Drama As A Tool For Addressing Gender Inequality In Nigeria

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Drama As A Tool For Addressing Gender Inequality In Nigeria


Gender inequality has eaten deep, destroying human and socio-cultural harmony in Nigeria. Discussions on this issue have taken over almost every media in the system especially drama. This research is an analysis of the cultural, religious and societal practices that are discriminatory and oppressive of the female gender. The study is based on qualitative research design and the methodology is content analysis. It gathers its data from Tess Onwueme’s The Broken Calabash which introduces us to one of the lesser practiced tradition of the Igbo culture, the Idegbe practice amongst others and the library. Findings show that men are preferred to women in key positions of leadership in Nigeria because the culture prioritizes men. Women are seen as help-meet; so relegated to common decorated sex slaves. The study concludes that nature has placed the woman beside the man and has given equal potential for individual development, therefore, culture, religion and society should have a change of attitude towards them. When a woman is empowered, she willingly cares for her home and her community because it is in her nature to preserve; therefore women emancipation should be encouraged in Nigerian culture, through drama and playwriting among females and upcoming female writers.

Chapter One


1.1 General Introduction

The most beautiful thing God has ever created and identifies His image with is human being. In His wisdom, He allows human beings to be man and woman for His glory and harmony at all times. The attempt to separate this unique pair always set a discord and chaos that make for subject matter in the art works of our time, especially drama which has become the most viable tool for social reformation. In this order, drama has an effect in remaking the society. “It affects the making of different choices which leads to experiencing different consequences.” (Nwangya. 50).

In dramas of recent days, gender discourses are implied in different ways. However, human history has always recorded constant tussle between man and woman in different interests of live. It is often argued that male domination has characterized the gender relations of human societies. Even at the beginning of the 20th Century, men and women were generally viewed as occupying sharply different roles in society: a woman’s place was

in the home as wife and mother; the man’s place was in the public sphere. Men had legal powers over the lives of theft wives and children, even powers to beat them, own them and disown them at will a clear fall out with nature herself.

This ancient enigma has formed a strong discursive premise in dramatic works even in Nigeria. Tess Osonye Onwueme is one of the prolific Nigerian dramatists writing today. She has thrilled Nigerians with her fascinating dramatic narratives. Her in-depth grasp of the Igbo culture makes her an admirable frontier in discussing issues bothering womanhood in both Igbo society and Nigeria generally. Onwueme is a Nigerian-born scholar in America. As a native of Delta State, she identifies as a part of the Igbo people. Many of her plays concentrate on Igbo women and their encounters with the conflict between Igbo culturalpractices and Igbo women who have received an education in Nigerian schools based on the western education model in particular. She pays attention to the modern Nigerian woman’s struggle for acceptance in a conventional Igbo home. According to her, “we live in a society where women have it very hard. Their lives are manipulated by others” (p.1 5).

She applies this statement to women, whether Western or “Third World”; such plunge place the playwright firmly within the feminist and womanist sphere of discourse.

Onwueme herself and lgbo woman educated in Nigerian schools (established by British colonizers), though she now lives and works in the United States, has shown remarkable grasp of the traditional thrust of Nigerian culture on the privileges accorded men and women. While women in the world over have it very hard, the women of Onwueme’s plays encounter unique and poignant challenges. They face choices that will irrevocably alter their love lives, their political lives, and their freedoms. As American poet Daniela Gioseffi writes “the protagonists of Tess Onwueme’s plays tend to be women who revolt against their misuse by an outdated and inhumane system” (Onwueme, 10). More often than not, Onwueme’s women triumph over the odds, though this triumph usually comes at a heavy price. Although audience reactions to Onwueme’s work vary greatly, the plays address themes and conflicts that inspire discussions in which viewers can engage from a variety of perspective.

Tess Onwueme’s play addresses the conflict between contemporary, educated Igbo women, and more traditional Igbo practices in a post colonial setting. What happens when Igbo women educated outside their communities bring their new western ideas home to roost? This conflict illustrates not just the issues of women in Nigeria, but the conflict of women, older ideas and traditions, and new systems of thought in countries the world over. However, Onwueme’s play, The Broken Calabash, concentrates on contemporary. Western-educated Igbo women who come in conflict with the conventional values and cultural practices of their indigenous home.

