In 2016, Senator Biodun Christine Olujimi, proposed the incorporation and enforcement of certain provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women and the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, this bill came to be known as the Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill (GEO Bill).
Of interest are items 5 and 7.
Item 5 seeks to modify socio-cultural practices within both public and private spaces that causes people to be fitted into stereotypes (classifying them as inferior or superior).
… every public or private educational institution shall ensure the adoption of appropriate teaching methods and curriculum including provision of facilities that emphasise the promotion of equality of all sexes in all circumstances and for all purposes, including choice of career, equal participation and inclusion of all persons in all activities of the school or institution. – GEO Bill 2016, Senator Biodun Christine Olujimi.
While item 7 directly addresses the issue of eliminating discrimination in education. The bill was thrown out of the senate.
This action shows that the Nigerian government, in spite of many studies and evidence, do not understand that the more educated a woman is, the better her understanding of her reproductive rights and eventual reproductive health seeking behaviour. When women are educated they are able to make informed choices about the kind of Family Planning Methods they would use. They can make the connection between high birth rates and population explosion and how it affects the economy and the family’s spending power.
My name is Ruth and I’m a trader, I sell everyday goods from my house. I finished my secondary school education (SS3) and I am going to be 40 years old soon. I have four children, three boys and one girl. I didn’t use any family planning methods until just before I had my daughter. And even at that I only used the contraceptive for about six months.
I stopped using it because I was allergic to it. I went to a private hospital when I wanted to do family planning, but they didn’t carry out any test on me. They only asked me the type I wanted. They wanted to know if I would want to use the one inserted into the arm, or the one inserted into the vaginal tract [Intrauterine contraceptive Devices, IUCD], or the injections [injectable contraceptives]. I told them I would like the injection that lasts for about three months. But after I took the injection my period kept flowing, all the time, that’s why I stopped taking the injections.
It is possible that public hospitals and health care centres carry out tests to determine the type of contraceptives that will work with one’s body, but those ones [a private clinic], didn’t do any test for me they didn’t tell me about any kind of side-effect, they just said that whoever elects to do the one inserted into the arm[contraceptive implants] that it lasts for five years.
According to some people, the one inserted into the arm needs a surgery, they will first open up your arm and some other people claim that it is quite painful. This is why I didn’t go down that line. And the one that is inserted inside you also has one long rope that makes washing down there discomforting. These are the reasons I decided to take the injection, particularly since all my friends are using that same method.
Nobody told me about menstruation or reproductive health or how to take care of myself, because I never really lived with my mum. The person that raised me was an old woman and she’s not the type to discuss that kind of thing with you. But, you know, when one starts going to school, once you start getting to SS (senior secondary school) you start hearing about different things, and then the subjects we were taught, particularly if you take sciences, you know… and by then one is no longer a child…the older one gets, the wiser one becomes. It’s because the world has become so civilized. When we were at the age that these children who are getting pregnant are, nobody ever discussed sex with us, but as the world is becoming more advanced, a lot of children are growing up pretty fast. Until I left secondary school I didn’t have a boyfriend.
As far as I’m concerned as soon as a child turns fifteen, one should be telling them about sex, in fact one can tell them that if you have sex with a man you’ll get pregnant immediately. There’s this program that we watch, on Saturday evenings, that one man was accused of raping a 3year old child.
If a man can afford it nothing stops you from having as many children as possible. I have a friend whose husband loves children, a lot of children. But the man is very rich and can afford to take care of them, that man has 3 wives, but he has divorced one of them, the other two are still having children. The number of children one has depends on the man, you know some men love having children. But some people decide that they will only have the number of children they can afford. In that case both the man and the woman will discuss this. There are also some men who don’t take care of their children, once a woman knows the kind of man she’s married to, she can go ahead and do family planning.
But in some cases, the husband and wife decides to plan their families, the husband is the one who will even give his wife money to go to the hospital.
