As strange as it may sound, women of Etiti Ozalla community in Nkanu West Council Area of Enugu state are not obligated to farm in or out of season. It is said that their women are so beloved that they are not allowed to farm.
As a matter of custom, women of the community are not expected to lift a hoe in making ridges or in cultivation of any crop on the farm. The norm is for their husbands to hire farm hands to do the farm work for their wives. Donald Nwochi, (Igwe) the traditional ruler of Etiti Ozalla autonomous community, revealed this during a consultative and advocacy visit to the community by Christian Aid Nigeria (CAN) as part of their Voice to the People (V2P) project.
The monarch explained that it was not a matter of taboo or abomination for their women to engage in farming but rather a quality decision made by the community in considerate appreciation of the inputs of their women in home building and community development.
“Our fathers perceived our women folks as special and weaker vessels who occupy very special place in our homes and community. They considered the fact that the woman goes through a lot to breed children; puts in a lot to raise them; still commits energy and resources to run her home while efficiently joggling between being a mother, wife, homebuilder and indispensable development support for the community.
The monarch however explained that the role of the women does not prevent them from weeding their farms but added that, “Our forefathers considered it unkind and unfair for a woman to be allowed to exert energy tilling, plough or cultivate the ground with hoes and other heavy farm implements.” To aptly describe the scenario at Etiti Ozalla, the line, ‘different strokes for different folks’, will quickly come to mind.
Ironically, while many women would hide under the customs of the community to stay away from the farm, especially when it has become mandatory for their husbands to provide manpower for farm work, Etiti Ozalla women are presently clamoring to be allowed to farm and have made representation to their community leaders and relevant advocacy groups working in their community.
According to Mrs. Onyeka Udegbunam, the V2P facilitator of the area, “men in this community are mainly butchers and in time past, they viewed it as demeaning for their wives to engage in farm work. She explained that custom of the community also thrived by discouraging the women from farming. She explained further that her organisations’ role in the community is beyond development advocacy. Rather, it is to give voice to the people and support them where necessary to convey their needs and challenges to relevant quarters in furtherance to community development. She added that the V2P advocacy team in the community had received requests from the women of the community following the just concluded Women’s August meeting of the community, demanding to be formerly allowed to farm like their male counterparts, as against the practice of hiring and paying farm hands. One of the natives, Mrs. Chioma Anikwe told New Telegraph that desire of the women of the community to go back to the farm understandable and appreciable.
“If you take a look at the economy of the country today, you will appreciate the fact that it is more cost-effective for us to farm and grow our foods ourselves than hiring people to do it for us. “In any case, how many people can afford to hire people to do their farm work these days. So if we are not allowed to farm, how do we survive?” She questioned.
Responding to the agitation by women of the community to farm, Igwe Nwochi explained that the custom was not inspired by any repressive instinct but by genuine love and care for their womenfolk. Addressing the V2P advocacy team to his community, the monarch stated that if the agitation is widespread and a unanimous position among women of the community, he would have to summon a general assembly of the community to deliberate on the issue.
He said, “I did not introduce this custom. I inherited it and if it must be discontinued, it would be in consultation with the entire community and not by my unilateral decision or pronouncement.”
While the women and advocacy groups eagerly wait the convening of the general assembly of the community; an air of optimism presently pervades the community. It is believed that with the active support of the Igwe, whose positive disposition to community development and capacity building is public knowledge; a broader space is being created for the women of Etiti Ozalla community to have a voice and be able to contribute in the decision making process of their community especially as it affects the women folks.
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