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March 8 1911 – March 8 2011:International Women’s Day Centennial – Celebrating Womanhood. By Lambert Mbom.


For some strange reason, I prefer this day to be called International day of the woman. “‘Women’ is a profligate word; …Every woman is a captive queen. But every crowd of women is only a harem broken loose” according to Chesterton. As always, there was a stark contrast between celebrations in Cameroon with characteristic joyful exuberance and in Washington DC where the cold chills, vestiges of an expiring winter captured the mood and temper of the country.

The State department is busy all week celebrating this centennial with a series of events. The most significant of these is the 100 Women Initiative: Empowering Women and Girls through International Exchanges launched on Monday intended to bring 100 women from around the world to see America.

Yesterday the State department hosted 2011 International Women of Courage Awards Ceremony with special guest First Lady Michelle Obama, and Cameroonian publisher Henriette Ekwe Ebongo one of the eight proud recipients even as the government in Cameroon was shutting down twitter in Cameroon.

“Woman eh” was undoubtedly the popular accolade on many lips especially in drinking parlors in Cameroon. Let me join the chorus then and shout with my vuvuzela: WOMAN EH.

Womanhood is a gift to celebrate. For an African man and a traditional one for that much, hailing such a celebration does not add up. It would seem that Africa tops the charts for downright suppression of women’s rights, a shameful display of male chauvinism and even misogyny. African traditions and culture it would seem are designed to denigrate womanhood in a number of different ways.

In fact, just the other day, my wife who happens to be from Bafut brought up the topic of inheritance or succession in Kom – my tribe of origin. She had received a mail from a close pal of hers complaining that at the demise of her step-father, her mother had been sent away and the husband’s property including their home seized by his family. Her mother was now forced to rent.

Recently I met a widow of one of my dad’s close friends who had passed on last year. She complained bitterly that one of her in-laws almost snuffed life out of her at his passing. She recounted how she packed all her deceased husband’s things into his Mercedes Benz drove to Kom and handed the keys to the concerned.

And these stories abound. The treatment of widows in Kom is just one of those dull spots crying for attention. I do not claim to be any expert in Kom tradition and make no apology for this. The much I know is that the Kom people practice a matrilineal system of inheritance. Hence my dad and his brother are deadlocked over their maternal uncle’s compound. There is much to it than just this.

On this women’s day, these are some of the issues being highlighted. Yet as I tried to think out the raison d’être for a matrilineal system and its inherent injustices, it struck me that it is precisely in recognition of womanhood that the matrilineal system was adopted. A man knows he is a father only through a woman. But even more so, it is precisely because one wants to guarantee the purity of the family line that this matrilineal system won the debate.

The story made the rounds in the DC metro area some years ago of a young man who discovered through DNA to his utter dismay and shock that the children he was grooming were not his “issue.” He had lived a lie for over eleven years. He had painstakingly ‘fathered’ three kids none of whom turned out to be his, at least according to DNA tests. This is unprecedented by any count.

It was surely to check things like these that the matrilineal system became customary practice. I do not think it is the system that mandates such despicable acts as much as the individuals concerned. I contend therefore that it is in its implementation that these excesses rear their ugly heads.

Hence, it could be good practice that once in a while we settle on ways by which our cultures celebrate womanhood and how these could be promoted.

Many of us will surely be exonerating ourselves from such practices and priding ourseves on being fervent respecters of womanhood. We may not be perpetrators of such egregious acts, yet in more than one way, many of us have failed to celebrate womanhood.

How many of us have been indicted in the court of public judgment to be woman bashers? How often have some of us been charged of not knowing how to take care of a woman? In public, some of us offer our seats on the train and the bus; then hold the door letting them in/out first among others; yet these cosmetic niceties have hardly risen to a collective summation of the celebration of womanhood. At best these could paradoxically be a demonstration of male chauvinism.

Have men not come up with the theory that women like men who lie to them? And something which has become a pattern is the marriage trap. I will return to this later but suffices to say here that having known that many women are fascinated by the promise of marriage and the glamour of it, how many of us have taken advantage of this and left many women hurt in our trails? I am sure it is a celebration of womanhood when we lavish them with exotic gifts which are in fact just baits to “draft” them for personal gratification.

March 8, 2011 happened to be Mardi gras – Fat Tuesday. Unavoidably, food then becomes a central axis in this celebration of womanhood. I discovered lately that a man who cooks occasionally for the woman, charms her beyond measure. In fact, a friend of mine prepared the rare corn fufu on a first date and the lady was so enchanted that she was heads over heels on him. I remember my dad occasionally made a French toast for breakfast for us all. Unfortunately, of the many skills my sweet mother showered me with, cooking is not one of them. Hope I am not doomed.

2011 presents me an extraordinary opportunity to celebrate womanhood. I have a darling mother, three wonderful sisters and a bevy of aunts who have laced my path with gold. Not a few women have been able to bear with me over the last three and a half decades many of whom deserve an apology from me if this helps. My beautiful wife too deserves a treat on this day.

Over and above all these, is my four months’ old baby Kayla. While many African men crave to have a boy for their first child, not just as a signature of bravado and manliness as some say but even more so because they claim they have a heir; yet, many say with a the blessings of a girl as first-born are bountiful. It is that disarming smile of my baby girl and those loud cries that have changed me, hopefully for the good.

Yet it is not for these selfish calculating reasons that I celebrate this gift of womanhood in a special way in 2011. Who else but Chesterton could explain this well when in his chapter on the “emancipation of domesticity” in his inspiring book, “What’s wrong with the world” declares:

…Woman stands for the idea of Sanity; that intellectual home to which the mind must return after every excursion on extravagance. The mind that finds its way to wild places is the poet’s; but the mind that never finds its way back is the lunatic’s. There must in every machine be a part that moves and a part that stands still; there must be in everything that changes a part that is unchangeable. And many of the phenomena which moderns hastily condemn are really parts of this position of the woman as the center and pillar of health. Much of what is called her subservience, and even her pliability, is merely the subservience and pliability of a universal remedy; she varies as medicines vary, with the disease. She has to be an optimist to the morbid husband, a salutary pessimist to the happy-go-lucky husband. She has to prevent the Quixote from being put upon, and the bully from putting upon others.

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