The Violation Of Women Right In African Novel Faceless And Women At Point Zero Portrayed

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The Violation Of Women Right In African Novel Faceless And Women At Point Zero Portrayed


This study examines the different subjugating conditions that women are confronted with daily. These include domestic violence, sexual abuse, Female Genital Mutilation, child-brides, bride-burning, discrimination in religious institutions and work place and other harmful cultural practices that inhibit the personal development of women in the society. Nawal El Sadaawi’s portraiture of this grim reality in Woman at Point Zero brings to fore the various phases of injustices and abuse that women grapple with in phallocentric societies. Set in Egypt, the novelist reveals the deep rooted cultural and religious beliefs which are actually barriers to the self-actualization of the female. The story, a true life account of a woman awaiting execution on death row, corroborates Ngugi‟s assertion that “Literature does not grow or develop in a vacuum; it is given impetus, shape, direction and even area of concern by social and economic forces in a particular society” (XV). The various stages of a woman’s life and the peculiar type of oppression of each stage as portrayed in the novel forms the subject of the next discussion.


Table of Content

Chapter One

1.0 Introduction

  • 1.1 Background of the Study
  • 1.2 Statement of the Problem
  • 1.3 Objective of the Study
  • 1.4 Research Question
  • 1.5 Significance of the Study
  • 1.6 Scope of the Study
  • 1.7 Theoretical Framework
  • 1.8 Synopsis of the Selected Texts
  • 1.9 Methodology

Chapter Two

2.0 Literature Review

  • 2.1 Conceptual Framework
  • 2.2 Issues From the Feminist Portrayal in African Society
  • 2.3 Violence Against Women
  • 2.4 Women in Patriarchal Societies

Chapter Three

3.0 A Critical Analysis of Faceless by Amma Darko

  • 3.1 Evaluation
  • 3.2 Marginalization of Women as Portrayed in Faceless
  • 3.3 Darko’s Aesthetics Message for a Positive Change of Mentality

Chapter Four

4.0 A Critical Analysis of Nawal El Saadawi’s Women at Point Zero

  • 4.1 Female Mutilation
  • 4.2 Education
  • 4.3 Mahr
  • 4.4 Domestic Violence
  • 4.5 Prostitution And Self Emancipation

Chapter Five

5.0 Summary and Conclusion

  • 5.1 Summary
  • 5.2 Conclusion
  • Bibliography

Chapter One

1.0 Introduction

1.1 Background of the Study

Female oppression is a problem that still exists in present day society. The fact that we live in a modern world with monumental technological advancement has not changed the grim reality that women are discriminated against and suppressed because of the patriarchal molded structures. The cultural beliefs, traditions and religions of most societies give more attention to patriarchy thereby ensuring the continuation of the domination and repression of women. Any attempt by women to protest against the injustices and discrimination meted by the men folk is tantamount to challenging age long tradition and culture which is perceived to be a sacrilege. Therefore she is made to accept her subordinate and second class position hence leading to the violation of her human right. “To be a woman is a natural infirmity and every woman gets used to it. To be a man is an illusion, an act of violence that requires no justification(Henrietta and Nwodo, 1982) Hence women are therefore viewed as the passive sacrificial lamb, always ready to be sacrificed on the altar of man’s social, economic and political spheres of the society by making meaningful contribution to its development. In spite of these, a woman, especially in Africa, is only respected and regarded as fulfilled when she performs her traditional duties as a housewife, mother, homemaker and caregiver who is meant to be seen and not heard. Any other role contrary to these stereotypical roles is regarded as an affront to male authority and ego which results in violence, oppression and violation of women right.
The position of women in society has been a frequent focus of Nigerian female writers such as Buchi Emecheta, Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, Flora Nwapa, Omolara Ogundipe-Leslie, Chik- wenye Okonjo Ogunyemi, and Catherine Acholonu, who have engaged in literary polemics, using their arts to defend the posi- tions of women in society. These writers present women as victims of gender discrimination, societal oppression and spousal abuse. Their works have shown them as advocates and defenders of the rights of women. Condemning the plays of Ama Ata Aidoo, Joy Eyisi and Chinonso Okolo write that women are depicted as “dev- ilish, disadvantaged, and deprived masses” and as “a negligible and unorganized force, with little political and economic involve- ment,” in spite of the fact that they constitute the mainstream of the society’s workforce, especially in rural areas.1

