Culture And Women Subjection

Project and Seminar Material for Sociology

Culture And Women Subjection


The main purpose of the study was to assess the harmful cultural practices (HCPs) affecting the health of rural women in Ebonyi state. Methods. A descriptive survey research design was adopted for the study. A qualitative method of field survey in the form of Focus Group Discussions (FGDs) was also employed. A total of 1,098 copies of the questionnaire representing 79% were returned out of the total number administered. The study ascertained the consequences of these HCPs on women’s health. Moreover, the study found out why HCP’s resist change. The research also identified intervention strategies for eradicating them. This study was able to ascertain the types of HCP in the study area, why they exist and how they can be curbed. There is need to employ qualified adult educators in our rural community literacy centres so as to meet the demand of both the non-educated and functionally illiterate adults to improve themselves educationally; which gurantees a leverage to better livelihood.

Chapter One


1.1 Background of the Study

Traditional cultural practice reflects values and beliefs held by members of a community or social groupings for periods often spanning generations. Saba{1997) noted that social groupings in the world have specific cultural practices and beliefs; some are beneficial to all members while others are harmful to a specific group such as women and girls’ Hence, Kiragu sees culture as part of human environment and a product of history which forms strong images in the minds of the people concerned Ofonagoro(1996) viewed culture as the totality of the life of a people which could be assessed and comprehended in terms of how they create and re-create their lives both in the material and non-material sense of their social existence. Suffice it here to observe that culture represents the development of specific people in the society which is often equated with civilization.

From the above interpretation of culture, it is glaring that the concept has many definitions as there are writers on the subject. Hernlund (2000) posits that culture is a totality of the way of life evolved by a people in their attempt to meet the challenges in their environment. In effect this is to say that culture embraces and includes challenges to social, political, economic, aesthetic and religious norms and mode of an organization, thus distinguishing a people from their neighbours. Also, from a different perspective Kisijia (2001) remarked that culture can be viewed as being complex and has a compelling nature which regulates all aspects of human life which include; for example, food, religion, dressing and language of the people, housing, marriage and family relations. Supporting, the above view, Seralgaldin (2002) noted that culture is a complex phenomena with distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features that characterize a group or society. Hence, he maintained that the role of culture especially in traditional settings show that it is supreme and uncompromising, such as in discussing or sharing of lands (which excludes women) and women obtaining permission from their husbands before accepting or adopting any contraceptive method. Unfortunately, these old patriarchal systems are still maintained in some communities, to subjugate women and render them vulnerable to obnoxious cultural practices which violate the “rights” of girls/women. For example female circumcision, which is rooted in a whole set of beliefs, values, social and cultural behaviour pattern of some societies, is often culturally determined and incidentallytransmitted by women themselves simply because of cultural adherence and not that it serves any useful purpose to individual families or the society.

However the most revealing thing in the society is that culture is not static. Every culture has a dual tendency:
A tendency towards stability and a tendency to change. Culture changes perpetually because the individuals in the society or the cultural architects constantly modify their cultural plans, improve and adapt their behaviour to the caprices and exigencies of their physical, social, and ideological milieu (Gbotukama, 2002:17).

Hence, the definition of the essential elements of culture varies from time to time reflecting correct power structure and influences.

The variety of culture bound practices harmful to women, otherwise, known as harmful traditional practices reasonably fall under the rubric of 89violence against women which has direct effect on their health (Heise, 1998). Health, according to United Nations Organization (UNO) (1995) is a fundamental human right and not merely a social good. It is an asset for individuals in the family, community and nation irrespective of age, sex, origin or race. It is sad to note that women are the foremost victims of old and die-hard traditional attitudes which militate against their health and well-being (Berhane, 1998). Women are arbitrarily deprived of their liberty to express and exercise their fundamental rights. For example, inspite of the high risk of maternal morbidity health and financial impact of traditional or too closely spaced birth; women often cannot exercise control over their own fertility.This is the reason why the United Nations International Children Education Fund (UNICEF) (1998) concluded that women were often deprived of good health right from birth.For example, in some traditional set up, pregnant and lactating mothers are made to abstain from nutritious foods such as eggs, snail which are regarded as taboo but are also necessary for the growth and development of the child.

