Published on International Journal of Art, Language & Linguistics
Publication Date: April, 2020
Abana, Ifeoma & Vera Okoli
Department of English, Madonna University
Department of English, Nwafor Orizu College of Education
Journal Full Text PDF: The Place of Women in Nation Building (Review of Purple Hibiscus Novels by Adichie).
Sustainable development is not just of a national concern but also of a global interest and there is currently a growing awareness in strategies that would enhance the overall status of women. The female gender form an important part of our national life and the role played by them generally can never be overstressed. Women, educated or uneducated contribute in no small measure in the advancement of society. Their relevance is prominent right from the home front to the larger society. These efforts are not only ignored but unrecognized. Studies have shown specific challenges women and girls face just because of their gender. As a result of this, they have become the victims of all forms of devastating abuse, suppression and violence. Academically, they are relegated to the background, socially oppressed, legally cheated, technologically suppressed and religiously ignored. This study examines the efforts of an African novelist, Chimamanda Adichie in projecting a new image and identity for women in her novel, Purple Hibiscus . She captures the various challenges of women. This treatise depicts women as possessing the potentials for meaningful contributions to the advancement of a nation and as a result deserve a better deal than what they are currently offered. It is therefore expected that this paper would have positive contributions as regards the status of today’s woman.
Keywords: Gender, discrimination, contribution, challenges, sustainable, violation, and rights.
Nation building is a process of constructing and fashioning a national identity. The selection of the words, process, construction and fashioning are very crucial because they are the basic requirements of nation building. If one should take a critical look at these words, one would realize that nation building is indeed a process that requires a long period of time. It is a gradual process and not a sudden or drastic occurrence. In nation building construction and fashioning are also very important because there are things to be constructed and fashioned out both in physical and intangible terms. Fashioning here is a conscious effort it creating an identity and a national image. Among those things to be constructed and fashioned out are behaviour, national image, values, institutions and even physical monuments that depict common history and culture of the people of the state. Nation building is also about forging a sense of unity among the various units of a country. This includes making conscious efforts in uniting heterogeneous societies as one indivisible unity, united in national goals, beliefs and common national aspirations. It not only involves rebranding of image, but also includes the revamping, restricting and reorientation of a nation. Indeed, nation building is different from state building, because while the later is more of building and strengthening states’ institutions, which could also be from an outside influence, the later is more concerned with the building of strong national identity. Moreover, it does not really require an outside involvement, but it does require the inputs from all sections of the state. Although, every section and group of a state has roles to play in nation building, in many cases this is not so as only few sections have perpetually dominated mainstream development leaving behind significant contributions to nation building from other vital, sections of the state.
To explain the need to get women involved in nation building as their input are invaluable for sustainable development;
Showcase the specific challenges faced by women and girls;
Highlight the different areas, women need to be empowered;
Discuss the some of the efforts made by women in contending with these challenges.
Relevant documents and declarations published in print and on the internet were consulted in bid to source for data for this work. This included Ba’s So Long a Letter and Adichie’s Purpule Hibiscus. Moreover, published works by scholars of various disciplines and NGOs were consulted, several women were interviewed, ranging from the uneducated rural women to the literate and enlightened ones. The analyses of the interviews revealed that generally, there appears to be fundamental yearnings on the part of women to improve on their educational, socio-cultural and economic status.
3. Review of Related Literature
Women form an important part of a nation’s labour force and the roles played by women are unquantifiable. Walingo (2009:8) posits that in Africa, women form about 43% of the world’s agricultural workforce.80% of agricultural production comes from small farmers who are mostly women. Traditionally the role of women, from history has always been childbearing and rearing, housekeeping, and subsistence agricultural activities. In many societies they are regarded more or less as second class citizens. Most of the time they have been excluded from most political or nation-building activities. In most Africa societies, gender preference is rampant. Right from birth, the girl child is faced with the possibility of rejection. In contemporary African society, the female’s position very often is no better than that of a slave. The illiterate female is despised, abused and exploited, while the educated woman (in Nigeria is spitefully appalled ‘acada’) is often suspected by men who exercise their superior status … as under threat. The female character in Africa hitherto is a lack-luster human being, the quiet member of the household content only in being a baby making machine, feels unfulfiled when she fails to procreate, and feels handicapped when she has only female children. Hear Beatrice-
“Did our own umunna not tell Eugene to take another wife because a man of his stature cannot have just two children? If people like you had not been on my side then…”
‘Stop it…if Eugene had done that ,he would have been the loser not you.”