Hence, the need for women’s empowerment becomes urgent and inevitable. This study interrogates the predicaments of the girl-child in Ngozi Omeje’s play The Conquered Maiden and Amma Darko’s novel Faceless. While The Conquered Maiden is a play written by a Nigerian female lawyer and playwright set in the Eastern part of Nigeria, Faceless is Amma Darko’s third novel. The novel is set in Accra, Ghana, which is used as a microcosm of Ghanaian society. In his article “Woman Being in the African Society,” Emeka Nwabueze traces the trajectory of female domi- nation to the traditional African societies where heroic duties such as warring, hunting, and cultivating were reserved and performed by men while women were limited to cooking, hewing wood, and fetching water.2 This was because men were considered to be more muscular and brawny than women, who are still regarded as weak and feeble. This paper is, therefore, a critical interrogation of the vulnerability of the girl-child in a patriarchal African society. The African society that discriminates against the girl-child and makes her a perpetual tragic victim of its cultural traditions forms the fulcrum of this discourse.

The findings of Bassey et al. on gender discrimination in occupational practices in the traditional setting in Nigeria show that even though both men and women are engaged in indigenous occupations such as hunting, farming, and trading, the women work under the guidance and leadership of men.3 Asiyanbola and Aina further explain that the patriarchal nature of the tra- ditional societies in Africa, which consider certain jobs and tasks like domestic chores to be the exclusive duties of women while men are generally classified as possessing “strength, vigor, cour- age, [and] self-confidence” among other sterling qualities, enables men to be involved in more tasking jobs.4,5 In order to ensure that these defined sex roles are adhered to strictly, taboos are imposed on offenders.

In contemporary African societies, women’s liberation move- ments, which have come under different ideological labels such as Women in Nigeria (WIN) and the Federation of Muslim Women of Nigeria (FOMWAN), have fought against all forms of gender discrimination, oppression, and exploitation of women that have made women to be objects of social injustice and societal prej- udice. Masculinity and patriarchy, which are social constructs and traditional paradigms without any biological proof, enhance gender discrimination in society. African women contribute sig- nificantly to the development of society both in the traditional and modern era. They are described as the foundation and the feeders of the nations. Such contributions, therefore, confer on African women prestigious roles in society.6

It is against this background that this study is undertaken to focus on violation of the right of women in African novel. An examination of the case study of Amma Darko’s Faceless and Nawal El Saadawi’s Women at Point Zero.

1.2 Statement of the Problem

In Africa, procreation is the most common expectation governing marriage. A woman‘s ability to secure her marriage rests on her ability to give birth. The primacy of womanhood to African women has been elucidated by Oduyoye thus:

“Womanhoodis a highly valued role open only to women but desired by both men and women as well as the society as a whole; it is the channel by which men reproduce themselves and continue the family name and it is the channel by which women actualize their psycho-religious need to be the source of life. Often, procreation is described as if women are simply ―Objects of genetic and social transmission”.

Oduyoye‘s analysis of the primacy of motherhood to African women reveals some attempt at a comparative analysis as per the importance of childbirth to men and women. Whereas for men procreation constitutes a duty call since it is the channel by which men continue with the family name, for women, childbirth goes beyond ensuring survival of the human race. Women see in it their ability to procreate, their very essence—it is fulfilling since the birth of a child supposedly fills a vacuum in a woman‘s life. It does not bring only physical joy to the woman; it assures her that her ability to procreate makes her acceptable before God and man. Ann Oakley has argued that being a mother is held out as the primary feminine goal. She writes:

