Journal of Educational Theory and Practice. 5 (1&2), 1999.




A.   A. Jekayinfa

Department of Curriculum Studies and Educational Technology,

University of Ilorin




This paper has embarked on a major discussion of the historical role and contribution of the Nigerian women in culture and to the various sectors of the economy, the requirements for advancement and constraints to greater developments, the paper points out the detrimental effects which colonialism have had on the social, political, cultural and economic status of the Nigerian women, The paper also highlights the fact that in spite of the overwhelming restrictions on the Nigerian women, they have tremendous achievements in different parts of the country in participating so remarkably in various fields of developments particularly in agriculture and in business. The paper made mention of the effects which the Better Life and Family Support Programmes had on the contribution of women to national development. It also recognizes the fact that women have considerable potential more than the role they are presently playing in National development. It made some recommendations which can help to tap their (women) resources in order to ensure their optimal performance in national development


Women are at the heart of development as they control most of the non monetary economy (subsistence, agriculture, bearing children, domestic labour etc.) and play an important role in the monetary economy (trading, wage labour, employment, etc (Yawa, 1995). Everywhere in the world, women work both around the home and outside the home. The most topical issue in international developmental programme is women.

The woman as a person is an agent of reproduction of life itself. This places her in the position of the life blood of the entire humanity. She is the first teacher, the sustained and maintainer of the home, the peace maker, the symbol of beauty and major molder of the character of the child. She is a mother of the human race. As mothers and wives, women do exert considerable impact on the productivity of male workers. As workers in their own rights, they can conveniently be linked to the rejected stone in the Bible which has become the cornerstone of the house. By their sheer psychological, physiological and intellectual make up, they do perform more than mere complimentary roles in the production process (Jeminiwa, 1995).

Most of these contributions by women had not been recognized until recently when the United Nations declared the Decade for Women (1976-1985) making it mandatory on governments to focus on issue of women as an integral component of national development. In 1979, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women Consequently, subsequent conferences on women were held in Copenhagen, Denmark 1980, Nairobi in kenya 1985 and Benjing in China 1995 However, an international news magazines 'Africa Today" reported in July 1995 that the full implementation of all the strategies and recommendations of the various conferences on women issues had still not been achieved and enthusiasm was wanning. According to the magazine, the UN itself reported that only six out of the 184 ambassadors to UN are women and only four out of the 32 UN specialized agencies and programmes are headed by women.

Coming home in Nigeria, the 1995 constitutional conference in Nigeria had only eight women out of a total of 369 delegates. Much of women's work remains invisible, unremunerated and unrecognized. But women are now challenging the status quo. Mechanisms to right the so called "Cultures wrong" are being put in place. Women's voices are now being heard clamoring for an improvement in their socio-economic status and for the recognition of their immense contributions to national development (Amah, 1995).

It is the purpose of this paper therefore to highlight the role of women particularly the Nigerian women in culture and national development.

The Role of Nigerian Women in Culture

    The concept of culture has been defined in various ways. These various definitions range from its simplistic forms to its complex forms.  Culture is being universally defined and understood as the totality of ways of life of a people or a society. Sociologists, anthropologists and historians have offered a variety of meanings of culture and the traits inherent in it. These and burial ceremony, ethics and of course including philosophy of life (CESSAC 1986).

Clyde (1951) opined that culture represents the distinctive way of life of a group of people. An American anthologist, Harrries (1971) defines cultures as abstraction that summaries the pattern ways in which the member of a population thinks, feel and behave. Asimalafe (1983) refused to accept Harries definition in  its totality but rather defined culture as"the total ways of life of a people that help to think, promote, implement, shape and predict their destiny”

Looking at the common thing in all these various definitions, Onwuejeogwu (1994) sees culture as all material objects made by man ranging from stone implement to atomic energy; and all non-material  things thought out and institutionalized by man ranging from values, norms to ideas like  marriage, economy, politics, religion, music, drama dance and language. The material and non material forms according to him interact and interweave to form new complete forms. In the context of this paper", culture is defined as all the historically created designed to living, explicit and implicit, rational, irrational and non-rational which exist at any given time as potential guides for the behaviour of man. (Olorunnipa 1992), Culture is learned and shared, culture is transmitted from generation to generation and in this process, culture is modified, renewed or dropped. It is both static and dynamic.