“So you say.A woman with children and no husband what is that?”(85)
In the home she is not part of decision-making both as a daughter or mother even when the matter affects her directly. This is typified by Beatrice in Chimamanda Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus. Eugene in the novel beats his wife, Beatrice mercilessly till she loses her babies. Beatrice is helpless because “battered women frequently lack self esteem, suffer from feelings of loss and inadequacy, depression and learned helplessness.(Aguirre and Baker 153).It is not surprising that Beatrice “spoke the way a bird eats, in small amounts” (P.20) . When a man cannot take care of his wife, the union between them should be null and void.
This belief was shown by Aissatou in Long a Mariama Ba’s So Long a Letter. Religion allows the male dominated society to subjugate its female counterparts. Here the two institutions of religion seem to connive against the wishes and aspirations of the female protagonists. Adichie’s work explores the dynamics of a family ruled by an extremist catholic fundamentalist patriarch whose word is law. Eugene Achibe practices Catholicism according to his colonialist or white priests’ dictates and not according to biblical injunctions that prescribes honour and respect for parents.In a very subtle but endearing narrative Ba articulates the consequences of such institutionalization not only on the woman but also on the man who ignorantly saps his own energy through multiple marriages and gradually siphon his resources to an end. These extremists render those under them, particularly the womenfolk incapable of developing their potentials to contribute to the growth of society.
Furthermore, women are not allowed to contribute to public discussions on matters affecting the general public. They are excluded from decision-making processes of the state. This is indeed a reflection of their status at home in decision-making matters. A typical example is in the choice of marriage partners where women have little or no say at all.
Many a time, they are forced into marriages negotiated by the male members of the family. Docility and complete submission of will is demanded and enacted from her. This traditional image of woman as an indeterminate human being, dependent, gullible and a voiceless stock, especially in the background of patrilineage system which marks most African societies.
There’s Mary Slessor Hall. Over there is Okpara Hall, and this is Bello Hall, the most famous hostel, where Amaka has sworn she will live when she enters the university and launches her activist movements.” …May be you two will be together Kambili.”I nodded stiffly, although Aunty Ifeoma could not see me. I had never thought about university, where I would go or what I would study. When the time came Papa would decide. (137-138)
This is a pathetic case of emasculating a human being, no initiative, no dreams, no aspirations and no plans whatsoever for herself . Unlike her vivacious cousin, Amaka who had already picked her dream hostel and even had plans of engaging in activism, what a world of difference? Amaka is creative, honest, outspoken and a dogged fighter. She is affected by her mother who is a mother to the core and allowed her children the necessary freedom.
Survival of Women Without Men
Seeing that women are so maltreated by men, how do they survive with all this maltreatment ? Adichie does not only bring out the effects of discrimination on women, she also uses the character, Aunty Ifeoma to show that some women are able to survive without men. Although she is a widow, she is content with her meagre salary and also ensures that her children grow to be responsible and emotionally balanced human beings. Her children are always happy and content with whatever she gives them. Aunty Ifeoma take very good care of Papa Nnukwu, her father who was virtually abandoned by Eugene on religious grounds. Papa Nnukwu comments, “Ifeoma could not afford to buy new electronics” since the father of her children died,she has seen hard times. But she will bring them this year”(73).Although Beatrice tells to requesr for gas cylinders from her rich brother, Eugene she declines.
Aunty Ifeoma only laughs at this suggestion and pats MAma’s shoulder fondly saying,
“Nwunye m,things are tough ,but we are not dying yet.”.(83)
In contrast to Ifeoma, Beatrice feels she will not survive without her husband. She says,
‘Where would I go if I leave Eugene’s house tell me, where would I go?’ (225).
Eventually, when her husband dies she survives with her children. Aunty Ifeoma without a job is ready to move on with he r life.She announces the loss of her job without any show of despondency. Rather, she strives hard to get a visa for herself and her children to travel. She later leaves for America with her children where she secures two jobs. Aunty Ifeoma writes Kambili’s family when she gets to America. Kambili expresses, Aunty Ifeoma writes to mama and me, though she writes about her two jobs, one at a community college and one at a pharmacy, or drug store as they call it”(304)..
Many African men do not value economic contributions of their wives. Moreover, even with economic opportunities, African women lack certain rights.
Alaiyemola (2016, 68) posits that when women are economically empowered and buoyant, they would be able to contribute positively to national development. The popular adage – “when you train a boy you train individual but when you train a girl child you train a nation, is not contestable in any way .There is a dire need to enhance women’s economic status so as to be able to assist their immediate families, the society and the nation at large.
Recommendations were proffered on how to overcome these barriers so that women can contribute maximally in national development.
