As this year’s August meeting comes to an end, Igbo women are gradually returning back to their base. August Meeting is an association of married women in Igbo land of Nigeria. It is an umbrella that brings together all the women in both home and abroad, rich and poor, learned and unlearned, and even old and young. It is a meeting that encourages women and community development. During this meeting women learn from their fellow women and other resource personnel how to manage their homes and how to live responsibly as mothers and married women.
This meeting usually take place in various communities across the Igboland within the month of August, hence “August Meeting.” One significant thing about this meeting is the fact that it brings all the Igbo Women together, those at home and those who reside abroad. Igbo Women, no matter where they reside, usually find their way back home during the August meetings. Most women have used this medium to distinguish themselves as agents of peace-building and community development.
Certainly, women has a lot of role to play in terms of national and community development. Hillary Clinton, the Former U.S. Secretary of State declares, “There cannot be true democracy unless women’s voices are heard. There cannot be true democracy unless women are given the opportunity to take responsibility for their own lives. There cannot be true democracy unless all citizens are able to participate fully in the lives of their country.” Development cannot be holistic and sustainable without women.
Some of the sustainable development goals that has to do with women, especially in the areas of gender equality, can be actualized directly or indirectly through August Meeting. Goal 5, for instance, declares, “Providing women and girls with equal access to education, health care, decent work, and representation in political and economic decision-making processes will fuel sustainable economies and benefit societies and humanity at large.” This and similar goals cannot be actualized without women, especially those at the rural areas.
Earlier in 2011, the UN General Assembly resolution on Women’s Political participation notes, “Women in every part of the world continue to be largely marginalized from the political sphere, often as a result of discriminatory laws, practices, attitudes and gender stereotypes, low levels of education, lack of access to health care and the disproportionate effect of poverty on women.”
Here in Nigeria and many other parts of Africa the issue of gender equality has is a no-go area. Last year the Nigeria Senate blocked a bill seeking equal marital rights for women.
The bill, titled “Gender Parity and Prohibition of Violence against Women”, was presented by Abiodun Olujimi, representing Ekiti south, during the senate’s plenary session. According to Mrs. Olujimi, the bill would seek equal rights for women in marriage, education and job. She said if the bill was passed, a widow in Nigeria w6ould automatically become the custodian of her children in the event of the death of her husband, and would also inherit his property.
The deputy senate president, Ike Ekeremadu, supported the bill. He said Nigeria would develop if women were given the same rights men have. “Only last night, I was going through a document prepared by George Bush of America. Those countries that are doing well are those who give women opportunities. Where I come from, women don’t eat egg and are restricted from touching the non-essential parts of animal. But now that has changed. What is needed is time and education, not necessarily legislation. We will continue to encourage our women. I support this bill.”
The Senate Majority leader, Ali Ndume, criticised the bill, and urged Nigerians to stick with either religious or traditional marriage. Sani Yerima, a senator from Zamfara state, condemned the bill, arguing that it was in conflict with the Nigerian Constitution. He said the bill negates the principles of the Sharia law, which the Constitution recognises. The bill was finally defeated when the senate president, Bukola Saraki, put it to vote.” This shows level insensitivity to the issue gender equality. For most Nigeria it is still a mirage.
In March this year during the International Women Day celebration, the wife of the president, Aisha Buhari, appealed to all stakeholders to work towards ensuring the achievement of gender equality and empowerment of women and girls. According to her, “It is imperative to appeal to all stakeholders, governments at all levels to rise to the global challenge of ensuring the achievement of gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls in line with the objective of sustainable development goals.” This shows that the issue of gender equality is still a serious issue here in Nigeria and other parts of Africa.
All hope is not lost. Since the government has failed to uphold gender equality in all ramification women are looking for a way to empower themselves and get their voices heard. One of the powerful organizations that have succeeded in creating a platform where women could express themselves and exercise their leadership skill is the August Meeting, which is practiced almost all the communities in Igbo land of Nigeria.
August meetings are usually organized in rural areas. Most of the women in urban cities usually travel to meet with rural women for a period of one week intensive meetings, workshops and even community liberation programme. It is a meeting that carries everyone along, a meeting where all the women are allowed to express themselves in a language that everyone understands. The meeting encourages women to visit their homes at least once in a year. It promotes mutual collaboration between urban and rural women.
One interesting thing about this meetings is that women usually use this medium to showcase their talents and leadership skill. From my observation, August meeting seems to be the most organized group in Igbo land. Most of the groups that I have visited have their own success stories. It is an independent organization. They are neither dependent on the Church nor the government. They carry out different forms of developmental initiatives. They discipline their fellow women and support the less privileged ones amongst them.
With their mini resources some of these women have actually contributed to community/rural development. Some of them have dug boreholes in their villages, some are building halls, market stores, business centers, skill acquisitions with widow empowerment programme. If these women could achieve these with their mini resources, imagine what will happen if they are given the necessary support both by the government and non-governmental organizations.
Through August Meetings Igbo Women have succeeded in addressing the issue of gender equality. Women now have a platform where they express themselves without any hindrance. Most of these women are even more organized and responsible than their male counterpart. They have used this medium to prove to the world that if given the opportunity they could govern not only their fellow women but also the society at large.
I use this medium to encourage other women all over the world to emulate the Igbo Women. Instead of fighting men in the name of women liberation and women emancipation, they should try to organize and empower themselves. If possible, they should have a platform, like August Meeting, where women in the urban cities and rural areas could meet often to assist themselves and contribute to community development.
A point of correction! Most of the so-called women political leaders are not in any way representing the interest of women, especially those at the rural areas. Some of them are into politics only for their own selfish interest. Unfortunately, most of the incentives that are meant for women are handed on through them. These incentives hardly get to women at the grassroots. At most they will share them with few women who are close to them, especially their party members.
Instead of using these self centered women political leaders to reach women, August meetings could be used as a possible and reliable channel.
One interesting thing about August meeting is that these women know and understand themselves more than any other group. They know those who really need help. They also ensure that everyone gets a share of whatever that is presented to them.
Finally, if the government and UN must achieve gender equality as ascribed in the SDG they must recognize August Meeting and other similar organizations that incorporates urban and rural women.
Rev. Fr. John Damian id the Director of
Orphanage of the Holy Spirit &
Int’l Youth Empowerment & Rehabilitation Centre (IYERC)