The Long Walk to Equality Historical Influences on Women in Igbo Society

History suggests that pre-colonial Igbo women were far from powerless and helpless like contemporary literature portrays them and even less docile than their Western counterparts at the time.

Editor’s note: This essay is available in print in our latest issue on The Life and Legacy of Buchi Emecheta. Buy the issue here.

On 11 April 2014, the Supreme Court of Nigeria upheld a ruling in favor of Ms Gladys Ukeje, granting her the right to inherit property from her late father’s estate. This ruling sparked outrage from indigenes of the Igbo society as it allowed Ms Ukeje to circumvent a traditional Igbo custom that prohibits daughters from inheriting property. While the backlash from Igbo men was not unexpected, it was astonishing to find some Igbo women in staunch opposition to a ruling that furthered gender equality. These women failed to see how this ruling favoured them and appeared more concerned with ‘what will happen to their brothers’ and how they could ‘dare to challenge their brothers for their inheritance’. They supported a subjugate practice embedded in Igbo society that is, in actual fact, not ironclad. A daughter is typically excluded from land inheritance as she is expected to marry and move into her husband’s house but in some Igbo communities, for example, a daughter can inherit property as the ‘female son’ where there is no son to carry on the family name. A father may also specifically gift land to his daughter...

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