As for us, there’s no number of children that we can’t decide to have, my father-in-law has many children, and he’s always telling his own children to have many children. This is due to the fact that my father-in-law was his mother’s only child. But then everyone has to decide the number of children they want to have, depending on whether they can afford it.
Especially with how everybody is becoming educated and school fees are becoming higher. It’s not everyone who has a high number of children that’s not educated, it depends on individuals and their love for children. I once worked in Lagos with a couple, very rich couple, but they have only two children, if this couple decides to have ten children, they can afford it. Education has nothing to do with the number of children you have.
To be continued.
The interviews were recorded in Yoruba, transcribed and translated to English.
The names of correspondents have been changed to protect the identities of the correspondents.
For our Yoruba speaking audience audio notes of the women’s interviews are embedded in the article.
9jafeminista: Project Asha was started in 2008 at Ajegunle and has so far empowered over 300 teenagers through skills acquisition and other means it’s now 2015, how would you describe this journey?
Vweta: The Empowering Women of the Future (EWOF) project, one of ASHA’s initiative started in Ajegunle in September 2012. Since then, we have worked directly with over 500 teenage girls, young women and senior citizens (women) through rehabilitation services, skills acquisition, community outreaches and public dialogues and focus group discussions.
However, ASHA was birthed in 2004.
9jafeminista: So how has the journey been?
Vweta: It has been inspiring, challenging, innovative and very rewarding. I have been blessed with the stories of girls and women, who have endured some of the most inhumane acts. I have witnessed how these victims became survivors, and, how, from a place of familiar pain, now reach out to support other potential victims. This has impressed on me, I think, the need to transform my pain, no matter what it is, into a positive experience.
And I’ll cite an example with the EWOF project. In 2012 when I first stepped in Ajegunle, I underestimated some of the challenges confronting the girls and women in the community. In my mind, once ASHA is able to get sponsors for the girls education, and educate them on their SRHR, the work is done. However, this was not the case. Issues such as poverty, kept playing up. A mother who is barely able to feed often sacrificed the education of her daughter on the altar of street hawking. The promise of an education and job, we soon discovered, becomes fantastic when poverty and hunger is biting.
Another challenge was some male aversion towards the girls and women in the EWOF program. With information and knowledge comes power and control, over our bodies and choices. This disturbed the power dynamics in many relationships and even marriages. And, in the most cases, it was unwelcome.
And back to poverty, it is one thing to know your rights, but often, you need financial independence to assert that right. A woman for example, who is in an abusive relationship with a partner she is dependent on financially often has to endure such abuse because she has no agency to assert her rights. If she decides to leave, where would she go? If she’s had kids, how would she feed them and meet hers and their needs? Poverty poses a huge barrier, not only to girls education, also to girls and women’s rights.
And these challenges brings me to my experience of being innovative.
To address the problem of poverty, ASHA Sheros Academy was birthed in 2013.
This is a vocational and skills acquisition academy for girls and women in the Ajegunle community. Many beneficiaries of this academy have received small start off grants from ASHA and some of our partners towards starting their own businesses.
I believe this was innovative because, by empowering women economically we helped them create an enabling environment for their daughters to attend school. To put it simply, the mothers no longer needed their daughters to hawk goods. She could return to the classroom.
Seeing these leaps and bounds in girls education and women’s agency is truly rewarding and it is definitely worth every bit of energy and time.
9jafeminista: What prompted your move to start this project? Did you ever live in Ajegunle?
Vweta: Early in 2012, I was volunteering for the Lagos Empowerment and Resource Network (LEARN) at a school in Alapere, Ketu, as a sexuality education facilitator.
I noticed that the number of boys in class was significantly more than the number of girls. I’m talking about a ratio of 5 boys to one girl. And this was the case in the senior and junior classes I facilitated.
