By Gloria Ibesi
According to Encyclopedia Britannica, the International Women’s Day (IWD) was first observed on March 19, 1911 in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland with more than one million women and men in attendance, campaigning for women’s rights to work, vote, be trained, to hold public offices and end discrimination.
The Idea was heralded by a woman named Clara Zetkin, leader of the women’s office for the Social Democratic Party in Germany. She proposed that there should be a specific day, every year, in every country, when women would be celebrated worldwide.
The purpose of the International Women’s Day is to uphold women’s achievements, recognize their challenges and focus greater attention on women’s rights and gender equality. The International Women’s Day is a substantial necessity, such that it reminds the world of how great and historic, not only women, but the female gender, is. An Igbo expression summarizes it as ‘Nwaanyi but ife, ‘A woman is something’.
The value of women in our society cannot be overemphasized. Women are the bearers of light, hope, and progress for every human society. A quote from an unidentified source has it that ‘a woman is the full circle; within her is the power to create, nurture and transform’. Women are bearers of grace and beauty.
Marriage, the legal union between a man and woman as husband and wife; is as old as man himself. In the ancient African culture, marriage was rather the union between a man and as many women as he desired and could afford to have. Marriage, for them, happened for the purpose of having numerous children. Thus, the idea of love which should flow between man and wife is not even a requirement.
The African society upholds marriage as one of the greatest achievements a woman must fulfil. For some parts of Nigeria, when a woman is 15 years of age, she is old enough to get married, while for some others, she is considered due at 18 years. However, the Nigeria Federal Child Rights Act (CRA, 2003) sets the minimum age of marriage at 18.
In Igbo society, when a woman is ripe for marriage, people around her, especially family members and relatives, become expectant of when a man will come knocking or as the parents of nowadays say it; ‘when she will bring home a man’. The father awaits the day the in-laws will storm in, so he will enjoy his rights as the father of the bride. The mother remains anxious to dance on the day of marriage ceremony and show off her in-laws to her friends and as well go for postnatal care (Omugo) when the daughter puts to bed.
The other relatives, including siblings, especially the males, anticipate the merriment, eating and drinking that will happen on that day. Hence, one of the reasons family members pray that any female of marriageable age in the family gets a husband.
Mothers storm prayer houses and sometimes introduce their daughters to bachelors around. They keep buzzing the ears of their daughter with the popular sermons that a girl is like a flower whose beauty fades with each passing day.
Relatives and friends tease the woman, asking her when they will drink wine on her head. These, as time goes on, grow into taunts and pressure when no man comes to seek the woman’s hand in marriage. People refer to the girl as not well trained, unfortunate or cursed for not being able to get married.
As cited by Ngozi Ugo Emeka-Nwobia in her article, ‘Women’s Involvement in Peace Building and Conflict resolution among the Igbo of Southeastern Part of Nigeria” ‘These taunts further extend to the gathering of daughters of the Kindred, Umuada. Their unmarried daughters are not as powerful or outspoken as the married ones, as they are sidelined or easily dismissed as ‘Nna ga-alụ’ (father will marry) or ‘Ọtọ n’aka Nne’ (abandoned in the hands of the mother).
‘Indeed, staying unmarried as a fully grown girl in Igbo traditional society is a burden, and such unmarried ladies are largely treated as social outcasts. That is why, though they are daughters, their married counterparts are considered more respectable.’
However, getting married within a certain range of age is more of a societal designation than a necessitude. Treating marriage as imperative for every woman has done more harm than good to human society. In recent times, marriage in most cases is the union between a man and woman who are in love with each other and who both consent to being united.
Some of the reasons for marriage is love, procreation, companionship, and protection, among others. This is to say that the two parties seeking to be married must have seen the capabilities of fulfilling some, if not all of these, for themselves. People should be left to choose whether or not they want to get married, when they want to get married and to whom they want to get married.
Women’s value, dignity and respect, should not be sacrificed on the altar of marriage. The importance of a woman is found in the womanness of the woman. That is to say, the value the woman has offered or is offering in society, her ability to employ her grace and beauty as a woman to make positive impacts wherever she exists.
Apparently, some married women who are recognized in the African Culture to have achieved the greatest feat which a woman should achieve, are unable to live up to their responsibilities as wives and mothers.
An investigation by me, revealed different views on the matter:
Lady Ifeoma Nwadi, a staff and mother figure to the Fides Media Family, says that marriage isn’t so vital that a woman who is unmarried would be looked down on. She opines that it is culture that makes a single or unmarried woman to be seen as less a woman. She urges women who are being taunted by people because of their unmarried status to pay no heed to them and remain focused on developing themselves to be independent and resourceful members of society.
She adds that what makes a woman important is her ability to support herself and her family, whether married or unmarried; to know her worth and keep going no matter what challenges society presents her with.”
Miss Favour Chisimdi Nwobodo, an entrepreneur and tech consultant, thinks that marriage is a beautiful thing; but instead of going into or remaining in an abusive marriage, a woman should remain single and pursue her career and dreams. For her, a good marriage is an achievement and a woman should be allowed to choose whether or not she wants to marry and when she wants to do so.
Mrs Uchechukwu Afuzor, a civil servant and mother of three girls and four boys, says she is married and wishes that all her daughters get married, adding that she prays for only their destined men to find them. She believes that marriage is good for every woman so as to be complete.
She however contends that she is never going to force any of her daughters to get married to any man against their wishes. She further says that she encourages her daughters to be independent and will do a lot to support them achieve their different dreams in life, whether married or not.
Lastly, marriage is awesome. It can be a means of fulfillment and source of completeness which one may not be able to achieve alone. However, women who are unmarried haven’t committed any crime and should not be treated as outcasts. What makes a woman extraordinary is not and couldn’t have been marriage. Marriage has its own advantages and benefits; likewise an unmarried status shouldn’t be seen as an unfortunate situation.
Parents should not train their children, especially the females, just to be good wives in future, but teach them Independence, resourcefulness and to be that kind of women worth having. The unmarried women out there should not perceive themselves as unlucky or doomed. They should keep in mind that they are beautifully and wonderfully made, just like every other woman. They should remain positive, give life their best shot and pay no attention to societal pressures.