POLITICAL AND SOCIAL STATUS OF WOMEN IN CAMEROON AND OTHER RELATED COUNTRIES
The colonial period of the 19th century and its intensification in the first half of the 20th century had a profound impact on the African women position. Women were ignored and deprived of their power. All colonial officials believed women’s role were that of house hold and help mate to men. They believe that women were outside the realm of politics, they never try to manipulate female leaders because they did not know that female leaders existed.
Women formed voluntary association in which they come to promote their economic and social interest. The reliance of women in informal women’s group around the family or ethnic affiliation and operating on mutual reciprocity to provide welfare and increase income generating activities. Staudt agreed that many women initially rejected and or withdraw from the state and redefined political order during the early period of colonial rule like in the case of Nigeria, Tanzania and Cameroon.
The Igbo women had a mechanism for exercising their influence in free colonial times. Their institutions of “sitting on a man” were transferred to a redefined politics. In 1929, in the Igbo land a zealous District officer decided to recount the household to verify them for the tax records. The recounts came at a time when rumors were out that the government was going to increase was going to increase taxes and might as well tax women’s property. The District Officer entering one homestead, the officer got into her scuffle. Word spread of the encounter and the Igbo Riots were launched. The riot was the term which the British chose to apply because they did not understand either origin or structure resulting to such disorder. When the tax collector and the women tangled, the women punished him according to custom.
They sounded the traditional alarm, assembled and march to government head quarters were they brought in their strongest sanctioning mechanism (“sitting on a man” or “making a war”). With this, the women were dressed in loin cloths carrying palm-wrapped sticks. The women extended and elaborated upon the use of their political powers which led to the burning down of houses, broken into jail and prisoners released, native courts attacked and sometimes destroyed and European stores and trading centers attacked and looted. Thousands of women were involved over an area on 6000 square miles. The military was involved and over 50 women killed and 50 women injured. No colonial officer was injured in the riot. The situations grow worse as men came into assistance.
TANU OF TANZANIA
The tax riot in the Pare District brought women into modern politics. The riot grew out of a Pare District council decision to levy a graduated income tax on the advice of the British District Officer. By 1942 to 1943, the colonizers instituted a council compose of the nine male chief or native authority who decided to institute a tax in addition to pool tax already enforce. The new revenue was to be used exclusively for development project in the District which was the district course of the riot since in amounted to confusion arousing out of the imprecise and nuclear procedure for tax, assessment and collection.
As such people demanded more information about the bases of assessment and objected the use of traditional name and form for the taxes. Pare men were in a resentful position that people have the legitimate right to question the government when the chief on their part sensed that people were attacking their and not simply their stand on the tax. They became determine to impose the tax without any modification as evidence of their authority. Due to this, men left Pare District to the head quarters announcing their intentions to remain there until the tax was abolished. After the departure of most of the Pare men, the chief then moved too as well.
Several meetings were held amongst the people’s representatives, the native authorities and the officers of the colonial government but little progress was made. Several months later the mobilization of women began in one Sub-Division were the wives, daughters, sisters and mothers of the demonstrators march 25 miles to the District Headquarters to show their support for the stand which the men had taken. The women presented themselves as delegation to the District Officers and demanded him to either effect a settlement or allow the men to return to their homes, farms and jobs or he himself should impregnate all of them. The women claim that the situation has disrupted their life cycle and if not they will abandon the Pare District to meet their husbands.
The women asked the British Officer to assure the roles of their husbands because for them the officer symbolizes the deadlock between their husband and the native authority structure. When the local officer for saw no easy resolution to the tax problem, he requested assistance from both provincial and territorial governments. When the National Officer arrived in Pare in 1946, they were stoned by angry women. The chief saw that the situation has taken a new and uncontrollable dimension; they relented that the tax should be levied but concerted a form of assessment.
Still dissatisfied, more than 2000 Pare tax payers pay their 1946 tax in the neighboring District of Kilimanjaro even though the rate there was higher than that of Pare. Informants recalling the events claim that the tax payers wanted to prove to the British that they were willing to pay the tax but the manner in which the tax was levied was their problem.
The involvement of Pare women was essentially a conservative reaction. During the tax riot, women asked for their rights to be restored, they wanted their men home and dispute settle. By asking to be impregnated they were asking for a continuation of life was it was.
KOM RIOT (BAMENDA; CAMEROON)
Amongst the Kom of formal British Cameroon, the involvement of women in politics during the first part of the nationalist period stemmed from the utilization of a traditional practice which was transformed in to a tool of customary power (Kaberry 1952). The custom of Anlu was used by women to bring community shame on offending individuals by dressing in vines and singing insulting songs. In 1957 Anlu was transformed in to a modern political organization. Grievances against the colonial government such as the rumor that land were to be sol, failure to restrain the invading cattle of neighboring and inadequate enforcement of a contour farming program were all felt acutely by the Kom women. The women formed an organization using the traditional mechanism. Within a year, the organization grew to include all Kom women. They proceeded to seize authority from the representative council and exercise its mass public meeting. By mid 1958, the premier visited the area and was face with an Anlu reception. Walking with the District Officer, he convinced 6000 women to mobilize for the occasion that there was no substance as to the rumor that their lands were to be sold and that contour farming would be postponed.
In other parts of the country like in the South West the Bakwerians living on the slope of Mount Cameroon also have a similar traditional organization were the rights of women can be protected. Such group includes the “LIENGU” and “TITICOLI”. Titicoli is a traditional organization which protected women who were offended or insulted by their male counterpart. In this way women’s right and their woman hood was secured and protected while titicoli was a female cult which gave women a lot of spiritual powers almost equal to their opposite sex.
Looking in to the above three riots construed by women, one can see that acknowledge that traditional organization did evolved into modern politics which gave women an upper hand in decision making. Johnson (1982) examines that the three women’s organizations highlights the important of several factors in women’s organization and new forms which emerged under colonial rule; the impact of increasing social differentiation which meant that setting groups of women has a different relation to the state; and the relationship of women organizing with the emerging nationalist movement. African women resisted colonial encroachment on their prerogatives. The cases do demonstrate that African women had indigenous institutions which were powerful and that when they utilized them they were able to challenge the new institutions been imposed upon them.