What Was Gender Equality in Nigeria Before the Intervention of the West?

The American Sociologist Thomas Sowell, in his book ‘Wealth, Poverty and Politics’ stated that: “A society which restrict the education or employment of women can forfeit half of the human capital potential of its own population.”

This reiterates the fact that gender equality is a global issue that requires urgent and collective action. The United Nations convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women defines gender equality as the equal rights, responsibilities and opportunities for all persons including women and girls. It also stated that gender equality does not mean that men and women become the same, but that rights, responsibilities and opportunities of individuals will not depend on whether they’re born male or female.

Gender equality is prevalent throughout human history and is not exclusive to one country or region. In Nigeria it is believed that gender equality is a western concept imposed on the country but looking a little deeper into the rich history that embraces gender balance will help debunk these claims.

Women and girls have long been recognised and considered as equal to men in Nigeria. There are examples of women leaderships and actions that illustrated recognition of gender equality in Nigerian cultures prior to the colonial influence or the arrival of the global West into Nigeria.

These examples include queen Amina’s rule over the city of Zazau (Zari) in the 16th century, Efunroye Tinubu of Lagos who was a prominent businesswoman and political figure in the 19th century Lagos, Omu Okwei of Aboh who was the mother queen of Aboh Kingdom in present day Delta State, Amina Waya of Nupe, the founder of the Nupe Kingdom, and also the practice of the  Igba-Eze System in which certain communities elect women leaders to lead them.

In the sixteen century, Queen Amina, also known as Amina of Zazzau, ruled over the city of Zazau. She was an excellent military tactician who led her army in several campaigns to enlarge the realm. Through her leadership, Queen Amina proved that not only where women capable of holding positions of command, but that they were also valued for their skills.

Efunroye Tinubu was a well known politician and entrepreneur in Lagos in the nineteenth century. She ammassed fortune through trade, had her own ships, and even participated in lagos’ political life. She pushed against prevailing gender standards with her influence and financial success, demonstrating the value of women’s economic empowerment.

The mother of the Aboh Kingdom, located in what is now Delta State was Omo Okwei. She had a key role in the administration of the kingdom and served as a liaison between the king and his subjects. She was a well-known political figure who demonstrated the crucial role that women had in influencing decisions.

Igba-Eze, this is a system where women were elected to govern and administer the community’s affairs, was used in several Igbo communities. These women had alot of powers and were in charge of making decisions that would have an impact on their community’s welfare.

These examples have demonstrated and shows that gender equality is not foreign to Nigerian cultures and that women have held positions of power, participated in decision-making and contributed significantly to the growth and development of their Nigeria we have today. 

The examples also illustrate that even before the arrival of the British colonial masters, what is called Nigeria today has a well-defined social political and economic structures, where men and women shared responsibilities and enjoyed equitable rules. But with time social and political changes altered these dynamics and led to the misconceptions. 

These misconceptions has been perpetuated over generations hindering progress toward achieving gender parity. Gender equality is not a foreign concept it is rooted in the principles of justice and human dignity. Nigeria’s history portrays strong women leaders contributing to the development of the country, by acknowledging these historical examples Nigeria can reclaim it indigenous understanding of gender equality while adapting to modern challenges and overcoming them.

To overcome these misconceptions education and awareness are crucial. There is need to take effective measures such as integrating comprehensive gender sensitive curricula into schools and highlighting the historical presence of gender equality in Nigerian societies. Engaging traditional and religious leaders in discussion about gender roles can bridge the gap and empowering women and girls economically, and politically. Encouraging their participation in decision making and equal access to education can dismantle these gender based misconceptions.

In Nigeria, cultural norms and socializations often limit women’s access to education, healthcare and opportunities for economic empowerment and violate their rights.

Gender equality is neither a new nor an alien concept in Nigeria. By examining the country’s history, we see a rich tapestry of empowered women and girls whose leadership is exceptionally phenomenal. It’s of utmost importance that we celebrate and cherish these stories, dispel the misconceptions and build a future where Women and Girls would be treated as equals and not as second-class citizens.

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