Culture varies widely with respect to the roles they assigned to different sexes. While one job may be regarded as a man's job in one society, it may be regarded as women's job is another. This division Is with the exception of child bearing. Child bearing is one constant factor that determines the division of labour in pre-industrial societies. Because of child-bearing, women are less mobile and therefore send to fill roles which they can perform closer to their houses such as house keeping, weaving, midwifery and processing of food.

In examining women in culture, there is the need to develop them so as to be able to keep pace with developments in the Nigerian socio-economic scene. Apart from the physical attractions, women are indispensable at home not only in the domestic work they do, but also in the taking care of the children. According to Oyesakin (1982) women perform certain functions that make for development they bear and take care of the children, they take care of the home and economically they are helping hands to man. For example in Yorubaland, women sell what the man produces and provide the rescue when he is in financial difficulty.

Denise (1971) describes the roles and duties of women in the family as wives, mothers and village politicians. He was of the opinion that women function in various capacities ranging from monarchs and warriors to-founders of nations states.  According to Okonjo (1983), women's major roles in traditional Igbo society were played in the home as wife and mother. Her husband did "men's work" which entails clearing the bush and planting yam to provide the family with enough yams until the next planting season, while the women planted crops like pepper, okro etc. Women made mats, pottery and wove clothes; women processed palm –oil, palm kernels and market them. According to Okono (1983), it is a punishment to deprive a woman opportunity of attending the market. Levin (1965) describes the function which a market fulfills in the life of the Igbo women when she says -it is the battle field, their opportunity, their channel of expression, it is their club and theatre, their news- paper and their post office.  Looking at this crucial role of women in culture, one can assume that, if the role is not properly learned, the national development we are expecting may not be forthcoming. Women are the main custodian of social, cultural and rudimental values of a society This custodian role of women has been threatened by colonialism, modern technology and advent of Western Education where women are grossly under privileged

The Issue of Gender In National Development

Development means different things to different people. Mabogunje (1980) identifies them to be economic, growth, modernization distributive justice, socio-economic transformation and spatial reorganization. Some people however stressed material prosperity as the ultimate objectives of development efforts. For example, Rogers (1976) describes development as a type of social change in which new ideas are introduced within a social system to produce higher per capital incomes and levels of living through more production, methods and improved social organizations

Rogers (1980) believed that development should mean "a widely participatory process of social changes in society intended to bring about social and material advancement (including greater equality, freedom and other valued qualities) for the majority of people through gaining control over their environment". Murrel, (1992) has claimed that women predominate among the poor in the world today and they are more in the rural areas. Their annual incomes throughout the world have declined so sharply in recent years that they had fallen below poverty line.

Rural women according to Jeminiwa (1995), are getting poorer and further marginalized both in the utilization of available resources and access to development resources. Although, male chauvinists may be right in saying that women are affected by poverty, it is clear to the most simplistic analyst that women are far more disadvantaged and more vulnerable. The UNDP report (1990), claimed that majority of African women still work for between 14-18 hours per day and produce between 50-80 percent of Sub-Sahara Africa's food, fetch water, gather firewood, and care for the family In Nigeria, according to ijere (1991), women form over half of the rural population and it is estimated that 80 percent of rural labour force is provided by women. Another estimate by the UNDP claims that about one third of all African households are headed by women.

In terms of sectional allocation, agriculture appears to be the occupation of 70.3 per cent of Nigeria rural women. Yet it is known that agriculture has the largest chunk of the poor for women, the poverty is compounded by the fact that only 8 percent of women hold title to the land they work on (UNFPA, 1992). In the education sector, women also fare worse than men. For example, 46.3 percent of female world wide are considered illiterate (UNFPA, 1993), in Nigeria, the percentage of women-illiterates is 67 percent.

Education brings benefits to the educated in the forms of access to information and more economic and political influence. Education can make women gain more authority in the home and greater control over resources as a prelude to having more say in family decision. Education is required for skill's acquisition and consequently to increase the competitiveness of women. Low education therefore generally limits the upward mobility of Nigerian women.

The data enumerated so far are mere tips of the ice berg and seem to suggest that women are grossly disadvantaged. This therefore raises the issue of women participation in development process. If development is about people and there are evidences that a group of those people are disadvantaged, it has implications about their level and degree of participation. But one should identify female’s different profession so that appropriate clues to reality can be provided.