Naturally, I was curious, so I asked the class why? Many of the reasons cited were – teenage pregnancy, many of their classmates have had to drop out of school because of the accompanying discrimination and often expulsion that comes with being pregnant while in school. Many others also had to assist their families economically, this they did by hawking or engaging in petty trade, which didn’t allow them to attend classes.
So I asked, where are these girls from? Teachers and students said the majority of them reside in Ajegunle. Later the same year, I visited the community for the first time, and EWOF was born.
9jafeminista: In a new bulletin released by AfriDevInfo between 54 to 85% of women are denied education in the NE and NW of Nigeria, http://www.afri-dev.info/sdgs-education-gender-conflictextremism-development-nigeria-female-male-education-scorecards-day-of-girl-child-2015/, even in the more ‘progressive’ parts of Nigeria SE/SW/SS the percentages are still high.
We know that there’s very little NGO’s like yours can do to improve the lot of female children in the country especially with the governments apathetic attitude towards developing women, in spite of the fact that they make up almost half of the country.
Are there ways that ASHA is engaging the government? Any advocacy directed at the ministry of education and women’s affairs?
Vweta: We believe in both bottom-to-top and top-to-bottom approaches, ASHA recognizes the effort government has expanded towards access to education for every girl and boy by way of free basic education, however, like I pointed out earlier, girls need to be enabled to access such opportunities, And, we are doing our bit by empowering girls and their mothers with vocational skills and maximization of near-at-hand economic opportunities.
We have repeatedly called on government at both the state and federal level to remove barriers that impedes girls access to education such as discrimination against teenage mothers, tackling the issues of insecurity especially in North-Eastern Nigeria so that girls seeking education are not victims of reprisals as has been seen with the lingering case of the Chibok girls.
Furthermore, we have consistently called for an all inclusive educational establishments where girls with disabilities can have unimpeded access to basic and qualitative education. Equally, ASHA is a member of Civil Society Action Coalition on Education for All (CSECAFA) and is actively seeking partnership with like-minded organisations to promote girl’s access to qualitative education.
9jafeminista: You have a program coming up on the 1st of November, can you talk a little about it?
Vweta: Project ASHA is keen to demonstrate the uniqueness of its NGO Model which makes it stand apart by generating funding creatively instead of going fundraising cap in hand. Whilst we welcome direct philanthropic donations, our main source of income is a social enterprise revenue generation model. This is expressed in Article 8 Part 4 of our constitution.
The first Empowering Laughter is scheduled for 2pm, November 1st, at the Oriental Hotel. Lekki.
This event is headlined by Ali Baba, and will be anchored by Princess Comedian and Mc Bambino. Other confirmed acts include Timi Dakolo, Buchi, OzzyBosco, Oke Bakasi, Koffi, Toby Grey, Ronnie, TJ Hays, Mr Johnbull, Gordons and MC Abey. Attendees will be required to pre-purchase a ticket to attend the event to cover the costs incurred and further ASHA’s work with vulnerable and marginalized women and girls in Nigeria.
Nigerians who do exceptional work to inspire hope and transform lives will also be recognized and awarded that day.
Empowering Laughter represents a win-
win outcome, whereby the public pay a fair fee for our services which they enjoy, while also helping to promote the rights of the at risk people we work with.
Must not be too bookish: …by the time you’re done with schooling, you’re in your early twenties! Already some men consider you overage, the ideal age for marriage, in Nigeria, is between ten and twelve … but … these days some Nigerian men have become more patient, they’d still manage you in your early twenties. The trouble starts when you decide you want a postgraduate degree! Do you know what that certificate is called? It is called a Master’s Degree! You want to marry and you go and be getting something called a MASTERS do you want to be struggling that masculine title with your husband? Well, some sisters now push things further and go for a doctorate! Let’s reason this thing together, first you get a BACHELORS (mannish), then you get a MASTERS (more mannish) then you get a DOCTORATE (most mannish). My sister, your wife material has just disintegrated! The men out there with a list in their pockets, looking for wife would have no problem with all these titles if there was a way of distinguishing all these bookish things and making them more feminine, for example if the Bachelor Degree was called a SPINSTER Degree, the Masters a MISTRESS and the Doctorate a NURSERATE … our advice? Never ever disclose your age to anybody, even if you have to go to Oluwole to get a fake birth certificate and secondly, do not be ambitious, even if you have all these degrees you have to pretend you have never crossed the gates of a school before, do not think … do not breathe! Just be A WIFE MATERIAL… Dass all!
