"We have agreed to block the way for tradition to be used as an excuse to perpetrate acts of violence against our daughters. It’s tedious to birth a female as well as a male child.A girl child is not a slave to a boy child".Mama Prudencia Ndifor 83 years old.
Takembeng, a traditional women`s secret society in the Western grasslands of Cameroon, is a dreaded name to oppressors of the voiceless. When these matriarchs say “No”, only God can say “Yes”. When they appear in public, every man takes to his heels.Watch even the Fon(traditional ruler)run for his dear life when the Takembeng appears! It is a taboo and a curse for a male to set eyes on them in ritual, talk less of resisting their moves. Death is believed to be the punishment for anyone who dares. The culture of the North Westerners in Cameroon has hitherto been viewed and used as an excuse to suppress and violate women. However deeply enshrined in this same culture, are values that can be used to give a voice and power to women.
The Takembeng has played a very influential role in the history and politics of Cameroon. It is widely known that these old women were the brain behind the success of the re-birth of multi-partism in Cameroon. When soldiers were deployed to molest street protestors, they made a public appearance which disarmed the soldiers and prevented them from stopping demonstrations against the ruling party.
In colonial days they played very influential roles in different communities of the North West Region to resist colonial rule.
Gender Danger has opened discussions with this very influential group of women to examine ways in which harmful traditional practices against women in the North West Region of Cameroon can be halted.After meeting with representatives of Gender Danger,two spokes persons for the Matriarchs were connected to me on phone.From their mouths to my ears:
-"We have agreed to block the way for tradition to be used as an excuse to perpetrate acts of violence against our daughters. It’s tedious to birth a female as well as a male child.A girl is not a slave to a boy".Mama Prudencia Ndifor 83 years old.
-“We will no longer stay quiet and watch our daughters` lives destroyed by men.We are going to send a warning message to all quarter meetings ‘’If we hear again that a man has put his hands on his wife we will “come out’’.Mama Esther Nanga 68 years old
-“We no longer want women to be maltreated when they become widows. We will stop ostracizing widows and we expect everyone to follow suit”Mama Prudencia Ndifor
-“We are calling on the men to ensure that girls have the right to inherit property from their families and own land.Over the years we have seen more girls bring light to their families and villages than boys”Mama Prudencia Ndifor
-“We will no longer allow our granddaughters to undergo breast ironing. We have learnt that it causes sickness and can prevent girls from breastfeeding’’Mama Esther Nanga
-“We shall continue to protect our tradition but we will not allow any woman to cry because of it”Mama Prudencia
If these promises are kept!Then this will mark a turning point in the lives of thousands of women and girls.I know the Takembeng is no joke so I can begin to celebrate
Worthy of note is the fact that these same women are custodians of tradition and are often in charge of harmful traditional practices like widowhood Rituals and Breast Ironing. There is no other traditional authority that can challenge their ruling.