Arnstein (1969) in her popular 'ladder of citizen participation" has provided a useful tool. She identifies various steps of participation from informing and incorporating their needs into national development programmes or are they in full control of their situations? National development is about human beings the enablement of blooming of the creative capabilities, irrespective of sex. Development starts with people irrespective of sex and addresses the issues of the orientation, organization, values, self reliance, self esteem and discipline and proceeds to the production and utilization of material endowments for improved and sustainable quality of life

Colonialism and its effects on Women Participation in Development Process in Nigeria

 Nigeria's association with the British as its colonizers has left an indelible mark on the socio-cultural attitudes and patterns of behaviour of its citizens. As regards women, Nigerian men have carefully selected and interpret from the British, a model that relegates women to the kitchen thus destroying the indigenous courage and capabilities displayed by their great grand mothers in service to their communities. (Dadirep 1995).

Coming from a background where a woman's place was in kitchen, the colonial masters and administrations thought it strange to find the African woman involved in substantial economic and political activities outside the home (kitchen). According to Dadirep (1995) the naturalistic movements of the period in England in the 18th and 19th centuries re-emphasized the fact that the physiology of women naturally made them timid, feeble and unable to think because they hold 'smaller' brains than men. In view of this, women naturally need the protection of a man with powers and the brains. Colonialism led to the changing roles of women. In his paper, "Urbanisation and social change, Mabogunje (1969) argued that the "PULL" factor and the opportunities offer by the new cities induced the limited opportunities of the country side. The movement to the city results in discontinuity with the role of women in traditional setting. One can then rightly say that colonialism disrupted the internal cohesion and harmony of African Societies. It resulted in an uphill of the cultural content of the Nigeria society. Colonialism raped the Nigerian Society and imported its own concepts of culture. The African culture and that of Nigeria in particular at the time of Colonialism had lost its functional role. It is no more the basis by which the individual including women can determine his/her relationship vis-à-vis his or her fellow human being and the society at large. The Nigeria value system during this period was modified and imported ones were introduced. The Nigeria customs and traditions were  described as primitive. What operated then was just a position of two cultures with the foreign one, enjoying the privileged position by being the expression of the dominant political power. One then needs to ask the question that how can women in such a confused culture contribute positively to the national development?


Women and Development in Nigeria

Some people have identified some areas of development where women are active in Nigeria. Mabogunje (1991) identified the eight cardinal elements of sustainable development as they affect women, e.g. education, health, culture politics, economy, agriculture, enhanced environment, quality and peaceful co-existence.

Nigerian women take active part in agriculture. In a study of women's participation in agricultural production in Northern Nigeria's rural areas, Ahmed Ogungbile and Olukosi (1991), found that women were active participants in the process. According to them, about 90 percent of the women interviewed had farming as their main occupation (both arable and pastoral) including those in purdah. The general patrilineal system of inheritance enabled most women in Northern Nigeria to have access to land through their husbands who acquire it through inheritance

Women in this part of the country who had farms of their own had half the sizes of the men's farm. They planted the same type of crops like the men but they (women) were hardly physically involved in land preparation and molding but they were involved in fertilizer application, punting, thinning, weeding and harvesting.

In some parts of Nigeria e.g. the south eastern state however, women are involved in land preparation and moulding.   They have full control in their contribution to agricultural development. Though, there are traces of division of labour based on sex, the functions of women could not possibly be dispensed with if maximum production is to be attained

Nigeria Women and Informal Sector Activities

Perhaps the field where Nigerian women have excelled and where they have contributed immensely to National development is trading especially in the bulking, transportation, exchange and distribution of food stuff. According to Mabogunje (1991), all over Nigeria, especially in the southern parts, periodic markets are held every fourth, fifth or eight day where food stuff from farm is brought by rural women and sold to urban women. So regular and efficient has this process been that most urban Nigerians are not even aware of how foodstuff ends up in their kitchens. Indeed Jones (1969) commented that "If tropical markets for basic food-stuffs worked less well, we should probably know a great deal more about them

The same unobtrusive efficiency characterizes women's participation in the trade in imported food items and beverages. Women have also been prominent in Nigeria in the processing and public preparation of food items generally in various crafts and cottage industries and in the provision of various services such as hair dressing, laundry, restaurants and running of public drinking places (Mabounje 1991).