Must be great in bed: Being great in bed is an art that must be mastered by all women who are keen to be wife materials (don’t worry a masters in bedmatics is alright). You have to be great in bed without being slutty or sexy (we’ve already defined being slutty in the first installment as enjoying sex). So you have to master all those porn star moves without enjoying them. All your moves are to be learnt in order to please the lord and master. The gymnastics are not for you, you must somehow learn all these things without having to practice (remember the ‘body count’ wahala), you need to get it by divine inspiration, because wife materials neither watch, nor read porn. You have to be great in bed without being great in bed so that your husband will not suspect you of cheating on him.
Must be Forgiving: Have you ever seen a poem written in honour of a woman who did not forgive her man before? No,
seriously, how many songs have you listened to sung by a man in honour of a woman who kicked out his drunken, cheating, wife-beating ass? How many times have you seen a man, all dressed up in his best suit, taking his ex out for dinner to thank her for ending her relationship with him? When you’re out and about, exchanging gossips with your friends, how many times have you heard somebody praise a woman who said ‘rather than give myself heartache/regular black eyes/ drag home a perpetual drunk, I’d stick with being alone’. You’ll note that most poets write for their mothers who ‘suffered’ to raise them, the operative word here is suffer. You’ll be a gem only if you had to sell firewood by the roadside to send your children to school, no child has ever written a poem for a single parent who has enough money to pay school fees, or enough left over to give her children the good life, only the suffering wife and mother gets all the eulogies. Therefore, for your wife material to be complete, you must, of necessity be forgiving and ready to suffer. You must always have an ‘I’ve forgiven you’ placard hidden somewhere about your person in case you need to forgive your man, at any point. Your man lied to you about his income? Forgive him. He’s just a man with a fragile ego, and it’s your fault for not noticing that he borrowed those Louboutins, and that the car he used to take you out on all those dates belonged to his older sister. Your man cheats on you regularly? Forgive him. Those ones are the side-chicks, you’re the main chick, you’ve won the lottery of cooking and caring for him, and when you get uncontrollably jealous, fight the side chicks, whip them well-well, cuss them out on Facebook, sub them on Twitter, but always, always forgive your man. After all how else can he prove his manhood except by dashing preek to every pretty girl(or boy) that passes by?
Must be the neck: The neck, is the most important part of the body … well, except that the head is more important. But to be a wife material, you cannot, must not, even consider the possibility of becoming the head … of anything! Why? Because your husband must be the head and you the neck, silly! You know that prayer they say in church, the one about being the ‘head and not the tail’ , the next time you’re in church or in any public space where prayers are (necessarily or unnecessarily) being offered up, just say, ‘I’m the neck and not the head’ at top volume and watch proposals pour in by the bucketful. The neck is the most important part of the body because it tells the head where to turn, except that the head contains the brain which gives the neck the direction it should go. Clear ehn? Leave the thinking to the head, remember you’re there for the cooking, the bearing of children, the satisfaction of celebrating your golden/silver/ diamond wedding anniversary and most importantly for those children to call you blessed. You do want to be that crumpled looking old woman, in that sepia picture, with that slightly sad smile on your face.