Nigerian women are perceived as household property that joins hand in economic activities of their families with regard to exchange in marriage, participation in agricultural activities and other areas that yield money (Azikiwe, 19). In sociological perspective, the modern day Nigerian women take part in important economic activities to the benefit of their families and entire nation. Family is a basic social group, united through bonds of kinship or marriage. It is present in all societies; ideally, the family provides its members with protection, companionship, security and socialization (Simpson, 107). Women thus, manage the home and at the same time, participate with their male counterpart in developing the economy of the nation. In rural areas, women participate fully in food production, processing and distribution which they combine with their traditional role of procreation and home management.

Standing and Shehannin, their studies on economic activities of women in Nigeria recorded “a higher labor force participation rate for urban women” (28). In rural areas, higher parity was positively associated with work force participation, which is contrary in the urban areas. The urban women in addition to child rearing and home management engage mostly in trading, craft and distribution of goods which, in most cases, come from rural areas. Few of the urban women are importers and marketers of goods from other countries. Prior to the above, this study tries to examine drama as a tool for addressing gender inequality in Nigeria making reference to The Broken Calabash by Tess Osonye Onwueme.

1.2 Statement of the Problem

The level of women participation in development in Nigeria is very lamentably poor. This is borne out of the inferior status and sentimental attachment of feminine gender the Nigerian society bequeaths her women they are therefore regarded as subordinates and second class citizens who should submit themselves to the control of the men (their husbands). According to Afolabi, “it is surprising to note that the subordination of women knows no boundary or barrier; it is not dependent on social, educational or economic status of women in Nigeria…” (20).

Women constitute about half of the country’s population according to our various censuses, yet they are not given prime of place in its development. As citizens of Nigeria who form the bulk of the population, they are supposed to contribute much of their quota to the development of the country. Their intellect should be inculcated into the effort channeled towards the development of the wider society. Regrettably, they still suffer a lot of constraints and inhibition which militate against their personal development which consequently retard their contribution to the growth and development of Nigerian society. Gender inequality is experienced by women and manifesting in almost all aspects of human endeavour in Nigeria. At birth, a male child is preferred and pampered; the girl child is not so welcomed. As she grows, she is prepared for the societal role of home keeping to the detriment of wider participation in community development.

In the Nigerian political scene, women are almost silent both at the federal, state and 1ocal government level, where the situation is the worst. Politics is regarded as men affairs in Nigeria. Women are often excluded from participating in community decision making. According to Davis et al (2010) they do not participate in policy formulation and decision making process even in the issues that affect them directly. Many reasons explain this. Cultural rules prohibit their presence in certain gathering or active participation in some context such as certain kinds of formal meetings or rituals. Some of the women have been conditioned by socio cultural structure not to be heard in public especially in the presence of their husbands even when they have good ideas.

In the area of education, women constitute a larger percentage of illiterate groups. This could be attributed to the fact that previously in most families, parents preferred sending their sons to school instead of their daughters whom they felt would eventually get married and this get incorporated into another family. Many of the women therefore remained uneducated and unexposed when education is the main tool for impacting skills and attitude relevant to the contribution of individuals to national development everywhere (Fredrich Herbison 2000).

It is against this background that this study is therefore designed to examine the plausibility of the use of drama as a tool for addressing gender inequality in Nigeria with reference to Tess Onwueme’s “The Broken Calabash

1.3 Justification of the Study

This study has shown that, the African culture and society has been a patriarchal one in which women have been relegated to the background and has not held prominent positions in the society. Women are not elected or voted into power, rather they are nominated or appointed to such rare position to complement or fill gaps because of extra labour. Hardly you see a woman who aspire for such key position to be fully elected or voted for, even if she win the election, it is as a result of her connection with top political leaders. She is not elected or voted into power because of her ability and sense of carrying out responsibilities, rather it is done because “man know man”.

1.4 Scope of the Study

The study considers the writer and national conscience. Tess Onwueme’s The Broken Ca/abash is considered as the case study, issues that will be explored are the effects of Western education on Igbo communities and their inhabitants. How does education change, how these women view their communities and their communities’ view of them? How has a shared colonial past become the catalyst for both sweeping change and stagnation? How is female gender employed and received in these communities? In my exploration of these questions, the study seeks to ensure that its readers understand the impetus behind Onwueme’s heroines’ actions and explore female power in places of great cultural change.

1.5 Method of the Study

This research is based on content analysis under qualitative study. The primary data is teased out of a drama text The Broken Calabash which explores the uncaring attitude of the contemporary Igbo society with respect to gender inequality and the necessity for change of such attitude, undermining other issues raised in the text. Other materials from library centre for gender and woman studies and internets that are relevant to the topic under research used in the work serve as secondary sources.

