Nwankwo, Samuel C. PhD
Wesley University Ondo
The emergence of the annual Women August Meeting otherwise known as ‘Home and Abroad Meeting’ in Igbo land has been a major factor in the development efforts of women in Southeastern Nigeria. Igbo ethnic nationality has continued to witness steady development in the socio-cultural, economic, religious, moral and political spheres through the activtives of women during this popular gathering. However, recent incursion of unnecessary show of wealth and affluence, dress to kill syndrome, sense of jamboree and the accusation of promiscuity by some women, have robbed the season of its original objectives. Sociological approach was adopted to examine the challenges raised in the research. The essence of secondary sources of data collection and analysis cannot be over-emphasized in this work. The research uncovered that Women August Meeting in Igbo land has engendered significant development, advanced the course of womahood, created ample opportunities for socializaton, and promoted peace and unity in the community. It recommended that the church should be fully invovled to provide spiritual and moral assistance to women during the period. On the othe hand, the government in Southeastern states should expedite action in supporting through seminars, workshops and financial aids to women during the period, to enable them actualize their developmental objectives in the various Igbo communities.
Keywords: Women, August meeting, nation building, peace building, ethics, Igbo society, culture, social cohesion and conflict management.
Atuma (2016) noted that, August has steadily become an important month in the modern day Igbo calendar. It ranks with April, the month of Easter and December, the month of Christmas. Previously, August has remained the month that heralds the official birth of the king of crops in Igbo land, the yam; which period, the men folks had turned into the celeberation- the New Yam festival.
In recent years, the month of August, in a bid to become gender sensitive of sorts, began to play another role in the life of the Igbo nation, as it became the month of the all-important annual gathering of Igbo women in their various communities popularly known as ‘August Meeting’ or ‘Home and Abroad Meeting.’ This gathering has conspicuous and predominant space to bring development to the various communities.
Osuji (2009) clearly observed that, “one major development and enterprising spirit and solidarity of Igbo ethnic nationality has been the emergence of August Meeting by Igbo women” (p.124).
Adora and Anyaegbu (2013) citing Allen (1972) said, “in Igbo communities women have long had meetings of their own. Such congregations have been rightly emphasized as the base of women’s political power in traditional Igbo land.” It has become an annual event. Every year, women from Igbo states of Nigeria and beyond gather in their different communities to fashion out ways, and projects to uplift their local areas. They also in this meeting pursue other women related issues.
Women in Southeastern Nigeria have been a factor to reckon with in matters relating to walfare, peace and unity, security, conflict resolution and the genearal development of Igbo ethnic nationality. This is true of women in Africa and women everywhere. The development of various communities in Igbo land can be traced to the tremendous activities of various women groups and organisations. The men on their own have not been left out in this regard. Obi (2010) observered that, “in Africa, societal expectations of the male and female roles are clearly differentiated. It is this differentiation that made the issue of complementary relationship between them natural and necessary” (p.173).
Women in Igbo land have a well organized forum, meetings and groups through which they air their views on important matters affecting their communities. According to Ohaegbuchi (2014):
the women formed groups, cooperative societies and unions that made their voices heard and also contributed to the socio-economic development of their communities especially in the area of poverty alleviation, and provision of social and religious amenities. Schools, roads were built and potable water provided by the women for the use of the community. They advocated for women rights and removal of cultural practices that keep women in the doldrums (p.145).
However, women August meeting has attracted some unhealthy criticisms in recent times. Today most women have misunderstood the primary objectives of the gathering and turned it into something else. Unfortunately, it has become a period to flaunt wealth, show latest fabrics and styles of hair-do in town. Others see it as a time to demand for new cars and expensive gifts from their husbands to show off in the village. While some morally debased seize the opportunity to cheat on their husbands and bring disgrace to womanhood. These factors have adversely affected the needed acceptance this event ought to receive.
Sociological approach was employed in the execution of this research. Sociology studies man in the society. It is a study of human society (Barcan, 1993). This approach will enable the researcher comprehend the social implications of Women August meeting in Igbo land towards community development. The work further made use of secondary sources. That is the use of available literature to achieve the aims of this work which include the examination of the contemporary roles of Women August meeting in Igbo land vis-a-vis its original aims of community development.
