There are times when being a Nigerian woman is an awesome experience. Step out onto a random street in any part of the country and you will see us in all our glory: well-dressed, in high heels or flats shoes, with carefully styled hair. With the right support system of family, friends and dedicated groups, a Nigerian woman can achieve greatness both in her career and in her personal life. With internet services now becoming more ubiquitous, she can take online courses, buy shoes and makeup from a web vendor, and catch up on current events and news in Nigeria and around the world on social media and news outlets.
Life is good-especially when you are an educated and employed Nigerian woman. It is not perfect, but it is mostly tolerable.
With all of these things going on, some frustrations are relegated to the back of your mind, where they linger and fester-until something happens which makes your reach for them to bring them out to play.
Recently, I was in a state of relative bliss when I stumbled on an article published by the Nigerian Newspaper, Vanguard. On its website, I read an interview they had with Onari Duke, a Legal Practitioner and former First Lady of Cross River State in Nigeria: http://www.vanguardngr.com/2016/04/laws-still-allow-men-beat-wives-mrs-duke-ex-cross-river-first-lady/. She answered questions about the recently rejected Gender Equality Bill by the Nigerian National Assembly. Her answers were intelligent, informative and very clear. I was happy to read the interview. I thought ‘Yes! This bill is a step in the right direction for Nigeria; the sponsors of the bill will need to present it again after they have made the necessary adjustments’.
I should have stopped reading when I got to the end of the article, but somehow, I found myself scrolling down to the toxic wasteland that was the comments section.
The comments were disgusting. To paraphrase one of such comments, ‘Women deserve to be beaten if they are being too stubborn’.
I suddenly felt very sad to be a Nigerian woman. All the hidden frustrations associated with this title flashed before my eyes;
- Having to be extra-vocal in social settings when an injustice is perpetuated against me or any other woman,
- Having to develop a thick skin towards sexist remarks made to me by male colleagues or friends who should know better,
- Having to become selectively deaf to comments insinuating that being unmarried in my thirties cancels out any other achievement I have made in life,
- Having to turn a blind eye to the lewd looks in some men’s eyes when they ask me who ‘takes care of me’.
I thought about widows in Nigeria who are in a constant battle to inherit the properties of their late husbands.
I thought about wives being beaten by their husbands, but remaining in their marriages because they feel it is better to be married and beaten to a pulp than to file for divorce.
I thought about teenage girls who succumb to abuse from male teachers and say nothing, because they believe that their voices do not matter.
I thought about young girls in some parts of the country who do not have access to education, because the education of their male relatives has been prioritized over theirs.
These and so many other examples are enough to make one have little or no expectations from Nigeria when it comes to treating both men and women with equal respect and dignity.
But things are looking up. I re-read the article and smiled. Nigerian women have been gathering up steam for years, and society has no choice but to listen to what we have to say. I will not lower my expectations; I will keep them at optimal levels as I hope for the dream of gender equality in Nigeria to become a reality.
The noise we are making will be heard everywhere, and it will not be able to be ignored anymore.
Gender equality in Nigeria will become the norm, not the exception.