Tribal Traditionalism: Women as Chattel

dm carlsen mrsdmcarlsen at
Mon Apr 15 09:03:12 MDT 2002

Understanding a sister's struggle: "In The Name Of

After numerous conventions, declarations and acts,
slavery has been officially declared abolished.
However, for millions of women, particularly in the
-third world-, slavery is worse than ever before. In
the name of -tradition-  women still live their lives
in slave-like conditions.

Consider the case of Nkechi, a 14-year old Ibo girl
who is just one of the many girls serving as
-quot;slaves of the gods- in a shrine in the bush.
Nkechi is forced to be a -slave- to atone for a crime;
she had no hand  in:
-illegitimacy-. Her duties include unpaid household
chores, religious duties and providing sexual services
to the fetish priests under the pretext of being
married to a deity. All these girls are -atoning- for
what is referred to as Nso-Ani - sacrilege. As they
get older, they are
replaced by younger ones - while the priest remains
unchanged. Like the others, Nkechi is not free to
change her place of residence or work and may remain
in servitude for many years.

Some years back, the nation woke to the shocking story
of Hauwa Abubakar who was withdrawn from school at the
age of 12 by her father and married off to a man fit
to be her grandfather. That same year her two legs
were chopped off with a poisoned axe by her husband -
for constantly running back home. Two weeks later she
died. In spite of the public outcry that greeted this
inhuman act the practice of child brides still goes

Another example of traditions with gender-specific
dangers is the case of a Hausa woman killed in the
western part of the country for being out while the
Oro was passing through (a masquerade that women are
forbidden from looking at).

All these acts, it is true, are perpetrated by men
against women, but they take place within a definite
socio-cultural milieu.

Significantly, these acts are not happening somewhere
in the remote past, but in 21st century capitalism.
Lenin described capitalism as -...horror without end-.
The brunt of this horror is borne most cruelly by
women, especially in tradition-steeped  -third-world-
countries. After its
conquest, the forces of finance capital could not
institute in the backward regions it conquered those
institutions already put in place in its birth place
which, compared to those previously existing, marked a
step forward. Rather, as it expanded into the colonies
it adopted and adapted these feudal-medieval
institutions and traditions to its rule.

It failed to improve the condition of -third-world-
women, in
relation to those in the advanced capitalist
countries, even in a formal sense. She was, instead,
subjected to a more remorseless oppression and
exploitation. Thus, today, the Nigerian woman
continues to suffer centuries-old  torments in
addition to more brutal subjugation.

Notwithstanding the various conventions guaranteeing
her rights she continues to be fettered by a thousand
and one traditional rites that degrade her;
deep-seated rites that erode her freedom and dignity.

The barbaric practice in which she was bequeathed to
her husband's relative; forced to drink corpse water;
shave her head and sit naked for days, etc, in the
event of her husband's death still exist for her and
refusal to perform these rites is met with the
severest cruelty. Those not killed outright or driven
to suicide are treated as outcasts and pariahs - they
are not -seen- nor -heard-.

However, compared to her northern counterpart the
southern Nigerian woman lives in -paradise-. The
northern woman is incomparably more fettered. She is
the -slave of slaves- to be disposed of as her parents
husband see fit - like the case of Hauwa, cited above.
She is deprived of all rights whatsoever and confined
to the home or purdah, as the case may be; given in
marriage and made to bear children at a very tender
age, etc.

The complete subjugation of women is enshrined in the
society. The church and mosque supports it -submit
yourself to the will and desire of your husband- they

Tradition, like morality, has a class basis. It serves
the interest of the ruling class. The struggle for
emancipation of women is part of the struggle of the
working class to transform society, because the
subjugation of women is
rooted in the subjugation of one class by another.
Only the overthrow of class society can put an end to
it. It is not just a struggle for women. It is not a
struggle against men. It is a struggle against the
root cause of all human
baseness; all indignities to which the human soul is
subjected - the capitalist system. Make it your

By Gaye D. C.,
Lagos, Nigeria

>From the In Defence of Marxism website

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