Deana F. M and Messinger, L, (2006) noted that, “a woman is a female human being” (p.8) The term woman is usually reserved for an adult, with the term girl being the usual term for a female child or adolescent. In other instances, the term can be used to refer to female human, regardless of age, as in ‘women’s rights.’
To understand the person of a woman, some scholars have examined the woman by placing her side by side with the man. Jones (1998), said that, “a woman is obviously different from a man. The anatomical differences are apparent at once particularly in the development of a woman’s breast; while the male external genitals- the penis and the testicles are absent in women” (p.1). Furthermore, women have different perception of many experiences, although how much this is due to prevailing cultural attitudes and how much to gender difference is not clear (Jones, 1998).
D’Souza (2005), agreed with Jones on the women being different from the men. According to her, “men and women are different biologically. They play different roles in reproducing the human species” (p.29). Women give birth to children and men have nocturnal emissions. While it is easier to agree that these are differences due to sex, it is not possible to attribute all the differences that we notice between men and women to biological factors.
On the other hand, August meeting is the gathering of all the women in Igbo land both far and near for re-union. It is a meeting that takes place in the month of August as the name suggests. It all women’s affair; although the men and young ladies may take part at one point or the other, but the bulk of the activities, decisions, and actions are carried out by the women. August Meeting has been refered to as ‘Home and Abroad Meeting’ by some communities in Igbo land. This is because, the gathering involves both home based women and those in the diaspora.
Ohaegbuchi (2014) said:
The “Mothers’ Summit”, popularly known as “August Meeting”, is a concept common among women of South East Nigeria who are resident in Nigeria or abroad. This meeting, usually organized during the month of August, is the exclusive preserve of married women. These Igbo speaking women gather in their home towns in a grand meeting that lasts for days to discuss and deliberate on issues that affect them in common (p.46).
In another sense, community development is a process where community members come together to take collective action and generate solutions to common problems. Community wellbeing (economic, social, environmental, cultural, religious, ethical and political) often evolves from this type of collective action being taken at the grassroots level.
Ohaegbuchi (2014) accentuated that:
Community development is an activity of people living in a particular area or people joined together by a common interest mainly for the sole purpose of a development agenda. The aim must be to the good of the community. This was the idea behind the formation of the Women August meeting in the South East Nigeria (p.46).
Origin and Objectives of Women August Meeting in Igbo Land
According to Nwankwo (2014), “August meeting has been a norm dated back to 1940s. It began when the church deemed it fit to device a way to give women a voice in the affairs of their communities” (p.81).
The concept of August meeting can be traced back to the colonial period of mass urbanization which affected the Igbo social space and other parts of Nigeria. This led to the opening up of some urban centers as Enugu, Port-Harcourt, Umuahia, Onitsha, Aba, Owerri, and Calabar in the South- East and elsewhere in Nigeria (Odemena, 1997). Within these cities, women established various ethnic associations in a bid to provide some socio-economic security to the urban migrant. It also enabled them to maintain a link with their rural communities. Through this arrangement, they were able to maintain urban-rural linkage for development. This became popularly known as the ‘Home and Abroad meeting’ in Igbo land. The meeting was convened once in a year, usually during Christmas period.
Another scholar Nwankwo (2010), observed that “it was conceived a few years after the Nigeria civil war in 1970, when the displaced Igbo people of the South East – the area then known as “Biafra,” returned to homes, communities and towns that had been devastated and ravaged by war. Schools were destroyed and hospitals were razed to the ground. Expected government help was not forthcoming, and the people known for their resilience, determination and enterprise adopted the self help method to rebuild their communities As a matter of fact, the August meeting was a strong chord binding the women of the same historical and cultural descent and propelling them to cooperate in working out development agenda for their communities. Self-help projects are mutually agreed upon and carried out to the progress of societies, and structures are determined and built into the system to regulate behaviours and interactions between the people.
Osuji (2009) noted that some have speculated the origin of Women August Meeting in the Igbo ethnic nationality to be around the time after independence. However, many scholars and other writers tend to disagree, saying it has nothing to do with the struggle against colonialism, or even independence struggle. That means that it could not have had any linkage with Nigerians independence. He further said, “but what is not in dispute is that before the civil war broke out in 1967, Igbo women in general found it convenient to schedule their meetings between those residing at home and those outside their communities” (p.125).
