BAMENDA, CAMEROON – Julienne Ndongmo, 51, says that International Women’s Day, commemorated today worldwide, should be a time for women to show pride in themselves and their worth. But she fears the day is losing the respect it deserves.
“When I think of the way some women behave on Women’s Day, tears run down my cheek,” she says.
Ndongmo says that it has become a habit for some women to drink carelessly and to misbehave in public on International Women’s Day in Bamenda, the capital of Cameroon’s Northwest region. Other women dress half-nakedly, exposing their bodies in the name of celebration.
“Women have become laughingstocks instead of being respected because of the way they go about this whole celebration,” she says.
She says that a woman from her tribe lost her husband because of her debauchery on International Women’s Day in 2010. The woman had invited her husband to join the celebrations, during which she became increasingly drunk, dancing and lifting her dress above her head. When the woman’s husband became embarrassed and asked her to return home, she beat him.
“This young woman lost her marriage because of this act,” Ndongmo says. “Her husband terminated their marriage, sent her packing and took another wife one year later.”
In Bamenda, members of the town’s march-past committee say that they will not allow any woman in skimpy dress to participate in today’s procession for International Women’s Day. Young women argue that dressing is a matter of choice and say they will resist anyone who attempts to pull them out of the procession. To educate women on the importance of International Women’s Day, regional delegates of the Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and the Family have been arranging meetings and radio broadcasts to promote responsible behavior. Meanwhile, religious leaders preach that only a fear of God and understanding of the Bible will restore the respect of the day.
Cameroon joins the international community each year in observing March 8 as International Women’s Day, an initiative sponsored by the United Nations. The day provides an opportunity to reflect on the achievements of women and build support for women’s rights, according to UN Women, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women.
More than 10,000 women participate in the march-past, or procession, in Bamenda, according to the regional delegation of the Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and the Family.
But at the center of controversy in Bamenda this year is the traditional dress worn during the International Women’s Day procession.
Each year, women in Cameroon purchase a commemorative fabric decorated with a print honoring women’s contributions to the world. They then fashion the fabric into a garment to wear today during their town’s procession.
But the styles that women have crafted in the past have drawn criticism for being too revealing. In response, Bamenda’s march-past committee, which oversees the parade held in honor of the day, is enforcing a stricter dress code this year to ensure the procession remains respectful.