The issue of traditional practices adversely affecting the health of women have been the focus for discussions at several international and national conferences, workshops and seminars where intervention approaches to eliminating harmful practices meted on women were extensively deliberated on. Notable among the legal interventions to eliminate harmful cultural practices were the Viennia 1993 World Conference on Human Rights pioneered by women’s health and women’s Rights Advocates who declared that women’s Rights are Human right; the International Conference on Population and Development 1994maintained that women have the right to control all aspects of their health and matters of sexual relations and reproduction; the Fourth World Conference on Women Beijing 1995 was another pointer where women activists worldwide vehemently reacted to the plight of women and in collaboration with the United Nations mandated Governments in various countries to make legislations and policies against harmful cultural practices affecting the health of women/girls. The article of the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against women stressed on the need to promote women’s access to better health care and family planning services. Others include the AIDS Conference 2000 where it was resolved that women/girls should have access to the use of contraceptives and reproductive health counselling and the widows without Rights Conference 2001 which affirmed the right entitled every individual to be free from any form of inhuman treatment or discrimination. Nigeria is not left out in this struggle to eliminate harmful cultural practices.

The truth is that all hands (both the affected and unaffected) must be on deck to kill these man-made dragons especially at the grassroots levels, if a change is so desired. This is because in the words of Kisija (2001 ) for any meaningful change in attitudes or behaviour to be achieved, the people themselves should be involved in the change process. And that is to say that the women whose health status are threatened by harmful cultural practices meted on them should be involved in this struggle to enable them assert their fundamental rights which include freedom of choice and existence among others. Even among different communities in Ebonyi state, cultural practices differs. That is the intensity or extent of HCP affecting the health of women which may differ from community to community For instance there are certain cultural practices that can be meted to married women but not to single mothers or widows.

1.2 Statement of the Problem

In spite of the National and International affirmations on improving the lot of women in human society there still exist tenacious harmful cultural practices, which are yet to be done away with particularly as they adversely affect the health of the women/girl-child. Till date high premium is still placed on the males while females are regarded as a household property, which can be used and manipulated at will For example, the traditional bride price confers a property identify on a woman and also awards the husband with the implicit ownership of the wife (Obianyo, 2000).
As it is typical of most patriarchal societies throughout the world, Nigeria inclusive; women are usually expected to be submissive, obedient and respectful to their husbands no matter how educated they may appear to be. Women were never heard but only seen even on issues concerning their sexuality and reproductive rights. Hence women face complex health issues particularly those arising from pregnancy. Information from World Fertility Survey, (1999) revealed that in countries like Nigeria, gender-based disparity in health care received are largely the result of the girl-child being undervalued by their family. Women’s vulnerability to maltreatment in diverse forms are deeply rooted in the culture and traditions of their communities. Kamara (1991) observed that culturally prescribed traditions such as female-female marriage and male health providers not attending to pregnant mothers may have serious health consequences on women. Unfortunately, many of these harmful practices still prevail in some societies. For example HCPs like widowhood rites is prevalentin six geopolitical zones in Nigeria, Ebonyi state inclusive (Akumadu, 2000). For example in the year 2003, a widow from Okwuato Ibeku in Aboh Mbaise LGA was alleged to have been stripped of everything she had including her children; by her in-laws (Daily Sun, October 2003). Also, sometime in the year 2004, in Isieke (Ebonyi state) a widow was brutally murdered by her brother in-law over the deceased husband’s piece of land. Likewise the practice of FGM has not been given up by excissors in Ebonyi state which ranked highest in the South-East geopolitical zone with a 76% score.