“Women hood settles women down and provides a focus for feelings of feminine responsibility. It is fulfilling – both of the social expectation and of the personal desire – though its capacity to satisfy the latter is not so great in reality as in anticipation (when babies are clothed in a mystique that red and squalling infants do not have).More than this, the very sentimentalization of womenhood is a problem for women in becoming and being mothers, since it poses the insoluble dilemma of tracing perfection in imperfect circumstances(Oakley, Ann,198:86)

As an important marker of female identity, womanhood to most Africans and especially most African women is considered the major role of the female. According to Sarpong, womanhood ―is the principal if not ultimate end of marriage.(Sarpong, 1974:69

According to John Gills (1996:174) womanhood is the sovereign means of female identity formation. Gills (1996:174) asserts, giving birth ceased to be something that happens to a woman and became the ultimate source of adult female identity formation( Gills 1996:174).

Gills‘s assertion points to a rather disturbing generalization which considers procreation as a duty for every woman. The woman who refuses to procreate or who, for one biological reason or the other, cannot procreate automatically comes under severe criticism for interrupting nature‘s original plan. Sarpong (1974:69) says:

“The greatest calamity to befall an African woman is to be barren.The idea that women occupy important spaces in society cannot be overemphasized. According to Naana Horne, ―Matrilineal kinship recognizes woman as the very source of intergenerational connectedness. Indeed, Darko‘s descent from a matrilineage explains partly the space she gives to motherhood in her novels. The attendant challenges mothers face in the political and the socio-economic domains of the woman nurturing the matrilineal kinship system of the Akans (in Ghana). Furthermore, problems such as economic hardships, patriarchal and cultural demands, woman violation by men, domestic violence against, as well as the irresponsible behaviour of some men have rendered many women voiceless in Africa to the extent that women who are mothers cannot mentor their children, especially not their daughters, to become mothers or to make their views heard in public. Womanhood, in Africa, is fraught with a myriad of problems and these problems have made motherhood a paradox—that which brings joy and reward whilst at the same time reducing the woman/mother to the level of an object conditioned to suffer shame and abuse. The received view that all mothers have automatic love for their children has been radically interrogated by world changing situations as well as African women writers. It is based on this problems that this study examines the violation of the right of women in Africa novel.

1.3 Objective of the Study

The main objective of the study is to ascertain how African novels such as faceless and women at point zero portrayed the violation of women right in African novel.

Specific objective is to examine:

  1. To determine how the violation of right of women is highlighted in Amma Darko’s Faceless.
  2. To examine how the violation of right of women is highlighted in Nawal El Saadawi’s Women at Point Zero.
  3. To compare and contrast the way the African novels such as Faceless and Women at Point Zero highlighted violation of women’s right.

1.4 Research Question

The following research question will guide the study as follows:

  1. How is the violation of women’s right highlighted in Amma Darko’s Faceless?
  2. How is the violation of women’s right highlighted in Nawal El Saadawi’s Women at Point Zero?
  3. What are the differences and similarities in the way the African novels such as Faceless and Women at Point Zero highlighted violation of women’s right?

1.5 Significance of the Study

The study will be of benefit to all citizens of Africans countries in that it will enable them see the need of protecting and advocating for the freedom of women oppression as regard violation of their right. It will enable the male counterpart to fully understand some of the crucial role which woman play in homes and society at large. Therefore, enabling the male to see the need of respecting and honour the women in the society.

1.6 Scope of the Study

This study focused on an examination of the violation of the right of women in African novels as it relates to context in the selected texts. Two gender based texts have been selected as the data for this study, both by female authors; Amma Darko’s Faceless and Nawal El Saadawi’s Women at Point Zero. The choice of texts arose from the need to do a thorough and unbiased study on issues around gender language differences (language features of men and women) reason being that only a detailed analysis will enable useful understanding of this study.

1.7 Theoretical Framework

This study adopts African feminism as its theoretical framework. In the paper, African feminism is distinguished from its precursors that dominated the scene before 1960, after which varieties of modern feminism continue to flourish. This discourse does not countenance the complexities and the intricacies of conceptualizing or taxonomizing Africa. Africa, in this context, will refer to the geographical space rather than the metaphorical or historiographical polemics. Feminism in the African context, according to Ogundipe-Leslie, “is not calling for a reversal of gender roles, and it is not a call for a particular sexual orientation; neither is it in opposition to men and African culture.”