4. Review of Related Literature
For there to be meaningful tool of national building, women as the backbone of rural and national economies must be empowered as they comprise the largest workforce in the family and agricultural sector. Meetika, (2009.12) posits that “When women are empowered, whole families benefit and these benefits often have ripple effects on future generations. Empowerment of women should be an active and on-going process that will give room to women to fully realize their capacities and potentials in all aspects of life. According to Fonchingong (2009:1), the world all over is replete with happenings that project male dominance and adequately pleads the case of the African woman. Adichie in her novel, Purple Hibiscus highlights the effects of discrimination on women, Beatrice goes through psychological problems because of what her husband Eugene does to her. Kambili describes her looks, “her eyes were vacant, like the eye of those mad people who wondered around the roadside garbage”. Eugene makes Beatrice go through delimiting problems that. Again examining their roles, in terms of marriage which is very crucial in our society, the institution of marriage is unconventional by Western standards. The traditional system of polygamy flourishes with every social class. Women do not expect much from men as regards companionship, personal care and fidelity. Their relationship exists without emotional or sentimental attachment. The natural duties of wives, Chukwukere (1995:3) laments that “the presentation of the female gender is mostly sloppy and biased. An obnoxious and pestiferous culture provides clauses that inhibit the progress of women and maintains them permanently in the suffocating stench of submissiveness”.
The novels, Purple Hibiscus by Adichie, portrays various perspectives of the image of women in the family, society and government. These qualities justify the use of their works as a case study in our attempt to analyze the image of women in African society. These writers have explored women’s life in various ways in order to draw attention to the plight of the women .
The Traditional Role of Women in Nation Building
‘The hand that rocks the cable rules the world,’ says an adage. We should therefore credit the traditional role of women as a significant contribution towards nation building. This is because, many a time, the responsibility of child training and home-making are anchored by mothers and it is the kind of training that a child receives at home that to a large extent shapes the way that child contributes to his or her society. Beliefs, values, deals and perceptions of the mother also determine to a great extent what a child becomes or even contribute to the nation. Thus, the traditional roles of women is not only a contribution to nation building but a critical part of their role as nation builders. However, it should not end there, they should equally make contributions to political developments and other areas of national identity of a nation. Against this backdrop, every society should endeavour to make a conscious effort in enhancing the role of women.
According to Wikipedia, (2012;452 ), these capacities have to do with increasing the spiritual, political, social, educational, gender or economic strength of individuals and communities. It can therefore be said that women empowerment is an undisguised and positioning of women for nation building.
Adichie has expressed the need for women to reflect on the great essence of education as a way of enhancing their condition and changing society. Adichie does not only showcase the effects of discrimination on women, she uses the character, Aunty Ifeoma to show that some women are able to survive without men. She is well-read, a university lecturer that is aspiring to the post of a Senior Lecturer. Aunty Ifeoma is a good daughter, mother, sister, and sister in-law to the care. This is found in her relationship with her immediate family, paternal family and brother, Eugene’s family. She is able to manage her family without depending on the wealth of her elder brother, Eugene, as other widows would have done. In Purple Hibiscus, we see the educated Aunty Ifeoma making giant strides in the lives of Kambili and Jaja. She ‘sows the seeds of a new liberating consciousness’ in the two children. Unlike their uneducated mother, Beatrice, who is a victim of her husband’s brutality, after having been beaten into two miscarriages by Eugene, her husband. She cannot help her child except by trying to soothe their wounds after each attack from their father.
It the rate of female school dropout is checked and more females are encouraged to be educated, teenage marriages would be reduced, the national population planning goals with all its attendant benefits would be easier to achieve and the opportunities for economic empowerment would be further expanded.
Her children are always happy and content with whatever she gives them. Aunty Ifeoma takes good care of her father Papa Nnukwu and even takes him on sightseeing, feeds him and treats him well even while he was ill during the doctors’ strike, despite her not being financially buoyant. Papa Nnukwu comments, “Ifeoma could not afford to buy new electronics” since the father of her children died she has seen hard times (73) Aunty Ifeoma is central to the construction of a new and liberating consciousness for Jaja and Kambili, their redefining themselves, learning new things other children take for granted They learnt to boldly stand up to their father (Eugene), making their own choices and speaking out. She compels Eugene to allow them to visit Nsukka, to undertake that ventilating and liberating journey ostensible to go on pilgrimage to Aokpe. Aokpe, a transforming spiritual site and a “symbol of new vision, hope and wholeness” (Okereke 203). “After the liberating Nsukka experience when freedom has been attained Kambili can laugh at seemingly trivial natural sights and smells with that particular carefreeness that defines true freedom, thereby living up to her Igbo name “Kambili – “Let me live.” – an existentialist plea to the asphyxiating forces to allow her exercise her right to exist. This scenario depicts the bondage suffered by the African women. They are not even involved in anything that is greatly detached from household responsibilities and as a result, this nation has not been able to benefit from this very vital group of the community.