It is also a cruel irony that women themselves in the name of tradition perpetuate some of the harmful cultural practices like FGM, widowhood practices, female-female marriage. Perhaps these people put up a crafty defense mechanism, feel justified and even seek social legitimacy for their conduct while the victims may not openly report/discuss their experiences. This culture of silence of the abused or oppressed may have been the reason why literature on various dimensions of HCPs is yet evolving. Moreover, information on these practices may be concealed for myriad reasons such as fear-induced restrictions, ignorance, low literacy level/development, backwardness of the people and women’s subordinate positions imposed on them by the society.

Hence, the researcher was interested in establishing the impact of culture in women subjection by checking if HCPs exist in the communities under study; their impact on women’s health, reasons why these HCPs resisted change and intervention strategies needed to eliminate them.

1.3 Purpose of the Study

The main purpose of the study was to assess the harmful cultural practices affecting the health of rural women in Ebonyi state. Specifically, the study sought to:

  1. Find out those harmful cultural practices which are practiced in the study areas in Ebonyi State.
  2. Determine why these HCPs exist in the study areas
  3. Ascertain the consequences of these harmful cultural practices on women’s health
  4. Establish reasons why harmful cultural practices resist change in contemporary times.

1.4 Significance of the Study

The subjugation of women to harmful cultural practices even in contemporary times calls for urgent attention so as to adopt measures to alleviate or eliminate predominant authoritarian traditions imposed on women, which affects their health.

On this note, this study will be useful not only to mothers who are members of community based organizations in the study areas but also to all mothers in Nigeria, NGOs, faith based organization and other interest groups on types of HCPs in Ebonyi state, why they exist and how they can be curbed.

From the findings of the work, more light will be shed on the terrible effect of harmful cultural practices on women’s physical, psychological, social, emotional, and mental well-being. The changing times demands that a more aggressive approach be adopted on these inhuman traditions as the surest way to eradicating them. Information on their consequences will sensitize all concerned and help to quicken them to take immediate action towards its extinction.

The findings of this work if published and implemented will certainly boost media sensitization of the general public condemnation of all kinds of HCPS against women.

The findings of this study will be most relevant to traditional rulers who are in charge of communities where such harmful practices prevail. The finding of this study will convict the traditional rulers to see the need/seriousness to improving traditional values status of females and to forgo all harmful cultural practices that may be detrimental to women’s health

Additionally, the findings of this work will be of immense importance to religious bodies like churches that are known for soul winning, use the word of God to preach righteousness, justice, love, peace, equality and equity. The findings will also reveal to the churches that women are still subjected to harmful cultural practices in the name of tradition of the people.

1.5 Research Questions

  1. What harmful cultural practices are practiced in Ebonyi state?
  2. Why do these HCPs exist in Ebonyi state?
  3. What are the consequences of these harmful cultural practices on women’s health?
  4. Why do these harmful cultural practices resist change in contemporary times?
  5. What strategies can be adopted in eliminating these harmful cultural practices?

1.6 Hypotheses

The following null hypotheses were tested at (0.05) level of significance.

HO1: There is no significant difference in the mean ratings of respondents on harmful cultural practices practiced based on location

HO2: There is no significant difference between the mean ratings of single and married parents respondents on why harmful cultural practices exist in their communities.

HO3: There will be no significant difference between the mean rating of educated and non- educated respondents on why harmful cultural practices resist change in contemporary times.

1.7 Scope of the Study

The study was limited to investigating harmful cultural practices affecting the health of women in the communities under studied in Ebonyi State. Furthermore, the study recommended intervention strategies to eliminate such practices that adversely affect the health of women. In this study, an educated women refer to those who went beyond primary school. While non-educated ones are those who stopped at primary six and below.

Chapter Five

Summary of Findings, Conclusions and Recommendation

5.1 Summary and Findings

With regard to Table 1, majority of the respondents agreed to four out of six items on negative cultural practices practiced in their communities, thus confirming the practice of harmful cultural practice like early marriage, FGM, nutritional taboo and widowhood practices in their various communities.