Must make sacrifices: Now this is very important for anybody seeking husband. To be wife material, you have to understand that men are ‘inherently selfish’, they can’t help it, it’s their nature, just as it’s in their nature not to cry. Real men shouldn’t be called to make sacrifices so that you don’t turn them into ‘women’. Your man thinks you’re too educated? Drop out of school. Your man thinks you’re dangerously earning more than he is? Resign from your job. You are the one who was made to be nailed to the cross, the sacrificial lamb. You must be ready to give up everything you are to satisfy ‘your man’, even if he’s a lot of other ladies’ man, remember, you are the ‘main chick’.
Must be prayerful: According to non-existent statistics Nigeria is the holiest nation on the face of the earth, everybody is either a Christian or a Muslim, anybody who is not a member of a church or a mosque is a member of the illuminati. Truth. So as a wife material you must be prayerful, there are so many books out there for women (yes you may read religious books but not any other immoral literature) with titles such as Praying Wives, Praying Mothers, Preying Mantis, sorry … Praying Church. You must be ready to lead preyer … sorry … prayers at the drop of a hat, especially when travelling by public transportation, in an office meeting, at book launchings etcetera. The longer and louder you can pray, the longer your wife material becomes. Be the first to volunteer to bring tea for the men whenever there’s an office meeting, even if you’re a manager, always have your writing pad ready whenever you’re to attend important meetings in case the secretary is not around. Make sure you type ‘amen’ under all those weird pictures on Facebook showing mutilated bodies, ‘like’ all posts that have prayers on them and says that anybody that likes the post will get all their prayers answered. Retweet every post by every demented preacher on twitter, especially ones titled ‘Letter to Jeel’.
Must be Certain: You must be absolutely convinced that we are all not equals, that men and women are not first and most importantly human beings, beings who are flawed and perfect at the same time. You must be certain that everybody with a pair of breasts and a vagina is a woman and everybody with a penis is a man. You must not question beliefs, you must not dare entertain the thought that single people can be deliriously happy, or that there are men out there who don’t have this list. You must be absolutely convinced that every person who is not ‘wife material’ will be miserable and only those who do live happily ever after. You must be sure of your generalizations and stereotyping… you must receive your 12yards of wife material this Christmas, by faya by force, IJN (type ‘Amen’ in the comments section to receive this impartation).
In my city, Abuja, an NGO called the Society against Prostitution and Child Labour has been collaborating with the city’s Environmental Protection Board to round up any woman found on a sidewalk after dark and charge them with prostitution. There is rarely any evidence of sexual solicitation in these cases. The only evidence used being the women’s locations (out of the house) and dressing (a vastly subjective “indecent”). These women, usually between the ages of 18 and 30, are often extorted for money with authorities threatening to take them to court if they don’t pay a “fine” of N5,000. There are no opportunities for appeal and no protection from arrest. And this has been happening without comment for nearly two years.
In 2011, a young woman at Abia State University was assaulted by five men who broke into her dorm room and raped her for hours. The assailants recorded themselves perpetrating the act and uploaded the video to the internet. To date, none of those young men have served jail time.
In July, on a 12-hour road trip to my hometown in Eastern Nigeria, I watched four popular Nollywood movies. Each one depicted a scene of domestic violence – from a boyfriend slapping his girlfriend for “disrespecting” him, to a husband shouting abuses at a wife who dared to contradict him and a father hitting his daughter. And in every film the abuse was treated as normal – unremarked upon by any of the characters.
The British Council’s 2012 Gender in Nigeria report shows that these are more than isolated incidents. According to the report “Nigeria’s 80.2 million women and girls have significantly worse life chances than men, and their sisters in comparable societies. Violence compounds and reinforces this disadvantage and exclusion.”
My country has some of the highest rates of gender disparity in the world. Women earn less than men, are less educated, more likely to die in childbirth and are barely represented in positions of power and authority. Many of you might not think this is a problem, but research has shown that excluding women from economic, health, educational and political opportunities costs societies. Our security, growth and long-term welfare are seriously compromised and we doom ourselves to being a less productive, less healthy and ultimately less progressive society than we could be.
