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For as long as the Igbo can recall, the ‘Umuada’ institution has been a premiere political tool in the arsenal of women and has been used as a force of female empowerment, leveraging the social playing field between the genders to this very day. The Umuada, or “women’s union” is a strictly-female political body consisting of all of the native womenfolk of a particular community. Arranged in a hierarchy topped by powerful, elderly women, the organization conducts regular meetings and councils in which women grant each other the opportunity to air their grievances, offer one another marital counsel, collect levies and dues, and—if necessary—organize themselves for war.

In its entirety, the Umuada protects the interests of all of a community’s women and is a force that commands fear, respect and tremendous influence in village politics. As much as it is a weapon, it is also a conciliatory force especially in issues of marital and familial strife. Were a stubborn wife to disregard counsel and persist in her wayward ways, she would be fined by the Umuada, publicly mocked and smeared with pepper and forced to sit long hours under the scorching afternoon sun. In the same vein, recalcitrant husbands would often be “sat upon”—a practice which refers to surrounding a man’s house with an armed female mob, thereby placing him under house arrest, and raining him with songs of mockery and noise until he succumbs to their wishes.

Administrative decisions are often made with great diligence, taking great care not to offend the Umuada. Male community leaders who act against the organization would be visited by female envoys, queried, and made to reconsider and answer for their shortcomings. In manners akin to those employed by the women of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, the Umuada is also capable of altering the turn of events through sex strikes, walkouts, and boycotts of various nature.#igbohistory


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