Achebe presents women in the novel in a way that is faithful to the values of the Igbo tribe.
It is easy for a modern, western reader to feel that women have little respect in this culture. The society is polygamous; the mother of Okonkwo's eldest son is merely 'Nwoye's mother', as if she's defined only by the fact she's produced an heir. Men who are regarded as failures are deemed to be 'agbala' - the Igbo word for woman. However, to rely entirely on this reading would be to overlook the complex and subtle way in which Achebe reveals the centrality of the female in Igbo life.
Okonkwo is a war-like hero, but his ferocity is based on fear: 'the fear of being thought weak'. For this reason, he commits a series of atrocities, many of which involve some kind of violation of the female principle in Igbo culture.
When exiled to Mbanta, Uchendu, Okonkwo's uncle, reminds Okonkwo that the Igbo call their children by the name 'Nneka' (Mother is Supreme), and that an exiled man returns to his motherland- the proper place in times of sadness and suffering. Thus, the status of women is revered in Igbo culture, and in the novel, and that Okonkwo fails to recognise this is a contributory factor in his tragic downfall.
Women hold a very religiously rich position in this culture. They may not play an important role in day to day life, but they are very crucial to the spritual wellness of the Ibo culture.