Guest Blog: Feminism in Nigeria

Hello everyone 🙂

We are back with another addition to our international series and today we will be travelling to Nigeria! Rather than doing an interview, we have called back one of our guest bloggers, Lanaire Aderemi, to give an in-depth and personal account of her journey into feminism.

Lanaire is an A Level Student who is passionate about women’s rights and social justice. She is the author of an anthology of poetry, ‘Of Ivory And Ink’, and is a political contributor for the We Rise Initiative, an organisation that aims to empower African women to rise above oppression.

two thousand and seven

BOYS ARE BETTER THAN GIRLS

red. the colour of the statement my classmate wrote on the board.

the class was silent for a moment till he asked the girls in our summer school class to challenge his ‘notion’.

his first point was that even if girls were better at cooking and cleaning, they could not possibly be better at anything else.

nearly all the girls in my class agreed .an applause followed. the boys gave them smiles and high-fives.

i had asked why he said so after the loud cheer fainted. a boy said that i talked too much; asserted his dominance by shouting at me and exclaimed ‘don’t you know that boys are meant to work and girls to cook and clean?’

spoiler: the patriarchal nature of the social order reinforces and rewards the compliance of women and shuns non-conformists.

twenty sixteen

feminism was reduced to cooking on my twitter timeline by those still ignorant of the importance of the recognition and enhancement of women’s rights. their anti-feminst thread of tweets was in response to president’s buhari’s comment that aisha buhari, the first lady, belonged to ‘his’ kitchen.

disclaimer: feminism is not a war between the two sexes nor is its purpose primarily to undermine men

two thousand and thirteen.

the year i was asked whether I was a feminist. i had stopped to think of what feminism could possibly mean. wikipedia’s definition if i could vaguely remember was simply ’equality of the two sexes’. did I really believe that this could possibly happen in nigeria? i responded by saying i was not one. i had said no for fear that i’d be following the crowd; the crowd of nigerian women who were self-proclaiming themselves as feminists by giving themselves the brand name ‘FEMINIST’ and including the word in their twitter bios. the f word. i had also said no becuase i  feared that i would be viewed as a man-hating, westernised, pseudo-intellectual.

two thousand and fourteen

the year i was asked why i wasn’t a feminist. i had paused to think of a suitable response. i responded by saying that i believed in gender equality and I was against the ill treatment of women but i was not a feminist.

two thousand and fifteen

the year my sister asked why my views had changed. i responded by saying that i had watched a video , a TED talk delivered by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie called ‘we should all be feminists’

two thousand and sixteen

the year of realization. i was furious and disappointed in my country’s senate for rejecting the gender equality bill due to religious reasons. the bill’s main purpose was to protect Nigerian women from violence and provide women with the same marital rights as men. but once again, the rule of law was ruling women out.

reading and researching empowered me. it showed me the extent to which the systematic forces oppress women. it also made me understand that my country is also a record breaker. for example, it has the world’s highest number of underage girls forced into early marriages.it is also one of the most unequal countries in the world with more than 64%(eighty million) of the population living below the poverty line, seventy percent of the eighty million people are women.

in a country where women are treated as second citizens, feminism gave me an opportunity to rise above society’s expectations of myself as a woman and change what i consider to be gender-biased.

***

In Nigeria, only 6% of women hold positions in the House of Representatives. This means that Nigeria has the lowest parliamentary rate in sub-Saharan Africa and ranks 133rd in the world for female political representation. Since women are rarely involved in Nigeria’s decision making process, they cannot directly influence policies and implement laws that are inclusive of women.

Independent bodies like INEC (Independent National Electoral Commission) have, in the past, intervened to address the poor political representation such as that of 2011 where only 32 women were elected to the national parliament (composed of 469 members), making up only 8% of the total representation. However, their intervention was only in response to criticisms. It is no surprise that male dominance has been the status quo for years despite the efforts made to improve the under-representation of women, for example through gender quotas.