The month of August was chosen because during the colonial days, when school year calendar was untampered with, August was the month for the long vacation. August is the month of rest. This time people are free from all kinds of labour, so it became necessary that they should gather at such a time to deliberate, table and crystallize all ideas into concrete developmental programmes. From the remotest villages to the urban settlements in Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo States, the women have the same habit, the same attitude and motive towards the issues of August meeting. It has in fact become formalized and institutionalized by all women in every community in Igbo ethnic nationality. Today, August meeting has become a huge annual event for Igbo women (Osuji, 2009).
August Meeting as Key to Mainstreaming Socio-Cultural, Religious and Moral Development in Igbo Land
August meeting has socio-cultural, religious, ethical, economic and political relevance in the development of Igbo land and Nigeria at large. To this end, Osuji (2009) asserted that:
Women August Meeting (WAM) has become an important agent of social transformation, economic development, social cohesion and community stability. Above all, it has become a vehicle to mobilize community women for any social action and for any social transformation of government grassroots policy. It has become an alert agent to instil discipline in our growing youths, particularly girls. In addition to serving as a check on women folk to promote and protect womanhood against self- imposed abuses or those brought about by social imperatives (p.129).
In its social location, August meeting provide a good opportunity for women to fraternize among themselves. It is usually a period of home coming during which newly married women are introduced and received as members of the women organisation. During this period, those who returned from the cities take time to move round their villages to felicitate with those at home, exchange greetings, gifts and pleasantries.
Culturally, women enhance the traditions of the land by ensuring that things are done according to traditional stipulations of the communities and go ahead to sanction any woman who goes contrary to cultural dictates as it concerns the women. Considering the crucial roles of women in culture, Jekanifa (1999) said that: “One can assume that, if the role is not properly learned, the national development we are expecting may not be forthcoming. Women are the main custodians of social, cultural and rudimental values of the society” (p.4).
Women in Igbo land are predominantly Christians. As such, they involve themselves in different religious activities for community development during August meeting. This dimension in community development process is through faith based organizations. All over Igbo communities and elsewhere, there are identifiable developmental projects by women of various Christian denominations. Women spoke of the importance of the church in their communities and their personal lives. Faith-based organizations like: the Catholic Women Organisation, Women Guilde, and Women’s Fellowship of the Methodist Church among others, are important factors in both urban and rural community’s development (Nwankwo, 2014).
Recent scholarship has begun to address the question of the importance of faith-based women organizations in community development. In the light of this, Gittell and Ortage-Bustamente (1999) discovered that:
The roles of the church in social service have been considerable. The examination of its roles in housing and economic development remains anecdotal. It has been noted that in many poor communities only the church remains as a vital and effective institution. It has been one of the many avenues through which women address the problems of housing, economic and development needs of the community (p.13).
These Faith-based organizations have contributed enormously in poverty alleviation of various communities. They have continuously and positively affected the lives of the indigent people, especially widows and orphans. They built schools and Skills Acquisition Centres and train people in various skills. They have aided some indigent ones to train in various schools. Cases abound where they assist or take up the erection of church building for their denomination and even parsonages for the ministers. In various communities, they sink boreholes to alleviate water problems in those communities (Nwankwo, 2014).
Writing further on the involvement of Women in religion during August meeting, Osuji (2009), noted that:
Usually, both the Catholic and Protestant churches and other denominations come together for the August Meeting. Sometimes, during the closing ceremony, they organize a joint inter-denominatioal church service to mark the successful hosting of their meeting. In some areas, they may decide to have individual church services at their different churches for the same purpose of thanking God for a successful August Meeting and for safe return to their respective places of abode at home or abroad
On the moral role through August meeting, women have not been left aside. They promulgate rules and regulations guiding them. They use this period also to settle dispute in their local areas, among women themselves and among husbands and wives. August meeting avails women the opportunity to address some social ills affecting their communities especially, those that concern women. The decision-making process among women in Igbo land centers more on the umuada and other women organizations like August meeting. Meek (1937) noted that:
These women organizations in many places tried other women for stealing, committing adultery, fighting, among other social vices committed by women. They have the rights to convict or to acquit and to levy fines on other women They would insist on their decision and could go to any length to carry them out (p.201).
