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The Law And Gender Sensitivity (2)

Last Update (July 9, 2020)

By Chief Nosakhare Isekhure

In addition to the two prominent women earlier mentioned, let’s take a look at others:

(1) Emokpolor N’Amwen Ogiugo (Emokpolor the wife of Duke of Ugo) She was one of the most powerful women in Benin Kingdom in the area of spiritual strength and potent knowledge of medicinal powers with which she supported her husband who was a warrior and a War Hero, went to war to conquer many places, particularly the conquest of Ogie-oboro, who murdered ADESUWA, the daughter of Ezomo.

(2) IDIA N’ lYE’ ESIGIE. Idia was the mother of Oba Esigie who had to raise a contingent of army from Uselu to defend the Kingdom from the Jihadist from Atah in the north. Her troops were able to prevent the fall of the City before the conventional soldiers finally agreed to join the war efforts and finally repelled the invading troops. She is reputed in our history as the first woman to have gone to war on her personal volition..

(3) EMAYE. Emaye was a well groomed beautiful lady that grew up at Oza Street Benin City. She radiated a kind of beauty and aura that made her admired, sought for and cared for by all those who could get just close enough to get a glimpse of her. The King, nobles and others fell in love and lavished her with gifts. Many women, prayed to be like her and even attempted to copy and imitate her peculiarity, but they failed. Then came the popular Benin adage, Uhunmwunhia oghe Emaye. Meaning all women heads are not like that of Emaye

(4) IMAZEHIAGAN. This woman was a successful trader, who also was very well connected. She came from the Osa family in Benin and she is reputed to have erected a building of her own at Igun street, Benin City at a time many able men could not even own lands, talk more of erecting a building. She set the standard for women’s growing’ ownership of properties today.

(5) NOMION-ETO ENEN N’UGBO. This woman had a mystery hair-do which she plated and required any one who could decipher or decode the meanings for a prize. The hair-do was on for a long time and no one could decode it until she finally decoded it before the Oba at the Palace to reveal a profound knowledge of four major human virtues worthy of understanding for self guidance.

(6) We have in addition, Princess Evbakhavbokun, who was great in addition to her noble birth.

In modem time, we can count many of our women who have excelled in different fields of endeavour, including in some areas that were considered the exclusive preserve of men.
Let’s look at our women on the basis of native laws.

(1) Under the law, every woman of age is bound to marry

(2) Prostitution was absent, since in a relatively close society, everyone knew the other person, therefore, such a phenomenon was not tolerated, and therefore, could not exist. Today, there is no Benin word for the term “prostitute”. Prostitution therefore in Benin, has been an importation.

(3) Every woman was to be productive, first by informal home training and later specialization in farming, pottery work, trading etc. Idleness was a misdemeanor.

(4) Women had the right to own farm land of their own. Any produce belongs to them in absolute terms. By extension women owns properties as men do.

(5) Women can inherit properties from their parents, both male and female if there is enough to go round. Where a man fails to produce a male child and he is succeeded by a female, the woman inherits. If such a man is a title holder of hereditary nature or Enogie, (Duke) she cannot take the title. It devolves on the family to produce a successor from the male lineage of her father’s family to succeed the deceased.

(6) By native law, only women can be Head of the market women, known as “IYEKI”. There is also an Iyeye title, usually given to women who are highly advanced and experienced, have reached their menopause and thereon regarded as men. They are usually kind of women who are acclaimed to possess some paranormal power that can assist in moderating the affairs of the community within the women folks. They head the women and preside over matters that affect general women’s welfare and prohibitions.

(7) Benin Women of the categories mentioned above are given titles by the Oba as “OKAO”. These are specially designated to perform rites and musical activities for the Oba, the Oloi, and Chiefs when traditional occasions demand same. These groups of women are usually a guild and they specialize in their various activities.

(8) There are the “EKPATE”, title holders who also ensure the enforcement of rules and regulations as prescribed, that affects conducts in market places and helps to enforce taboos and minister unto other spiritual matters that cannot be disclose here.

(9) Women are given special rights to raise DISTRESS ALARM, known as “Emwen Oba romwmunu” at the Palace anytime and the Oba is by tradition obliged to listen to the cause of the alarm and address it.

(10) Upon the demise of a married man, the wife or wives must mourn the husban

(11) In order to truly ascertain the paternity of a child or children, a married woman under Benin law must subscribe to the oath of allegiance and faithfulness within the husband’s family shrine

(12) Under a polygamous marriage setting, a woman must regard the other children of her husband as her own, and do her best to be fair and equitable in handling their affairs including those of her own children.

(13) Under Benin native law, a mother must consent to the marriage of her daughter by collecting her own share of the dowry first, before the father. If the mother refuses, then the marriage becomes a suspect. No responsible family will continue until the matter is resolved.