1.6 Significance of the Study

This research work is significant in several ways. First, the study will help unfold the numerous challenges associated with women marginalization as well as measures devised to contend the challenges, secondly, the study will help decision and policy makers in the fight against women marginalization and serve as example to literally writers and dramatic writers who have neglected the issues of women inequality in Nigeria, therefore prompting and awakening them into the reality of advocating for the feminine gender in other to enhance gender equality in Nigeria. Thirdly, the study will help the individuals, leaders, local government, state administrators, staff and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) to inculcate in them some cherished programmes that enhance or raise women development status. Fourthly, the study will also enable people to guard against any forms of women marginalization and fifth, the study will also contribute to existing material to students and others embarking on similar research.

1.7 Organization of the Work

This work shall be arranged in five chapters where chapter one will comprise of the general introduction, statement of the problem, justification of the study, method of the study, significance of the study, organization of chapters and the definition of terms respectively. The study will therefore be accompanied by the chapter two which will deal with the review of related literature on the concept of drama, the concept of gender and gender inequality in Nigeria, gender and creativity: the contribution of female Nigerian writers and drama as a tool for addressing gender inequality in Nigeria. Subsequently, chapter three will focus primarily on a synopsis of the play text of Tess Onwueme the Broken Calabash about the playwright and script analysis. Chapter four will then focus on an analysis of the text in relation to the topic under discuss. Finally, the fifth chapter will concentrate on conclusion, summary of findings and recommendations of the study.

1.8 Definition of Terms


Drama can be defined as an act or genre that is meant or acted to pass a message to a particular set, group, and society of people.


Gender is the socially and culturally constructed roles for men and women.

Gender Equality:

This is the act of giving the women equal right and privileges in the society.

Gender Inequality:

This refers to the act of depriving women equal right and privilege with their male counterparts in the society.


This refers to the only female-male child.


This refers to an outcast in an lgbo community.

Chapter Four

Discussion and Conclusion

As an offspring of the postmodernist enlightenment, the crisis of feminist theorising in Africa is deep-rooted in the elusive search for functionality and definition in every cultural milieu and its attempt to ‘destabilize’ the founding assumptions of modern theory.1 In its alternative presentation to Marxism, which is seen as the radical political discourse of modernity, feminism has become the radical political discourse of postmodernity, especially in its affirmation of the absence, the periphery, the Other – spaces in which the position of women is structurally and politically inscribed – which has been argued to be of more current political credibility, than Marxism. This double commitment to the deconstruction of structures of domination and to freedom, equality and justice for women has become the central concern of feminists as to whether this means an alliance with postmodernism or even the political project of the Enlightenment (Kipnis 204-11).

Nonetheless, feminism can no longer deny its postmodernist roots. Interestingly, however, in its contradictory search for justice and equality, feminism has developed a self- reflexive mode interrogating its legitimizing procedures in a manner which draws it close to a modernism that has observed the lessons of post-structuralism and intones at a most general level of a crisis of legitimization across culture, politics and aesthetics of practice. The slogan ‘let us wage war against totality’ may be postmodernism’s response to the earlier feminist slogan ‘the personal is political’ (Waugh 189).

Although feminist theory and discourse has presented itself as an ever-growing and interesting field since Virginia Woolf and de Beavoir, and even Millet, in its polysemy and self-reflexity, the crux of theorizing has not transcended Alice Jardine’s neologism ‘gynesis’, which seeks to discuss ‘woman’ as that process diagnosed in France as intrinsic to the condition of modernity; ‘indeed the valorisation of the feminine, woman, and her obligatory, i.e., historical connotation, as somehow intrusion to new and necessary modes of thinking, writing, speaking’ (25). Therefore, contrary to Natasha Walter’s claim in On the Move: Feminism for a New Generation that new feminism aims to separate the personal from the political because women of this age do not want to have their personal life ‘policed by feminism’, feminists still insist that the personal is still political even within the variegated boundaries of cultural situatedness.2 This is because as feminist critics variously adapt for their own uses the strategies of deconstructive or psychoanalytic or Marxist theory, the theoretical differentiations which define history (a factor which the universalist feminist theory repudiates) become bedecked with further political contexts over the idea of identity (Baldick 185).