They are the watchdogs of the constitution of the land as it concerns majorly the women. Their leaders promptly called a general meeting when anything appeared to be going wrong in the town. They would bring the matter to the attention of the elders, whose refusal to act could make the women to leave the village en masse in protest. As a pressure group for the welfare of their towns, the women had an effective method of communication. The essence of women participation in decision-making and law enforcement in both Igbo land and elsewhere is to maintain order, promote life and create consolidation. It is equally aimed at fostering joy and solidarity for themselves and for the village community (Adora, and Anyaegbu 2013).
Igbozue (2009) noted that, “August meeting in Igbo land has succeeded in fighting the cause of women in Igbo land and has been achieving this motive” (p.8). It has become a welcome machinery for women to keep their dignity intact and give womanhood the pride of place it deserves in the national integration and development of nation.
The roles of women in community development are very crucial to the health of the society. Ellis (2003), observed that “women make many decisions that determine the household’s participation in the community, including healthcare, educational, and cultural decision” (p.1). In many parts of the world where women’s rights are still developing, the roles of women in community development can be the keys to reducing gender inequality, providing for the needs of women and families, and ending centuries of discrimination against women (Ellis, 2003)
Generally, women consider community development as a holistic process. The goal is the improvement of society for everyone. Studies have shown that women work better as collaborators and teammates. These make them ideal candidates for community organizations in which decisions must be made together. As part of community development they take decisions that address women’s education, rape and domestic violence prevention. Issues like economic opportunities for women are taken into consideration. Through these, women stand a greater chance of reducing inequality and promoting a fair society for all.
Women in various communities in Igbo land have contributed towards the security of their communities. They have taken decisions and placed sanctions that curbed the activities of criminals in the community. They did all these through various women organizations among which the ‘August meeting’ is key (Nwankwo, 2014). In what follows, the role of August meeting in addressing conflicts and mediating peace and unity shall be considered.
Women August Meeting in Conflict Management, Peace-building and Social Cohesion in Igbo Land
No society thrives in a state of anarchy and choas (Nwankwo, 2017). Considering the fact that in an environment where people identify themselves with particular social, economic, cultural and political interests, there are bound to be conflicts and women constituting greater number of this group, it becomes necessary for them to be involved in peace processes to ensure social control and cohesion among the people.
Social control in the words of Chukwu eds. (2013), refers to “the techniques and strategies for preventing deviant human behavior in any society” (p.234). This is a concept usually applied in sociology, history and other social sciences. It equally, could be referred to as social order. It is a set of linked social structures, social institutions and social practices which conserve, maintain and enforce “normal” ways of relating and behaving. Obi (2013), accentuated that, “a social order is a relatively persistent system of institutions, patterns of interactions and customs, capable of continually reproducing at least those facts of society which remain relatively constant over time” (p.437). These conditions could include property, exchange and power relations, cultural forms, communication relations and ideological systems of values. Whenever, these conditions experience friction, the result is usually, unpalatable. There is always chaos in the society.
Furthermore, Akpuru-Ajaa (2007) states that “conflict management represents the enforcement mechanism, strategic responses for the achievement of the ideals and goals of conflict resolution as a peace agenda” (p.34). On the other hand, Boutros-Boutros (1995) provides the following definitions of conflict management: “Conflict management is a process and spans the full spectrum of early warning system, peace education, conflict avoidance or conflict prevention by peacemaking, peacekeeping, peace enforcement, and post-conflict confidence building measures” (p.215).
The indication so far in the literature, as well as in real life experiences, is that women in Africa suffer disproportionately in conflict situation. Again, women’s vulnerabilities in times of conflict are obvious issue that calls for concern. Though, no one is immune from violence during violent conflicts, the fact still remains that women and children are particularly affected by its effects. To this end, women have been at the forefront in peacebuilding and in the resolution of conflicts in crisis ridden communities.
Through the August meeting activities, women have enlightened people and groups from different communities on how to live harmoniously and the benefits of good communal relationship. In fact the bulk of what women do during this all important gathering is settlement of cases between people, families and communities. The status of the women as mothers, wives, co-wives and care givers places them in a better position to be involved in conflict management.