Results on research question 2 (Table 2) on why HCPs exist in their various communities were generally unaccepted by respondents. Concerning the consequences of HCPs on women’s health, respondents agreed to two thirds of the questionnaire items and during FGD. The options include among others that following the performance of FGM, and prolonged labour there could be excessive bleeding and vesico vagina/recto-vagina fistulae.

On why HCPs resist change even in contemporary times majority of the respondents agreed that these traditions were handed over to them. And so there is need to preserve them for posterity. Few agreed to other responses such as, they want others to experience these HCPs too and that perpetuators/offenders have never been punished.

On strategies that can be adopted in eliminating HCPs respondents used for the quantitative and qualitative studies agreed that the practices should be openly condemned, legal action should be taken against perpetuators, the government should declare these HCPs illegal and church leaders should excommunicate their members who are perpetuators among others.

There is a significant difference in the mean rating of respondents on the various HCPs practiced in their locations. There is no significant difference in the opinions of single and married parents on why there is existence of HCPs in their various communities. There is no significant difference in the opinions of educated and non-educated respondents on why HCPs resists change in contemporary times as ours.

5.2 Conclusion

One of the major indices of development in any society is good health for its citizenry. To achieve this, every government make frantic efforts towards such goal attainment. Such efforts become share waste. If the root cause of the health problem is still inherent in the people. As such any positive effort towards solution to such problem should first of all appraise in totality the situation on the ground in order to be equipped with adequate information that can lead to its solution.

This study, in the same vein, found out information that if purposefully utilized can lead to a lasting solution to HCPs in Ebonyi State. The study has contributed to knowledge and information on HCPs in the following ways:

  1. The study was able to ascertain the harmful cultural practices (HCPs) in Ebonyi State.
  2. The study found out why HCPs exist in the study areas. These reasons for HCPs existence need to be addressed before and any meaningful solution can be proffered.
  3. The study ascertained the consequences of these HCPs on women’s health.
  4. Furthermore, the study found out why HCPs resist change in Ebonyi State.
  5. The study also identified intervention strategies for eliminating HCPs affecting the health of the women in communities studied.

5.3 Recommendations

Parents should pay attention to the education of their children irrespective of the sex. It is believed that the dividends accruing from education of our children will help us to face the present and the future challenges. There is need to empower women educationally through comprehensive and intensive formal, informal and non-formal education awareness raising programme. This is because education of women will pave way to more access to their social, economic and political empowerment.

Enthusiasm for literacy education should be generated by the Agency for Adult and non-formal education in Ebonyi State so that viable literacy centres are established in all rural communities. This will enable women to integrate into the whole spectrum of development programme.

There is need to employ qualified adult educators in our rural community literacy centres so as to meet the demand of both the non-educated and functionally illiterate adults to improve themselves educationally; which gurantees a leverage to better livelihood.

The Ministry of Women Affairs Ebonyi State should intensify their efforts on the re-orientation of women about their rights, their prospects as women and to refrain from cultural beliefs/practices which are harmful to the health of women or the girl-child so that they can live a free, full and productive lives. The poverty cycle tends to promote these HCPS and so through Non-formal education useable skillsfor attracting improved finances can be acquired; then voice will be given to the voiceless poor.

Also, women should be sensitized on the health implications of some cultural beliefs/practices which constitute a serious violation and infringement on the privacy of women and their right to human dignity.

There is need for government, non-governmental organizations, church and other stakeholders to demonstrate their commitment to the elimination of HCPs by enforcing laws prohibiting such practices. Women should be encouraged to vie for leadership positions so that they can be part of the decision making process especially on the protection of rights of women and the extinction of marginalization and discriminatory behaviors against women
Finally, the researcher also recommends that laws and policies prohibiting HCPs should include the public exposition of offenders so that such publicity will serve as a deterrent to both visible and invisible perpetuators.

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