African feminism recognizes the existence of other forms of feminism such as liberal feminism, radical feminism, Marxist feminism, cultural feminism and Islamic feminism. African feminism, according to Ogundipe-Leslie, is “a kind of red flag to the bull of African men.” African feminism, therefore, calls for the over- hauling and amelioration of the conditions of women in which women will be economically, politically and socially empowered to enable them to be involved in the societal transformation without compromising their motherhood and recognizing their biological and reproductive rights. Although this view is also shared by other forms of feminism, African feminism lays more emphasis on the complementary roles of both genders in enhancing societal growth and development in addition to the welfare of women.

Mekgwe defines African feminism, while acknowledging the complexities that surround the linguistic and socio-cultural realities of African women, as A discourse that takes care to delineate those concerns peculiar to the African situation. It also questions features of traditional African values without denigrating them, understanding that these might be viewed differently to the different classes of women.

That is the concern of Olomojobi when he says that African feminism is concerned with African nuances without disparaging them in view of the various socio-economic classes and socio-cultural backgrounds that define the identities of the African women. He says that African feminism rests on the notion that women in Africa are socially constructed by different cultural components. The theory attempts to shift away from misleading notions of equating western values with non-western societies. The point to bear in mind is that African women have different identities and primordial attachment to region and cultural determinants than women from western societies.
One of the main objectives of African feminism, according to Arndt, is to dismantle the current atmosphere of domination and then transform the concept of gender roles in African societies in order to improve the conditions of African women.

In his conceptualization of African feminism, Badeji shows that womanness is the center of African feminism. In addition, he describes the relationship between power and femininity as mutual. He also captures other features of African feminism thus:

African feminism embraces femininity, beauty, power, serenity, inner harmony, and a complex matrix of power. It is always poised and centered in womanness. It demonstrates that power and femininity are intertwined rather than antithetical. African femininity complements African masculinity, and defends both with the ferocity of the lioness while simultaneously seeking male defense of both as critical, demonstrable, and mutually obligatory.

African feminism critically interrogates gender discrimination from the African perspective with a view to elevating the roles of African women who are seen traditionally as the carriers of societal encumbrances and whose roles must be made complementary to the roles of the men. It is only in this context that African women can be liberated from the socio-cultural, patriarchal and phallocentric shackles that have tied them down for long, without which the entire African continent will remain in bondage. This theory is apposite for this paper because it condemns and opposes all forms of gender discrimination and prejudices experienced by African women. It also recognizes the biological and motherly roles of women which do not inhibit them from participating in societal transformation as men do.

1.8 Synopsis of the Selected Texts

Faceless, is a story of a mother, MaaTsuru, who loses grip on her own life and the lives of her children, leaving themat the clemency of the predators of the mores. It is also about four educated women who are inspired by the plight of a 14-year old girl, Fofo, MaaTsuru’s daughter. In the course of recounting how this comes about and who areinvolved, Darko presents feminist trepidations on issues such as stereotyping, abuse of females, marriage, childlessness and motherhood, education, poverty and exploitation, and parental neglect. As the main characters convert their library centre into a practical street initiative, the novel presents the squalor, health risks and violence that drive the contemporary Ghanaian women and children to unimaginable conditions.

Woman at Point Zero is about the experiences of Nawal El Saadawiin Egypt, when she was studying the psychological effects of prison on female prisoners. Nawal in that novel showed how females are treated in African society and often time condemned to death as in the case of a female prisoner who was accused of murder and condemned to death.

1.9 Methodology

Two literary texts; Amma Darko’s Faceless and Nawal El Saadawi’s Women at Point Zero were selected as the sources of data for this study. The data were purposively selected from the dialogues (exchanges) between mix sex characters in the texts. This research has employed quantitative and qualitative research methods to investigate how context determines women’s and men’s language use; speech acts, mood types and language features. This study examined how context as a factor is responsible for the violation of the right of women in the selected dialogues.

