GENDER VIOLENCE IN CHIMAMANDA NGOZI ADICHIE’S PURPLE HIBISCUS AND HALF OF A YELLOW SUN

GENDER VIOLENCE IN CHIMAMANDA NGOZI ADICHIE’S PURPLE HIBISCUS AND HALF OF A YELLOW SUN

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CHAPTER ONE

INTRODUCTION

1.1    Sex, Gender and Violence.

In recent years, increasing attention has been paid to women writing in Africa. Consequently, gender studies dominated the literary scene and the representation of women in male authored works precipitated many critical debates. In other words, there has been more interest in examining the ways in which men behave, particularly in relation to women. Consequently, a literary canon was developed in which women writers give a re-presentation of the female experience by depicting a different image of women in their works in variance wih the earlier works by male authors.

In furtherance of the argument on the importance of women writing about the female experience in literary texts, Aidoo (1996) submits that, ―Women writers write about women because when we wake up in the morning and look in the mirror we see women”. Many female writers try to bring into focus their femaleness/femininity and personal experiences in their narratives and in doing so highlight power differences between men and women. As a result, women scholars and activists have pioneered a literary canon built on sexual politics aimed at stamping gender and feminism into both criticism and theory. This is with the aim of replacing a tradition that is viewed as masculine and domineering by female critics like Showalter (1985). She maintains that gender has become an analytic category whether the concerns are representation of sexual difference, (re)shaping masculinity, building feminine values or exclusion of female voice from the literary canon.

Many African female writers like Nwapa (1966), Emecheta (1981), Dangaremgba (1988), Mugo (1988) and Aidoo (1977) among others in their narratives attempt to recast women in more positive roles away from their marginal position(s). As a result, their texts are described by Nfah-Abbenyi (1997) as ―spaces of strength within and between which they

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fluctuate”. Concurring, D‘Almeida (1994) considers writing by women as a ―weapon to destroy the ideas that perpetuate subjugation and inequality”. Many literary scholars on African literature such as Stratton (1994), Steady (1998), Ogundipe- Leslie (1987), Emenyonu (2004), Oyeronke (2009) agree that works by African women writers are rarely discussed and seldom accorded space in canon formation thus making much of the African literature appear male-centred. This makes Leek (1999) argue that African women have been indoctrinated to envision the world from a patriarchal perspective.

It is not surprising therefore, that African scholars have now begun to include the concepts of sex, gender and violence in gender studies in order to understand how they play out in gender relations (Lindsay & Miescher 2003:1-3). Consequently, in the analyses of women authored work, amongst other themes, there is the need to explore gender-based violence and its portraiture in these works. This is beacause gender -based violence is a serious problem in many societies today and and a new area of investigation in literary criticism.This study therefore interrogates the depiction of gender-based violence in the Nigerian novel with reference to fiction by women in general and to Adichie‘s novels in particular and the role of gender in the propagation of violence. The study explores how the gender of a person contributes to inter /intra-gender violence in the selected novels.

Gender issues in every discourse are often divisive because of its sensitive nature and because the term ‗gender‘ is often used interchangeably with ‗sex‘.There is a clear dichotomy between both terms and scholars have since established the difference between them. While the term sex is the ―biological characteristics that define humans as female or male‖, gender is the ―economic, political and cultural attributes and opportunities associated with being male or female‖ (USAID, 2007). Gender is therefore socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women. While sex and its associated biological functions are programmed genetically, gender roles and the

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power relations they reflect are a social construct ,they vary across cultures and through time, and thus are open to to change. While sex refers to the anatomical difference between man and woman, in contrast, gender refers to the ―social aspect of differences and hierarchies between male and female‖ (John Macionis & Ken Plummer, 2005:309).

Thus, gender-based violence is violence that is directed against a person on the basis of gender. It therefore constitutes a breach of fundamental right to life, liberty, security, dignity, equality between women and men. Gender-based violence occurs in many parts of the world, within a home or wider community in general and it affects women and girls disproportionately (Bloom 2008:p.14). Although there are different types of violence like punching, bullying physical fights etc, gender-based violence includes domestic violence, rape, sexual violence during conflict, harmful customary or traditional practices such as forced marriages, genital mutilation etc.

