Being Female In Nigeria

Last night I stumbled onto the trending topic on twitter, #beingfemaleinnigeria and I was transported back to over twenty years ago. A lot of the tweets could be experienced by any other woman in the world to be honest but they were specific to the experience of Nigerian women today. Such was the furore over it, that it was trending at number 10 at some point in the U.K and reported on CNN.

There was a great deal about domestic violence, cultural restraints, gender inequality and downright misogyny. Of course as some men often do, they missed the point of the hashtag and proceeded to start #beingmaleinnigeria. It was sad to see that my experience from 20 odd years ago is still the experience of a lot women today and to dismiss that is utterly disindigenous. I for one am glad that women in Nigeria are speaking out about it. They have been silent for far too long.

When I was growing up, my idea of a feminist was based on the caricature of characters depicted in Hollywood movies. I thought a feminist was frigid, hated men, would never get married, wore androgynous clothes and was generally surly. She was always the one who didn’t have fun in the movie. More Bette Davis than Marilyn Monroe. Who wants to be that? So of course I grew up shunning the concept of being a feminist.

All the while, growing up in a home with no men, my sisters and I embodied feminism. We had no choice. We didn’t have the privilege of being damsels in distress. There was no knight in shining armour to rescue us. We just go on with it.

It was very odd for me to go to University, and sadly church too, and be told not to express my opinion particularly to me; especially an opposing opinion. The reasons given to me at the time were men didn’t like a woman who wasn’t submissive; you’ll never find a man like that; or in once instance – he’s the head of a cult which translated to you could be beaten up,raped or have acid poured on you – so keep quiet. Pretty much some of the things I read on twitter last night.

I just could never understand, why I could not express my opinion. Why because I wanted to be married some day I had to put a lid on my personality? No one sussed that if you marry a man who thinks you’re a shrinking violet, he’s going to wake up with Godzilla some day.

My world wasn’t a world where women were timid. The women in my world were bold. From my mum to my older sister; my cousins to my aunts; my grandmothers to my grandaunts. The women that surrounded me were bold achievers. So how do you take someone that’s a conglomerate of such a genetic pool and tell her to shhhhhhssh! Or tell her she can’t be what she wants to be because of her gender. I rebelled and rebelled sometimes quite violently (not physically) to the notion that I should keep quiet or hold back. It was absurd and I still find it ridiculous.

My daughter had inherited that gene too. Sometimes, I watch her defend her stance to her brother and I think, good for you. Let no one, put you down because of your age or your gender.

I’m not quite sure what will bring about a change, As I told my very Western feminist line manager once, a lot of it is inextricably linked to culture but it certainly helps that people are talking about it. The more people talk about it, the more people will see a different normal and then more activists will arise and then a little girl will grow up in a Nigeria where there are no limits placed on her other than the ones she chooses.

I may be mistaken but I have never felt that there was a professional glass ceiling placed on women in Nigeria. I’d go as far as saying that there are more opportunities for women in Nigeria than there are in the United Kingdom. When I was a young girl there were female broadcasters on TV, women were CEOs, government ministers, directors of companies and entrepreneurs. There was never anything that said they couldn’t achieve. However, now you may not get that job if you don’t sleep with the boss. The issue with Nigeria that this hashtag highlights is about a woman’s worth. The fact that no matter how successful she is, her worth is determined by a patriarchal society. No matter how successful she is, it is only complete if it is accompanied by a husband and children particularly sons. No matter how successful she is, she is still not meant to have an opinion that challenges that of a man. No matter how successful she is, she was created to satisfy men sexually. And domestic violence is very much alive to silence women who ‘misbehave’. No matter how successful she is.

It’s not enough for women to talk about it. It was wonderful to see many men engaging in the conversation last night. We all have a responsibility to the future generation of Nigeria to shape a new paradigm by our example.

Tell your daughters they were created equal and their worth is not determined by another human being. Tell your sons that women were created to be strong too and their strength doesn’t take away their masculinity in any way. There are other things to say about how men are regarded and treated in Nigeria as well but for today, the topic is Being Female in Nigeria.

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