The Better life programme which was launched in 1987 as well as the Family Support programme of the Abacha administration did a lot to enhance women's participation in development process, in spite of their attendant circumstantial and congenital constraints, some specific achievements can be attributed to the programmes in some parts of Nigeria i.e.

1                      Many women co-operative societies and unions were formed and registered. These societies and unions were for all aspects of multi-purpose co-operative endeavours namely farming, fish smoking, gari processing, soya-drink production, thrift and credit.etc

2         Many women are deeply involved in

a)        Production of black soap;

b)        Production of honey;

c)        Approach of day care and primary schools;

d)    Organization of literacy classes;

   e)     Preservation of perishable food items;           

    f)     Promotion of EPI/ORT activities; and

(g)    Promotion of sanitation programmes

Role of Nigeria Women in Politics

Nigerian women played a vital role in politics during the pre-colonial era, African social system and the form of division of labour which existed. Nigerian women participated in politics and government through the institution of women chiefs, the authority of first born daughters and the age grades. According to Afonja (1996), the advent of colonialism disturbed the functioning of these traditional institutions, suppressing them and imposing alien systems through education, religion and other socio-cultural institutions. In pre-colonial Nigeria, women played prominent roles in politics and held important positions among the majority of ethnic groups, particularly among the Hausa, the Yoruba and the Igbo.In the Hausa society, the dominant people culturally belong to a civilization characterized by matrilineal succession in the ruling class, women held high political offices. A particular case in point was queen Amina of Zaria who succeeded her father’s throne and ruled for thirty-four years.

The Yoruba and Edo, were geographically grouped together from 1954-1963. Politics in these societies centered around the Oba with his capital and his palace. In the Oyo Empire, women were political activists in the Alafin’s palace. His many wives acted as his eyes and ears and as his secret service in the course of their trading activity.

Women who were  title holders like the lyalagbo, lyalode, lya kere contributed to the smooth functioning of the political machinery. They were responsible for the spiritual well being of the Oba in some parts of the capital city, being in charge of market places, taking custody of the palace treasures respectively. These group of women according to Afonja(1996), formed an effective group of spokes women for political stability and humane rule as well as for the interest of women at the highest political level in the kingdom. Their lives were bound with that of the ruling monarch and so, they were expected to depart to the land of the spirits in the event of his death.

The Edos also have a high socio-political system where the women were active. Among them was the lyeoba (Queen mother). After the Oba's ascension to the throne, she took part in the running of the affairs of the Benin Kingdom.   Unfortunately, the traditional phase in Yoruba and Edo political evolution ushered in by the imposition of the pax Britannica and British colonial rule, eliminated women from their exalted institutional position in traditional politics replacing the traditional political system with a western oriented system in which women had no place


In spite of the imposed constraints on the Nigerian women, there is overwhelming evidence from what have been discussed in this paper that they are formidable productive force and a store of incredibly human resources which are required for national development. They can dictate the pace and direction of the economy and society. Their sheer numerical strength is enough to jolt cynics. Their contribution cannot be discountenanced in house hold and national economies. The current role of women in national development is considerable but the potential is far more considerable.  In order to identify and tap these resources so as to ensure optimal performance in national development, efforts should be made for holistic development of women along the following lines.

(a)    Ensure major policy interventions to bring women's social status and   

        economic opportunities at par with those of men;

(b)    Shift emphasis in regional development efforts to the provision of infrastructures and location of production ventures in marginalized areas;

c)    Identification and removal of all appearances of discrimination based on   


d)    Special child care security/allowance should be put in place because           

a properly brought up child is an asset to the society and not to the        mother alone;

      e)   Converted efforts have to be made by women themselves to be heard, seen and involved in all ventures, including political ones because the best advocates for women emancipation must be women themselves;

      f)   Credit facilities that are commensurate with their properties within the

            population should made easily accessible to women;

      g)  Cottage economic activities that are socially acceptable and economically

           viable should identified and concerted efforts should be made to integrate

            such activities in to the purdan system to carry the women in purdan  

           along with development process; and

      h)  All plans for the achievement of the objective of women development

            progress should Meticulously designed and faithfully executed

       (Jeminiwa, 1995).



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