Breaking Gender Boundaries: Dr. Tina Fru Ndi’s Ascendancy Challenges Conventional Norms in Cameroon.
In the heartland of Cameroon, a nation where traditional norms and patriarchal values have long held sway, a pivotal moment emerged that would challenge these entrenched beliefs. It was the moment when late Ni John Fru Ndi, a towering figure in Cameroon’s political landscape and the premier opposition party leader, shattered the expectations of many by making a decision that would reverberate far beyond the boundaries of his country. With the audacity to defy conventional wisdom, Ni John Fru Ndi, on the brink of his departure from this world, chose his daughter as his successor in the face of male offspring.
This momentous decision not only illuminated his progressive mindset but also illuminated the potential for change in a region often characterized by ofttimes suppression of women. In a land where gender equality is a distant dream, Ni John Fru Ndi’s choice stood as a beacon of hope, signaling the winds of change and the dawn of a new era in the fight for gender rights. This is the story of his courageous step and the ripples it sent through a society long ensnared by the chains of patriarchal norms.
When Cameroon’s national broadcaster, CRTV’s Alnert Njie Mbnde, presented the news of Dr. Tina Fru Ndi as successor, a wave of responses followed. Njie Mbonde, the ace journalist and Political Desk Editor at CRTV, disclosed this on a media platform known as Journalists of Integrity (JI). It became clear that even in such moments, deeply ingrained traditional norms against women couldn’t be concealed.
One male journalist took to the forum, expressing his skepticism with the comment, ‘Square peg in a square hole…Even though I don’t know him.’ This remark highlights the reflexive gender bias that continues to permeate society. Almost immediately, a female journalist stepped in to correct the gender assumption, pointing out that Dr. Tina Fru Ndi is indeed a woman. The original post’s author, Njie Mbonde Albert, had to clarify, emphasizing the pronoun ‘her’ instead of ‘him’.
Another disheartening instance of gender bias surfaced when a Prince from Cameroon’s Northwestern region, seemingly celebrating the conventional norms that traditionally reserved leadership roles for men, humorously questioned, ‘Woman don di chop Chair for NW???’. This sarcastic question not only underscores the prevailing hegemonic masculinity in Cameroon’s northwest but also sheds light on the wider issue raised by Phumzile Mlambo Ngcuka, the Women Deliver Board Chair and former Deputy President of South Africa. At the Women Deliver 2023 conference, she starkly warned that if substantial efforts weren’t undertaken, the struggle for women’s leadership and gender equality might stretch on for more than a century.
The Women Deliver Conference held in Kigali, Rwanda, aimed to confront the discriminatory cultural and customary practices that perpetuate gender inequality. The event hosted over 6000 feminist leaders, including former Presidents and Prime Ministers, who united to counteract the growing disparities against women and girls globally.
However, the sobering truth remains: women make up over 70% of the global workforce but occupy less than 25% of leadership positions worldwide.
The conference also emphasized the necessity of engaging men to dismantle the structural barriers that hinder women’s progress. Rwandan President, Paul Kagame, highlighted Rwanda’s strides in gender equality and its commitment to involving men in dismantling harmful customs. He acknowledged that achieving gender equality requires concerted efforts from all quarters.
The untimely demise of Ni John Fru Ndi, the charismatic Chairman of Cameroon’s leading opposition party, added a twist to this narrative. Fru Ndi’s decision to appoint his daughter, Dr. Tina Fru Ndi, as his successor defied traditional expectations and reinforced the importance of women’s leadership. This move resonates with Fru Ndi’s commitment to promoting a free and democratic society that upholds the rights of women and girls. Despite facing significant opposition, Fru Ndi ensured that women held influential positions within his Social Democratic Front party.
The contrast between Fru Ndi’s progressive stance and the broader societal resistance highlights the struggle women face in claiming their rightful places.
Historical cases like that of Zamcho Florence Lum vs Chibikom Peter Fru underscore how entrenched customary practices continue to obstruct women’s rights. After the death of their father, Zamcho Florence applied and obtained letters of administration to administer the family estate. Years later, the male members of the family brought an action for revocation of the same at the Bamenda High Court. When the action failed to prosper at the Bamenda High Court, the Chibikom boys appealed at the North West Court of Appeal, and the Appeal Court granted their prayers based on the North West customary laws and customs.
That didn’t deter Zamcho Florence, the eldest child to their late father. She appealed the case at the Supreme Court in Yaounde where in the end, the decision of the lower court was quashed on grounds that:
‘Not only was the decision of their learned lordships based on sex discrimination in gross violation of the preamble of the contents of the constitution, but it was in total misrepresentation of section 27 of the Southern Cameroon High Court Law which ensures the observance of the native law and custom only on the sole condition that it is neither repugnant to natural justice, equity, and good conscience, nor incompatible either directly or by implication with any law in force in the Republic, that they applied the so-called principle of native law and custom which sustained discrimination based on the sex of individuals’ (confer Supreme Court Judgment No. 14/L of 14 Feb.1993 and as reproduced by Vera N. Ngassa in her book: ‘ Issues of Women’s Land Rights in Cameroon).
It’s crucial to overturn these practices by embracing international conventions and challenging societal norms. Ni John Fru Ndi’s visionary choice speaks not only to women’s inheritance and property rights in Cameroon but also urges the integration of global rights conventions into local contexts. His actions echo the call from the Women Deliver Conference for men to actively support women’s rights, including access to education.
By securing Tina’s education, Fru Ndi demonstrated his commitment to dismantling barriers and creating opportunities.
In the face of pervasive gender bias, Ni John Fru Ndi’s choice is a pivotal reminder that it’s high time to challenge and dismantle the traditional norms that continue to hinder women’s progress. This case illustrates the urgency of embracing gender equality and ensuring women’s rightful participation in all spheres of society.