Today, the universal feminist theory has unequivocally fallen prey of the same criticism of the grand schema of modern Western social, political and cultural theory in its embrace of postmodernist critical project. The theoretical space is consequently enlarged and in its ‘tenebrous sense of survival’, feminism like its co-travellers (postmodernism, postcolonialism) now finds itself entrapped in the current and controversial shiftiness of the prefix ‘post’; thus, we have postfeminism, locating it then within the scope of the culture of the ‘beyond’. The realm of the beyond is neither a new horizon nor a leaving behind of the past but in the fin de siecle, it curiously and paradoxically places us in the moment of transit where space and time cross to produce complex figure of difference and identity, past and present, insider and outsider, inclusion and exclusion (Bhabha 1). Therefore, the acceptance of the jargon postfeminity or postfeminism does not translate into an acceptance of afterness to the beyond but the fact that it inhabits an ‘intervening’ space that seeks to transform the present into an expanded and ex-centric site of experience and empowerment. Feminist theorizing in Africa consequently locates itself within this transitory space of the ‘post’, giving birth to a yet polysemous feminism whose epistemic problematic is not only limited to Africa but a result of its Euro-American roots. But the fundamental problem confronting a totalised feminist theorising in Africa is the question of originality, definition and relevance (Akoh “Poetics” 137). Part of its contradictions is the fact that the search for global sisterhood is predicated largely on gender while ignoring issues of race, culture, class and sexuality.

Radical Feminism of Onwueme

The Broken Calabash is indubitably Tess Onwueme’s arrival into the radical feminist fold. The play presents us with a clash of tradition and modernity. At the time of writing the play, Onwueme probably had in mind to lend a voice to the corpus of what was becoming the vogue in early literary tradition in African drama – the issue of clash of cultures or generations (Amuta 54). The centrepiece of the message is the urgent need for change in a traditional society that places high premium on tradition and customs as well as parental authority; all of which rule the possibility of the power of the individual especially the female to make a choice. Ona, the heroine, is trapped between tradition and modernity. As a university undergraduate, she wishes to marry the love of her life, Diaku, in a manner permitted by modern society life without interference. Her parents, hanging to tradition, pose a stumbling block because she is an idegbe – an only child. As an idegbe she is expected only to marry into the family and preserve the family seed. Besides, her heartthrob is an osu, a group of outcast; hence she is in a dilemma between her love for Diaku and the right tradition confers on her father (Courtuma), an opportunity the latter appropriates with a somewhat libidinal impulse. Chidi Amuta describes Courtuma’s possessive relationship with his daughter as having “something of an incestuous streak about it with him thinking of and talking to his daughter in terms overloaded with Freudian overtones”. Consequently, Courtuma frantically frustrates Ona’s desires especially as he breaks the calabash of palm wine offered by Diaku’s family as part of the marriage ceremony.

The breaking of the calabash at a more symbolic level represents “Ona’s shattered emotional aspiration and stability as well as the tradition which Courtuma strives so hard to protect and defend” (Amuta 56). On the other hand, it goes to reveal the shaky nature of the tradition which is awaiting a tragedy as Courtuma breaks a tradition in his attempt to save another. One of the resultant effects is that Diaku is forced to find an alternative girl who he eventually marries. The playwright is however not daunted at this level as she still equips Ona with the will power to bring down the strings that tie tradition together. It is not surprising then when she voices strongly:

Let the wind blow –

Let shaky homestead be blown. Anything Which cannot stand the force of change must Be uprooted or be blown into oblivion by the Storm heralding the new season! (TBC 43).

Thus, she accuses her father of being responsible for her pregnancy. This turn of events forces the father to commit suicide, finally bringing about the defeat of tradition in the face of an inevitable socio-cultural change.

The Theory of African Feminism

Traces of what has come to form the fulcrum upon which the theory of African womanism is built could be seen as early as Sofola’s The Sweet Trap published in 1977. The play is a unique expose of the realities that confront the African woman, which she must recognise in her search for identity, self- fulfilment and new heights within global feminism. The playwright’s call in the play is a move away from the present ‘confusion of roles’ to the status quo where ‘everyone knew his place and stayed there’ (48) and yet there is an uninterrupted symbiosis. In this play the playwright seems to be saying that “African tradition with its spiritual centre is healthier than modern post-industrial society” (Fido 57). Here, again, we align with Fido that the playwright’s commitment to tradition is not a blind turning to the past; rather it is a desire to bring both men and women back to a state of willingness to accept old ways of mutual respect and responsibility. This is a supporting tissue of African Womanism for the twenty-first century. Thus at this stage of Onwueme’s artistic development, her play Tell it to Women gives this theory a more contemporaneous attention; and it explains further the fact that specific perspectives of reality really determine the viewpoints to women oppressions.4 Sofola herself, asserting the need to return to the basis, warns that if the women dare to insist on the provisions of culture and tradition for them the modern man would be destroyed because the latter does not have the vantage world of his fathers. One should equally believe that this caveat also goes for the modern (elite) woman who too is rifted from this privileged past of her mothers. Will modern women be ready to accept the past of their mothers with all the responsibilities, burdens and challenges it offers? These and many more are issues which African womanism interrogates. In a Sofolan tradition therefore, Tell it to Women begins Onwueme’s shift from radical feminism to African womanism.

