By Ken Meju
Customs especially cultural customs can be derogatory and discriminatory against women. They are often seen as tools set by society to sharpen the arsenals of tradition, which is nothing short of established practices of a locality.
Though established for both men and women, its lopsided effect is greater on women. Most traditions are tailored to adorn the woman with the garment of torture and shame, regardless of her rights and wishes. It is a glaring assertion that custom rites over-ride the rights of the woman in a deeply male dominated world, and for this reason, women are subjected to harmful practices that have traumatized them greatly.It does not only spell out agony but continuously, has humiliated her in an attempt to keep her humble.
Therefore, being as old as creation, it is assumed that people should be custom compliant and not complainants and thus, must shut their traps. So with its inherent different faces, these discriminating and humiliating rites thrive without questioning, especially, in this part of the Third World.
Tradition has no moral balance. It turns the lens of equity on the back to view its practice. It shows great imbalance of justice, and therefore is a poor lawyer that cannot defend justice. Yes it does not allow room for defense other than offence against a fragile and abused sector while it is a grand racist being discriminatory and dehumanizing on the woman.
It has an evil voice that speaks boldly, spilling out words that are ungoldly and unjust. It injures and ostracizes both the dignity and personality of the woman.
Looking at cultures from the South South region of this country especially Rivers State, in some areas at the demise of the husband, his wife is made to drink water used in washing the corpse and sleep on the same bed with the corpse all in the bid to prove her innocence, thus subjecting her to acts inimical to her body and health.
The woman here has been dehumanized for no fault of hers whereas should it be the other way round, the husband would walk tall and unacussed, even if there was cause to do so.
A woman could be stripped naked during any period as part of burial rites or forced to sit on broken coconut parts or any harmful object that may pierce or occasion injury to her body without anyone caring.
Most women are made to shave the hair of any part of their body, sit on the floor, weep and wail loudly at guided intervals and even be forced to remarry an in-law or stepson as demanded by custom or be ostracized by custom on refusal to heed or comply.
Here too, it could be seen that custom does not have the feelings of women at heart. It’s insensitivity has helped to subject the woman to great torture, trauma and pains, thereby reducing woman to state of pauper being ratted of her right, choice and control.
The fact is that Nigerian women have been culturally impoverished by the tenets of tradition. Yes, they have been dehumanized and debased by the acts of men.The synergy and harmony of life has been truncated by imputes of custom thereby causing social disharmony that often times reduces the longevity in women whose life expectancy has been subjected to much anxiety.
In most cases they are denied what is due them as regards property of their husband backed by derogatory practices like being remanded in seclusion after the death of a husband, having to vacate the matrimonial home on the ground that she has no children and many more other factors.
What is needed are laws to check these obnoxious acts so as to tear off this garment of woe on woman as well as convicting anyone who contravenes the law in the name of tradition like what the Rivers State government has done on “Dehumanized and Harmful Traditional Practice Law (No. 2 of 2005) and “Guide to the use of the Law Protecting Women’s Human Right.
This must be sought, read and digested by women to know their rights within the ambit of the law. The ministry of Women Affairs and women empowerment organisations like FIDA, WRAPA and Kebetkache must continue to teach women their rights and all laws including the Violence Against Persons Prohibition, VAPP Law signed by Dr Goodluck Jonathan shortly before he left office as president in 2015. The National Orientation Agency, NOA has a serious job to do here to take the message of ending unfriendly gender biased traditions in our communities and letting the traditional rulers and elders know that things are changing so everybody needs to flow with the tide or face the law. It is important that we remember that the woman is mother, sister, aunty, daughter to some men, so they need to be treated with respect.
*Ken Meju is a Port Harcourt based journalist
#Gender and Accountability