Although still an infant in democracy, Nigeria has failed to effectively uphold democratic values of inclusion, participation and recognition of citizenship rights which are central to democracy. In the UK, for example, women make up 29.4% of Parliament whereas in Nigeria, women make up just 8% . Although both countries have no legislative quotas, the UK’s use of voluntary gender quotas by the Labour party in the form of all-women has significantly increased the number of female MPs. Even when women achieve senior positions in a range of sectors including economy, law, media, culture and communications, a woman’s qualifications in Nigeria are often downgraded and minimised in comparison to a man’s.

It is important that we also create awareness about the potential of women in the workplace. For lower-income women who may not have higher levels of formal education, employers should not just look at a woman’s qualifications as a determining factor for employment. By focusing on her competency, we encourage employers to be more inclusive and foster economic development,

Presently, legal institutions enforce dominant masculinist norms which make it difficult for Nigeria to achieve the institutional change it needs in several substantive areas such as political equality, protection from violence and economic rights. Although the rights of Nigerian women appear to be constitutionally guaranteed, for example, section 42 (1) which states that:

“A citizen of Nigeria of a particular community, ethnic group, place of origin, sex, religion or political opinion shall not, by reason only that he is such a person be subjected to any form of discrimination.”

In reality, there is little or no enforcement of this law and women are still unprotected by the law that has historically marginalised 50% of the population.

For example, a law which operates in Northern Nigeria states that no conviction will be secured upon the uncorroborated evidence of one witness for certain offences unless the accuser corroborates the claim with four witnesses. This outlandish provision sustains the existing patriarchy in the society and encourages the continuance of female discrimination and subjugation and provides a ready escape for perpetrators of the offence of rape.

The legal and judicial systems provide Nigerian women with little or no protection from domestic and sexual violence. For instance, Section 55 of the Penal Code legalizes corrective beating of the wife as long as this does not grievous bodily harm. Such laws violate a woman’s bodily rights and give household members (who are usually agents of violence) the power to be a source of danger and threat.

Although society’s view on rape and non-consensual sex has changed for the better, Nigeria’s laws are still far behind. For example, Section 282, subsection 2 of the Penal Code does not validate any claims made by a woman of rape by her spouse:

“sexual intercourse by a man with his own wife is not rape, if she has attained the age of puberty”.  This is in contrast with the UK, which in 1991 criminalized rape within marriage.

***

The most powerful agency of change for the modern woman is education. Unfortunately, the average Nigerian girl stays in school only through age nine and, in northern Nigeria, less than one in ten girls generally complete secondary education. In addition to increasing enrolment and attendance, it is important that Nigeria builds stronger schooling systems with clearer learning standards, better teachers, adequate resources, and a proper regulatory environment that emphasizes accountability. It is when this happens that girls can be truly empowered in the long term.

An article I read titled ’11 ways women in Nigeria can become financially independent’ convinced me that feminism is even more important in Nigeria now. Nigeria is Africa’s largest economy yet more than half of its population live in poverty. It is important that women are taught to be financially independent especially women from low income communities. It is when parents reject the idea that their daughters can be financially independent that they choose to neglect their education and look for alternative means of financial viability-child marriage being the most common.

‘and woman, remember frailty is your name

the creator made you the weaker being so you should never aspire to inspire

and follow the leader because the childhood song said so’

-yellow attracts flies*

Until girls are taught to believe that their role in life is not limited to the home front as housewives, producers and minders of children, girls would continue to view themselves as inferior to boys, as supporters and followers and never leaders.

Until we teach our boys and girls to dismantle the social institutions that perpetuate and preserve patriarchy, women will continue to be socialised into a culture of gender inequality.

* you can read the rest of the poem on http://www.lanaireaderemi.wordpress.com 

Thanks for reading,

A Bloody Good Cause

One thought on “Guest Blog: Feminism in Nigeria

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s