Women in their capacity as wive, mothers, caregivers, friends, companions and builders stand in a better position to get involve in conflict management and peacebuilding and social cohesion. The South East women are highly dedicated, supportive and family oriented. They are dedicated and hardworking. In most cases they endure challenges in order to support their husband and family. As mothers, their influence on their children is overwhelming and by extension their influence on the society (Ohagbuchi, 2014).
Contemporary Challenges to Women August Meeting in Igbo Land
The original objective of the annual gathering as stated above is for the good of the women folk in particular and the community as a whole. The women conceived the idea of August meeting as a platform to make their contributions to the development of their communities. It was noted that the gathering orignally, was a rallying point for women in service of their communities. The women used their organizational skills to raise money, which was used effectively for the reconstruction of schools, hospitals, markets and civic centres.
However, in recent time, the original aim of the August gathering has been distorted. Some have used the occasion as an avenue to flaunt gold jewelries, hollandis wrapper and or to show that they live abroad and as such underrate their fellow women living at home. In Igbo parlance the word “abroad” stood for anyone who lived outside Igbo land and such persons are often treated with respect and cordiality (Ifedigbo, 2008). The abroad women carried themselves with an air, stamping their superiority on the home-based women. And it was something of pride for every home-based granny to have an abroad daughter in-law who she showed off at the August Meeting. That summarized the jamboree status the August Meeting ritual now enjoys.
Commenting further on this, Nwankwo (2014), noted, “that few years ago some women introduced vices into August meeting. They used it as a period to exploit their husbands, so they can buy costly dresses for the meeting” (p.82). In addition, it was alleged that while many went to August meeting, some detoured to other courses of illicit or anti-social behaviours that were incompatible with the expected dignity of women folk (Osuji, 2009).
These menaces caused alarm and raised many questions regarding the meaning and essence of August meeting. Women who did not turn out in their best or whose best was not good enough, that is, did not meet the prevailing standard were treated as second class and their opinion in the meeting was more often than not disregarded. In fact, they can be hushed up while speaking by the more richly dressed ladies who by their dressing not necessarily their intelligence are assumed to have better suggestions to make.
This phenomenon leads women to go to every length in order to prepare well for this annual gathering. Many women have been known to go fornicating, or even steal from their husbands or from their offices to meet up. Women from lower economic backgrounds would rather save up money all year round to attend the meeting. These funds would have found better use if deployed for the payment of their children’s school fees or for placing more nutritious food on their dinner table. Now, when the emphasis is the dressing to the event, can anything meaningful be discussed at the event.
Furthermore, some women, in the guise to being participants during August meetings have attracted shame to the vision of its founders. Some husbands are known to have faced severe financial pressure, whenever their wives are to participate in the programme. This is consequent on the high profile demand from participants. As a result some women are known to have exchanged blows with their husbands in order to extract sufficient funds to prepare for the August meeting while some others, whose moral pedigree are in doubt, go an extra mile of extra-marital relationships for the purpose of raising money for the annual ritual (Ohagbuchi, 2014).
Women August meeting in southeastern Nigeria has been a factor to reckon with in the developmental strides of women in Igbo land. Through this gathering, women have shown tremendous sense of organisation, commitment, and readiness to contribute their quota in community development. They have traversed various areas of human endeavour: social, cultural, religious, moral, economic and political in their bid to have a strong and virle community where poverty is reduced, a community that knows no crisis, a place where necessary amenities are functioning, a community they can be proud of.
In order for women to continue at the pace of community development without much hinderance, the following recommendations have been made:
Women in Igbo land should be encouraged by all and sundry in their efforts to bring development to Igbo ethnic nationality through that annual Women August Meeting
Women leaders in Igbo land should ensure that they educate other women on what the original objectives and aims of August Meeting were.
The Churches in Igbo land should expidite action in providing the needed moral and spiritual backing for women during this period. They should ensure that they preach, teach, and counsel the mothers on the need to maintain spiritual and moral decorum in all their endeavours as mothers of the nation.
Tradional rulers in Igbo land should ensure that all obstacles militating against the rights of women in Igbo land are removed; to ensure that nothing hinders the women in their bid to bring development to their communities
The government should encourage the women during this period by organizing seminars, workshops and training that will booast the economic powers of the women for optimal contribution towards community development. They should avoid using the period for politicking as this may distort the original aim of August meeting in Igbo land.
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