Subtitled ‘an epic drama for women’, the play dramatises the preparation for the launching of the Better Life for Rural Women programme initiated by a group of urban (elite) women who see themselves as ‘torch-bearers of global sisterhood’ (feminism). The primary aim is to:

break boundaries of confinement and compartmen-talization of our potentiality in the oppressive, despotic and tyrannical hegemony of patriarchy imposed on women these many years (27).

Represented conspicuously by Daisy, Director of Women Affairs in government and Ruth, an unmarried feminist scholar whose promotion to the rank of full professor of feminist studies is solely dependent on the success of the launching, the preparations begin to have cracks from the outset of Yemoja’s sojourn with the elite women in the capital city. As the one meant to be the ‘eye’ of the rural women of Idu, Yemoja soon discovers that the plaque given to her in the village is only meant to lure her to the city to serve their (Daisy and Ruth) selfish purposes. This becomes clearer when Daisy maps out her boundaries of operation in the house. Both Daisy and Ruth treat Yemoja as a slave, making her realise the social hiatus between them.

Besides, the lesbian relationship between Daisy and Ruth, practised in the very home where Daisy’s precocious daughter of ten years is growing up, also draws curious attention to the new concept of sisterhood and ‘queendom’ dominated only by ‘sheroes’ where marriage, ‘an unforgivable insult’ to women, is prohibited. Thus, mentored by Ruth, Daisy’s marriage to Okei begins to crumble as they both now despise family life, a borrowed doctrine to which the playwright’s persona, Adaku, appropriately responds:

That is our new disease: Oyibo! And now the family head must be turned upside down and men must hand over power to women. Wives must lie on top of their husbands for women to show power and live a better life? I do not… I cannot understand the whole message! I even hear that in Oyibo land now, men marry men and women marry women… (38).

Interestingly – and this is where the playwright’s message really lies – the certificated women meet their waterloo during the aborted launching where, to their chagrin, the rural women led by Adaku and Yemoja, and even joined by Daisy’s precocious daughter, openly denounce this ‘new disease’ in a grand celebrative dance of womanhood and motherhood.


It is evident from the foregoing that most African societies are still characterized by very strong value systems, with customs and practices that tend to undermine the role of women and emphasize their subordinate position in society. Gender discrimination prevails in the social institutions of marriage, the family, inheritance, property rights, kinship relations, and indeed everyday human relationships.

Onwueme through these plays stimulates our consciousness and urges us all to reassess our attitude towards the feminine gender. It is quite obvious that what Onwueme seeks is to ensure that patriarchal society’s entrenched culture bound laws and norms are eradicated. Her goal is to ensure that equity and equality prevails in her society. For her, the African woman merely wants to be ‘shifted for’ and accommodated in a society in which she is an important participant. In her estimation, women as a result of the substantial contribution which they make to the economy, the home and the society deserves more respect and attention and ascribed more roles alongside their male counterparts. She does not see leadership as the exclusive preserve of the male gender but rather a common heritage of all, in which equality and mutual self respect must hold sway. She however advocates bonding as a veritable antidote for female empowerment. That if all women share their problems with one another and come to one another’s support, they will be physically and mentally free from male torture and enslavement.

Onwueme employs bonding in The Reign of Wazobia to create a sense of camaraderie amongst the women of Anioma kingdom in the hope that it will motivate the more perceptible women like Omu into positive actions that can stimulate discourse which will in turn benefit not only the women but the entire society. We will observe that the collective struggle of these women not only reduce the pain, distress and hurt which patriarchy inflicted on them but also gave them a sense of belonging and fashion them into a strong formidable force. Engaging the character of Ona as a symbol of change in The broken calabash, Onwueme seeks the elimination of all harmful cultural practices and recognition of equality and equity in the relationship of the two sexes. She asserts through the play that a woman should no longer be compelled to satisfy cultural requirements that have no benefits for her, just because the society approves of them.

The medium of literature has over the ages been perceived to have the capacity to influence social and individual understanding and change. It is therefore assumed that the African female dramatists exploring this medium can use it as vehicle for the advancement of the social status of the African woman, thereby creating a world that is socially ideal.

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