(14) A woman, once married, must from that time on begin to subscribe to the marriage salutation of her husband.

Under our traditional setting, prohibitions or taboos and what is commonly referred as native law are inter twined and they all appeared to have evolved from a conventional process of acceptance and stably utility over time. The Benin people identify four broad areas of moral, cultural, spiritual and political prohibitions as follows:

(a) “IYI- OSA” is referred to as sacred laws that revolved around nature. Some call it natural laws that are immutable. On a broader reference, GOD’S
(b) “AWUA N’ERE”. These are first decrees of prohibitions made by Ogiso ERE., the first giver of our laws.
(c) “IYI OBA” laws made by the Oba from the second dynasty
(d) “IYI EYBO” Legislation made by the people to regulate conducts and behaviors.

According to Usi Osemwowa, in his book entitled “ CUSTOMARY LAWS OF BENIN” chapter three, he stated and I quote, “Customary Law is the ancient regulatory rules or norms which are generally accepted by the people subject to it as binding among them. It is a measure of acceptable way of life of the people from time immemorial’’. As an addition to the above definition, the people also measure the acceptability of the laws by how often violations and compliance are reported, and whether the sanctions that follows are heeded when prescribed. In the process of evolving some of these rules, norms, taboos and conventional practices, are generally summed up as LAWS.

The status, vulnerability and sensitivity of women were given serious consideration because women were seen as those to be protected. By the default of the political environment that the Africa continent and nay Benin Empire and Kingdom, fell into, by the incursion of western cultural and political influence, we have been tempted to equate women in the Western World who started enjoying political freedom less than 100 years ago, with our own who have never, in the real sense had political inhibitions.

Our culture recognizes and emphasizes role differential between men and women and not role comparison. The aftermath of this, is an educational system that places analytical tools to make us look at ourselves solely from the view point, perspective and conclusions of what freedom means, what feminism represents, and what Women liberation entails, thus drawing inspirations from Eurocentric or Americanized concept of World view. Yet, no one ever bothers to ask, at what point were our women in bondage.

The Benin woman is different from the other women, in spite of the fact that they still operate in a Country that provides constitutional safeguard that gives definitive expressions on the rights of all citizens both male and female. Yet, the constitution did not make provisions for residual rights that are of local dimension which the constitution cannot capture.

It is relatively true that at the beginning of western type of formal education, many parents felt more obliged sending their male children to school. It was done not out of hatred as some people would want to impress, it was a matter of optimum option. No father wanted his family name to become extinct. By natural endowment, parents knew that to train a woman that would later become married and bear the name of another family, was not too attractive at the beginning of modem day- education- regime.

They considered the opportunity cost and decided to train the men first within the available resources then, since most schools were owned by missionaries who had to demand payment before pupils were enrolled.. The whole exercise, I personally regard as a device to propagate the family, rather than a discrimination against women. ‘’Today, the situation has changed a thousand fold. The Benin woman had always exercised political power in influencing public policies. For example, women protest make more impart than those men when fundamental decisions are to be taken.

When there are serious state matters that require correction or to create deterrence in the minds of those causing social, political or cultural instabilities, the women folk are usually mobilized to dress in a certain way that would invoke serious spiritual sanction. If they act accordingly, the consequences are usually very grave. The Benin law recognizes the potencies of women and that is why when a mother dies a shrine is dedicated to her known as Arue—Iye. That of the hither is also known as Arue-Erha. On a general note, our women have proven to have greater access to economic activities over time and they demonstrated it by empowering their children to have access to good education.

Many professionals and businessmen and women we see in the country and abroad, today who are of Benin extraction were trained by women. In Nigeria, the constitution recognizes the equality of all genders. However, in reality, women are still not ably represented in key offices in partisan politics. The chair person House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Mrs. Abike Dabiri in contributing to a debate on women in politics during INEC’s sensitization campaign, challenged the women folk to use their persuasive powers and cultivate the media in order to advance their political roles, adding that there was no level playing grounds for women in politics.

This is the trend all over the World; however, times are changing good for the women globally. In conclusion, let it be noted that the Benin native law and custom provides all it takes to recognize the special status of women and the need to recognize their special dispositions and sensitivity. Their role differentials are also well defined and identified so that the question of comparism would not arise.

 Men are expected to do what men should ordinarily do and women are expected to do what women should do also. If there is any cross-breeding in performances, then it should be regarded as a special gift, rather than a general feature of expected role performance. No woman is expected to climb a Coconut tree to pluck down the fruits, just to prove that she can do what men can do. A woman is the HOME, ( Okhuo ore Owa) as earlier said. Her prime business is to accommodate and comfort, in returned, she is protected and respected under the native law.


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