of Assembly. There were no female Ministers in the regional houses.
During the Military regime of Major General Aguyi Ironsi, females did not occupy any position. During the time of Lt. General Yakubu Gowon, there were no females in the cabinets. By 1975, the third military coup led by General Murtala Mohammed occurred followed by the aborted coup which brought in Colonel Olusegun Obasanjo into power. During the time, although the policy of appointing civilian ministers and commissioners at the Federal and State levels respectively continued, the positions of females in decision making were greatly under represented. During the second republic, 1979 – 1983, there was only one female senator out of 57 senate members and eleven female members out of 445 members of the Federal House of representative. Six females were however, appointed into ministerial posts. Although females featured progressively in decision making structures during this period, they were nonetheless greatly under represented in appointed positions relative to males. For example, of the 50 members of the Constitution, Drafting committee which produced the 1976 constitution, none was a female (Afonja, 1996).
The year 1985 marked the end of United Nations Decade for females (sic). But for the Nigerian females, 1985 would go down as the beginning of an unprecedented upsurge in the involvement of females in all facets of national development. Many factors are responsible for this, first, 1985 witnessed the adoption, by consensus, of the Nairobi Forward Looking Strategies (NFLS) for the Advancement of women. The NFLS set forth concrete measures to overcome the obstacles to achieving the goals and objectives of the United Nations Decade for the advancement of women.
The Case for Gendering History and Governance For National Development
Zeleza (1993) stated categorically that: it is no longer permissible
to write history as his story. It is gradually becoming and must
become our story… We need to uncover and reconstruct women’s
lives, contributions and struggles. The concept and methodologies
we use must constantly be interrogated so that they can be stripped
of their patriarchal and sexist prejudices which help to envelope
female’s work and activities, concerns and values, lives and struggles
in cloak of invisibility (Pg. 99).
The study of gender relations and
the power of females is central to an evaluation of development efforts not
Ezumah (1991) has also observed that labour force statistics and national accounting systems have underestimated female’s contribution to economic development partly because of the fact that economic measures of labour force participation such as G.N.P. tend to focus on goods and services that occur in the exchange market (where most females do not participate) and partly because it is difficult to measure female’s work because they tend to involve in multiple occupations that are ‘partial’, ‘private’ and ‘voluntary’.
There is a wide gap between female’s high but unrecongised economic participation and their low political and social power. This tends to make historians and development planners to focus more on the most vocal political activist in our society (male) than female. Since development has come to be conceived among other things as that which has to do with human resources, and since it is a process that should involve all members of a society, it is imperative that historians should apply gender analysis in their work. They should endeavour to make female visible enough as male in their writing. By examining male’s and female’s roles, a greater understanding of their needs and involvement in power and decision making will be reached.
If history should be relevant to development planning, it has to be gender aware. Therefore, it is important that historians and development planners should disaggregate households and families within communities on the basis of gender i.e identifying men and women; boys and girls. The paper is not calling for the reversal of gender roles. It is also not opposing the masculine gender, neither does it intends to divide the genders. It is the purpose of the paper to call on historian and policy makers to make use of gender analysis in dealing with issues so that true development will be attainable. What gender analysis intends to achieve has been aptly described by Assie – Lumumba (1991) when he commented that:
The objective in a gender – focused analysis or
policy is not for female to conquer the social
space that has been organized and controlled by
male for male dominion, but to acknowledge
and value a special feminine space with its intrinsic
value, and to promote the needed quality of opportunity
and human worth for men and women, for boys and girls
in every sphere of society (pg. 13).
From the above anlaysis, the paper recommends that a gender focused development policy should be pursued. This will not only mean a recognition of past contributions and achievements of females in the socio-historical process, but also a solid foundation for constructive interaction and participation of male and female in history and government. This will lead to sustainable development.
The existing non-governmental
organizations which have interests of females as their priorities should assist
in putting more pressures on the government to appoint more female in to
political posts. They should also serve
as good leadership training grounds for aspiring female politicians. Also, some United Nations Agencies like
UNIFEM should continue in giving support to the writings on advisery and
decision making bodies to ensure that such criteria do not discriminate against
females. Females in
There is the need for a change in
the existing culture, that is, the culture of domination and exploitation of
female gender. Official documents such
as the census reports need to be reviewed and redefined with respect to terms
like economic activity, household worker and head of household since these
terms have made invisible the significant contribution of females to
development processes in
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by Friedrich Ebert Foundation on popular participation in governance held
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Brett, A. (1989). “Why Gender is a Development issue” in Wallance, T. and Candida (eds). Changing Perceptions’ Writings on Gender and Development. Ottawa Publishign Co.
Ezumah, N. N. (1991). “Woman in African Development”.
Imam, A. M. (1988). “The Presentation of African Women in Historical Writings” History: Changing Perceptions of the Role of Women in Politics and Soceity BERGUNESCO.
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