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Edo Women
 

The Law And Gender Sensitivity

By Chief Nosakhare Isekhure

Thanks for sending me an invitation to present a paper on the theme of this conference entitled a “THE LAW AND GENDER SENSITIVITY” with particular reference to the subject matter which is WOMEN’S RIGHT AND STATUS UNDER THE EDO NATIVE LAW AND CUSTOM. Over the years, there has been growing tendency for our people to equate customary phenomenon here with what happens in other parts of the World, particularly, the Western World from where under circumstances beyond our control, we draw a lot of inspirations, even when these inspirations and subject matters are not quite compatible with our history, experience and political sensibilities. Most of the rights and the status of .women in Benin environ are real, devoid of myth as it were, substantially.

For example, the concept of a WOMAN or WOMEN in general in Africa, with particular reference Edo is such that they are seen and regarded as “OKHUO ORE OWA”(meaning, a woman is the home) and again lYE OWA” ( mother of the home). From Child birth, a woman is given special attention by ways of socialization and training based on the background understanding that one day, she will leave the home to marry and begin a process of exhibiting the characteristics of a mother and a home maker.

The human society had begun from a process of family units, coming together for the sake of protection, propagation, economic activities, and other such interactions that will enhance good neighborliness, share in the pleasure and displeasure of others in order to increase benefits and minimize sorrows. So, for a community coming together to achieve benefits that transcend the individual personalities and the individual family, there has to be a common rule to which every one must subscribe to that will be regarded as fair protective enough and also provide rooms for further development if the need arises.

These are the natural orders that accelerate the evolution of LAWS AND CUSTOMS all over the World. Within the families were unwritten laws and rules that regulated conducts. The most profound prohibitions being that no woman should have any amorous relationship with her father, siblings, and relations and should never be married to any of them.

If for reasons of default, such breaches arc noticed, there are spiritual cleansing rites that must be performed in order to ward-off the ultimate consequences and maybe, to prolong the lives of the parties involved. The Benin custom sees a Woman as purely and specifically sacred before and more so after getting married. Customary taboos are placed on her so that she may not wittingly or unwittingly violate some of these taboos. Let quickly identify some of the taboos that are still in vogue.

(1) Every woman was expected to be a virgin before marriage. To breach this was a serious offence and even a disgrace to the family then, but not any more.

(2) A married woman was expected to subscribe to family oath of allegiance to prevent flirtation and most importantly prevent bringing children that may have been fathered by another man to the material home.

(3) Once a woman was married, she was no longer to have any contacts, discussion or received any gift items from a man with whom she had amorous relationship before the current husband. And if by default it does happens, she must inform her husband accordingly for sanctification to be done.
(5) A married woman was never to greet and to shake hands with another man but her own Women fork, and not to wear obscene dress that will vulgarly expose the contour of her body to any one except her husband.

(6) A woman once married may not deny her husband bedtime affairs, when her husband makes the move, except on ground of ill health or under her monthly period. Also conversely, the man should not abstain from asking for such, a relationship to punish the women unduly. Any breach of these invokes family sanctions.

(7) A married woman is entitled to commercial enterprises. Those days, they were the economic hub of the society. Women were distance traders known as “Ekhcn-Egbo”, Sending and bring goods and services to distance places unhindered. 95% of activities in all markets places were done by women and by extension, they had access to capital-formation to create wealth. This provided opportunities for women to own properties solely and exclusively theirs. Their husband may have knowledge of such properties but cannot have possessory control or title. In order word, whatever property a woman owns, she owns absolutely. If she dies, the children inherit the property not the husband.

(8) A woman cannot also inherit the property or properties of her husband. The children do if the man passes on. A husband may grant right to a property to a wife while alife and it should b e so registered to the knowledge of the husband’s family for future reference.

(9) A woman was expected to be extremely faithful because she was and still the only person who can vouch for the paternity of her child or children.

(10) Women were specially trained to be home makers, skilled weavers, home designers, spiritualists and midwives with reference to women reproductive health, good singers, dancers food producers, domestic animal raisers, loan- givers etc.

(11) Women only have the powers to sanctify their marital homes when impurities have been noticed and identified. The men cannot do it.

(12) Only women have protective taboos that make them special and shield them from embarrassing contacts, men don’t have any.

(13) A woman was not supposed to be seen in her nudity by any other man except her husband. Any such violation was regard as a serious cultural breach that carries sanctions and purifications.

(14) The entire physical body of a woman is a moving deity that can be invoked to save or destroy, depending on the issues at stake. For example, Mothers bless their children with their breasts; similarly they can also invoke other parts of their body to cause misfortune on those who transgress. Consequently, same sex relationship and marriage are considered absolute abomination.

To be able to understand the relative strength and powers of women let me quote from the book entitled “Divine Inspiration: From Benin to Bahai”, by Phyllis Galembo, a contributing essay by Jospeh Novadomsky , 1993 and he wrote. “Osanobua having decided to create the World sent his three children as intermediaries, Obiemwen (his eldest chi1d, a daughter) Olokun and Ogiuwu” to begin the process of inhabiting the earth”.

Although Benin mythology increased the numbers of these celestial beings to four, the essential message is that the eldest of them was a woman. “Obiemwen” In the past, Obiemwen shrines were found in sacred places and women looking for children usually go there for rites and prayers. Olokun was also interchangeable referred to as a woman and man, having the features of a hermaphrodite. Ogiuwu, often regarded as the messenger of death, had a masculine and Macho physiques. In order word, a woman was perceived as a divine entity whose body retains features that should never be desecrated.

Her rights and status then are contingent upon the holistic categorization of her person as a unit of being who procure life and therefore the instrument for human propagation, she should ,therefore, be placed in a protective sector where her beings would be valued, appreciated and adequately nourished. That is why some times WOMAN in Benin would say that “Okhuo ere ovionba”. Meaning, women are not slave of the Oba but citizens, while the men are the Ovien-Oba who can be summoned to undertake tasks as the Oba may desire from time to time.

For purposes of correction, the term OVIEN OBA” does not mean Slave as the word connotes. It means Subject. Every person under the Kingdom is a citizen. Subject to the Overlord of the Oba. The term Oba here means Government and Governance in a Monarchical system in the old Kingdom as it were in those days. It must be emphasized that women generally are within the protective realm. For example, to protect and prevent rape and other possible assault, sex activities are banned in the forest areas, including in the farm lands.

Some community, even go to the extreme of prohibiting such act in the afternoon. This is to ensure that the afternoon is spent on economic production activities, while the night can be spent as desired. This position made women to enjoy social and economic independence, less tasking jobs, prevented from participation in activities that would compromise their uniqueness and reproductive values. Although the subject of my paper is the status of women under the native law, it must be understood that “STATUS”, as opposed to law, is often more of self acquisition through hard work, while LAW is an evolutionary imposition through accepted practices.

Our history is replete with profound status earned by women and who have been identified as making contributory historical values, so immensely recognized that in the history of mankind, EMOTAN became one of the earliest women deified by Oba Ewuare the great, in appreciation of her contribution to the restoration of the rule of primogeniture in the succession to the Kingship system in Benin. Queen Iden was the first women that demonstrated the extremity of love to her husband, Oba Ewuakpe. She voluntarily offered herself for sacrifice so that the Kingdom might blossom again. “STATUS” LIKE “HONOUR”S MUST BE EARNED, CANNOT BE PURCHASED.

The status of these women have been elevated and consequently recognized to the extent that they have become part of the reference point in women status- assessment-paradigm in Edo-land. Let us mention names of additional Edo women with profound status.

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