Pioneer Women Contributors in Nation Building
Despite the many limited roles played by women, in Africa in nation building, there have been occasions when women rose to the challenges facing the nation. In Nigeria for example, there was the incidence that is now referred to as the Aba Women Riots of 1929, where it was the women who championed the course of the nation when they protested the taxation of women by the colonial authorities. Moreover, there have been individual women that achieved great feats for their nations. An example of such women includes, Olufumilayo Ransome Kuti, the wife of the renowned Reverend Israel Ransome Kuti, who organized a lot of campaigns against colonial rule. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia is another woman in this category. She later rose to be the first female African Head of State. These women were able to rise above the limiting factors of their gender to contribute greatly to nation building in their time.
The World Bank (2011) defines empowerment as a process of increasing the capacity of individuals or groups to make choice and to transform those choices to desired actions and outcomes. A spiritually empowered woman for instance, becomes conscious of her inborn ability to change her destiny and to be a catalyst for change – Meenakshi Jha (2001) puts it this way, in Spiritual Empowerment and Women, “Spirituality is all about awakening the ‘consciousness’ to recognize the ‘truth’ about self, about relationship, of self with the people and the nature around. She further states that it is the beginning of taking care of our own self and understanding others in a better way”. This implies that when a women is spiritually empowered, she possesses enough confidence to exploit her abilities, which she can use in building her nation, making her an indispensable component that constitute the nation. Moreover, it improves relationship with other members of her community creating room for peaceful co-existence and other platforms for unity. Also when women are politically empowered, there is a greater possibility of positive political development. The chance at peace for instance is better guaranteed as women and children suffer most in the aftermath of any violent conflict. Thus, when marginalization and gender inequalities which exist in many African countries through laws and customs are removed, it will give the women the ability to play greater influential roles in nation building.
Empowering Women economically is fundamental to their ability to contribute meaningfully to nation building. It gives them the chance to stand on equal footings with men; it enhances their ability to contribute to national economic development. This is because the inclusion of women who are usually a large proportion of the population, in a nation’s workforce will definitely have a huge impact on the nation’s economic output. The Military and Paramilitary Service is another area where the role of women in nation building cannot be overlooked. In a situation where the woman is edged out of these services due to psychological or socio-cultural reasons, the effectiveness of such a nation in maintaining national security is jeopardized. This is so because there are roles that can only be played effectively by women in military service. These days however, women are found in these military and paramilitary services though in a low percentage when compared to the number of men.
5. Conclusion and Recommendation
This treatise has attempted to add another dimension to the recurring question of the gender inequality in Africa especially as regards national advancement via gender lens. Efforts were made to highlight the specific areas where agenda divide or bias occur and was always met with hasty conclusions. However, the obvious fact remains that women’s potentials have not been fully tapped due to many constraints. The woman’s place has moved from the private to the public domain and she should be allowed to showcase her talent, not suppressed because of her sex. Women should be encouraged to participate fully in all spheres of human endeavour, be it educational, sociopolitical or religious. According to the founder, Peace Links USA, International Alert Betty Bumpers (1990:10) asserts,
It is not because we think better than men, but we think differently. It’s not that the world would have been a better place if women had run it, but the world will be a better place when we as women, who bring out perspectives, share in running it.
Therefore, to have a sustainable national advancement, there is a need for paradigm shift and structural changes of national machineries to accommodate broader issues of social justice, gender equity rather than the narrow fixation on women empowerment issues which have only achieved cosmetic changes without fundamentally dismantling entrenched structures and institutions that hold gender discrimination and women empowerment.
Men should encourage their wives, mothers, sisters and daughters to express and assert themselves instead of being tied down by tradition which underpines and limits them. All obnoxious laws that relegate women to the background, deny them self expression, and infringe on their human rights should be abolished. Adichie in the novel examined in this work, demonstrates the changing roles of women; thereby help to restore fundamental human rights and confidence in their various societies. Creating a gender responsive and equitable nation requires absolute commitment from the highest levels of government, i.e the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary. For there to be more national advancement on the part of the women, the Nigeria predominantly patriarchal mentality should recognize gender equity as a core value.
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