The data collected from the texts were examined to determine the different contexts responsible for the violation of the right of women typical of male and female characters in the selected texts. The researcher applied thematic reviews, speech acts and mood system to discover the peculiar context of these features as used by male and female characters in the selected texts.

The researcher made use of two literary texts: Amma Darko’s Faceless and Nawal El Saadawi’s Women at Point Zero. Samples were purposively selected from the texts which were solely on the dialogues and themes.

Chapter Five

5.0 Summary and Conclusion

5.1 Summary

Sadaawi has shown a deep concern about certain subjugating conditions that women undergo. In her concern are attempts to evoke those subjugating circumstances of women in order to arouse our pity for them and then to emancipate them from such conditions. In the end, what emerges is a positive vision of women different from what has been in existence in the societies that informed the background and setting of the novel.

In this study, it has been observed that male chauvinism and oppression militate against the progress of women in the given societies. The women in the selected work for this study are portrayed as hardworking, caring and law abiding citizens, but due to the daily oppression and subjugation that they suffer from the men, they resort to unconventional, violent means to liberate themselves. It is also observed that the women are oppressed and discriminated against right from childhood, thereby putting them in a disadvantaged position right from childhood without giving them a fair level ground with their counterparts to grow in a healthy social environment.

In the Islamic society, the setting of Woman at Point Zero, where Firdaus finds herself, it is observed that male oppression is backed by religious authority and not frowned at by law enforcement agents. A pimp is not punished for his indecent activities but raids and arrests are carried out on prostitutes. Although these men are religious and observe their daily religious obligations, they still regard oppression and subjugation of women as a normal way of life.

The subjugation of women is a plague that cuts across African societies. This social evil of marginalization that cuts across an entire continent calls for a concerted effort from women around the world to join hands together and fight for their liberation. Since suffering is a common denominator that they share together, they need to unite and see to its stoppage.

In spite of these efforts aimed at improving the social status of women, a definite attitudinal change from men with oppressive tendencies, gender mainstreaming and ensuring equal access to opportunities for both men and women will go a long way in improving the lot of women. In other words, gender issues should play a central role in all social restructuring. Women should be included in the contemporary social and political transformations and regarded as co-partners in the developmental process of the society.

A saying goes on that “If lions do not have their own historians, the story of the hunt will always keep glorifying the hunters” Amma Darko has certainly the saying in mind and then she works adequately to prove wrong all those who argue that the African women do not need liberation. Since modern academia describes human societies in relational terms, all women bear certain difficulties in relation to men. The research has proved that patriarchy, tradition, neocolonialism, gender imperialism, failed leadership, all combined to act against the African women’s self-assertion. That is, certainly, why African women’s texts have been concerned, explicitly or implicitly, with change.

Darko informs her readers and society, at large, that the African women’s conceptualization of freedom is not based on the erosion of her feminine attributes and outlook but in her ‘ability’ to go to school, to work, to voice her opinions (her likes and dislikes). For such basic needs to be effective, Darko utters a wake- up call to the government, which has a tremendous role to play in it. The government should not lose its priorities and become deaf to the cries of the victims (women). As a result, both men and women should shoulder responsibilities and work jointly for the benefit of a society without dis-cri-mi-nation.

5.2 Conclusion

In conclusion, Women at Point Zero and Faceless have successfully evoked the phallic symbol as an instrument of oppression against women. Society and particularly that of African is undoubtedly constructed around the power of the phallus, a symbol of male dominance. The relevance of the discourse to the modern day reality cannot be gainsaid given to the fact that novelists start re-appropriating social realities in their writings. Stated this way, we can see that Amma Darko and Nawal El Saadawi demonstrate the high brutality used by male characters raised with patriarchal values. The novelist makes the breach in the shell of patriarchy with her radical feminist perspective by portraying her female characters struggling to gain their space and making their way throughout their daily ordeals. Culture as being the main cause of these ordeals has therefore to be revisited as it silences women and hinders the full participation in society.

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