A report by the British council titled ‗Gender in Nigeria in 2012‘, concludes that violence against women is not a new problem in Nigeria. Rather, it is found to be deeply rooted in many cultural and traditional values which is regarded as normal behaviour or remains hidden or tacitly condoned (Nnadi, 2012; Zimmerman, 1997). Hence, violence against women is perceived as the most pervasive violation of human rights (United Nation Secretary General, 2009; Heise et al., 2002)). In 1998 The Convention on the Elimination on All Forms of Discrimination (CEDAW), raised concerns about the prevalence of violence against women and girls ―including domestic violence and sexual harassment in the workplace‖. It is also important to state that gender -based violence is practiced against everyone, but it affects mainly women and girls (Jekayinfa, 2011; USAID, 2008).

Consequently, this research focuses on the depiction of violence in the writings of Chimamanda Adichie because various sociological studies have shown that women, more than men, are often the recipients of various forms of violence. But this problem has not been

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foregrounded in the literary sphere and this is what this study sets out to find in the works of Chimamanda Adichie. World Bank data shows that up to seventy percent of women experience violence in their lifetime and concludes its findings by saying that the root of all violence against women lie in persistent discrimination against women and girls ( World Bank Data:2014). There is a close relationship between gender equality and violence and studies have shown that gender inequalities increase the risk of gender- based violence (World Health Organization: 2009). Consequently, this study is based on the assumption that a discussion on violence is an integral part of gender discourse and focuses on how Adichie presents these acts of violence in her novels Purple Hibiscus and Half of a Yellow Sun. Although the issue of women’s oppression and empowerment has been one major theme in African literature and research in the last few decades, little attention has been paid to gender-based violence as a form of oppression against women in these writings.

Despite the disparity in the ideological standpoints of male and female writers, female writers still continue to write and produce works which portray the female gender in more positive and active roles. In these writings, gender politics is interrogated and the contributions of both genders to conflict and power sharing, but in all these, emphasis is on the protagonist‘s experiences, thoughts and feelings. Hence in her writings, Chimamanda Adichie centres on the dynamics of gender relations and other issues affecting the socio-economic life of the society. Her work incorporates themes of political and domestic violence, tolerance, loyalty, family, national identity, self-realization, and the effects of colonialism on the collective consciousness and individuals. In Purple Hibiscus and Half of a Yellow Sun for example, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie depicts contemporary issues affecting the Nigerian society through the eyes of female characters.

As a social advocate for the oppressed female in a society suffering from a myriad of problems which include bad leadership, poverty and unemployment, Adichie emphasizes the

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role of the female in society and the problems she faces in her works. Her writings portray gender conflict as a vital aspect of social experience and the struggle for power. Her works shows a feminist position which strongly argues that male to female violence cannot be separated from patriarchal ideology, normative foundations and institutional arrangements in society (Dobash and Dobash, 1992). Consequently, in her novels, Adichie portrays that freedom and individual rights are ideals the women should not compromise for they are essential in being a voice in the social context of development.

Although literatures abound on various forms of gender-based violence in Nigeria and the world in general (Greig, A with Edstrom,J 2012, Jekayinfa,2012) , there is a dearth of critical works exploring gender-based violence in Nigeria women writing and specically in Adichie‘s fiction despite the large body of works on her novels. Literary critics like Ogwude (2010), Ouma (2011) and Corneliussen (2012) among others, have concentrated on the issues of religious ideology, gender conflict, use of symbolic figures and images, influence of colonialism on African women‘s fight for emancipation, racism, sexual oppression, religious fanaticism and cultural alienation in post colonial Africa in Adichie‘s novels but there is an absence of works interrogating gender violence as a central theme.

The above mentioned works look at different facets of Adichie‘s fiction and even mentioned some aspects of domestic violence in her novels but none specifically dwells on gender-based violence as a serious and predominant theme in her novels. Thus, a careful re-evaluation of gender violence is made using the Radical Feminist theory and Max Weber‘s theory of power as analytical framework for the novels of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

1.2         Statement of the Problem

Gender discourse is an important area of literary criticism with wide spread implications for gender equality and human development across sectors. Increasing attention is being accorded the negotiation of gender relations in contemporary African literature.

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However, there has been a limited account of the nature and historiography of gender-based violence in the fiction by women writers in Nigeria. This form of violence has been an under researched issue in gender studies in many societies and often analysed alongside other issues affecting gender relations. Despite the growing body of works on Adichie‘s novels, there is an absence of an analytical framework for


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