Women earn less than men – regardless of their educational qualifications. In Nigeria a woman with a Bachelor’s Degree can expect to earn the same as a man with a secondary school certificate and a woman with a secondary school certificate will earn the same as a man with no education at all. A woman can expect to be paid 20 to 50 percent less for doing the same work as her male counterpart. She can also expect a slower rate of promotion.
Part of this is because gender roles which place the bulk of housework, childrearing duties on women often lead women to choose lower-paying jobs that allow for more flexibility or are part-time. Women spend a much larger share of their time doing unpaid work in the form of informal household chores than men do. But a bigger part of this is gender bias. We have a widespread view that the proper place of a woman is at home under the dominance and care of a man (a husband, father or male relative). So women are not expected to work outside of the home unless there is a familial “need” for it. This is reflected in the Nigerian tax code which taxes men at a lower rate because they can be classified as “breadwinners.” Women with dependents cannot – even if they are the sole earners in their household.
When it comes to owning property and assets which can be used as collateral, such as land, women often face discriminatory inheritance practices which bar them from inheriting land or property from their parents. In many traditions inheritance is patrilineal – from father to son. So you have a situation where, “although women represent between 60% and 79% of Nigeria’s rural labour force, men are five times more likely to own land than women.” This affects women’s ability to access credit. Few banks will grant a business a loan without some form of collateral from the owner. However, even with collateral women have a harder time getting finance as men are twice more likely to get a bank loan than women.
One of the areas with the widest disparity for women in Nigeria is the access to health. Nigeria has one of the highest rates of maternal mortality in the world. Let me repeat that: One of the highest rates of maternal mortality. In the world. Our maternal mortality rate means that 144 women die each day and one woman dies every 10 minutes from conditions associated with childbirth. As a woman I am more likely to die giving birth than being shot by a gun or killed in car accident. Childbirth in Nigeria is more dangerous to a woman than smoking or drinking alcohol.
Access to contraceptives and gynaecological care is appallingly poor and often actively discouraged. Our country currently spends 6.5% of its total budget on healthcare, which means that health facilities are often difficult to get to, poorly staffed and barely equipped. And because the major burden of payment for healthcare in Nigeria falls on the individual, the poorest women are the least likely to get proper care. In fact, the poorest women are six times more likely to die when they get sick than the richest women in Nigerian society.
There are also social barriers to women’s health. Many unmarried women worry that going to a gynaecologist or purchasing contraceptives – even when they have access to them – will signal that they are sexually active and expose them to derision and harassment. It is not uncommon for a woman buying a condom to be treated as if she were a moral pariah. Thus, many women leave the decision to use contraception to their partners and even more women’s first visit to a gynaecologist is when they are pregnant. The attitude of healthcare professionals is also a problem. Many doctors still treat their female patients with condescension – often minimising and ignoring their complaints. Nurses in Nigeria are notorious for their insensitivity and outright cruelty – particularly to female patients – making a visit to a hospital a generally unpleasant experience.
This has terrible implications for a woman’s health throughout her lifetime. Infrequent and poor-quality gynaecological exams mean that a woman could be struggling with health issues that she may not know about until they become acute enough to require emergency medical treatment. And since for many women, the decision to visit a doctor is not their own to make, it is not surprising that many women die from easily preventable conditions.
While rates of enrolment for girls has risen worldwide – in some countries there are more women in colleges and universities than men – the gender gap in sub-Saharan Africa, and Nigeria in particular, has stubbornly persisted.
Nigeria has more children of primary school age who are not going to school than any other country in the world and more than half that population are girls. Fewer girls than boys make the transition from primary to secondary education and even fewer from secondary to university level. Overall, more girls drop out of school than boys. Lack of access to education is costly, but for women, it can be deadly. Women with less education are more likely to have more children, increasing their risk of dying in childbirth. And their children are more likely to be malnourished and undereducated themselves.
The poor educational statistics are a direct result of the poor status of women in our society. Despite our claims to free universal basic education, going to school is not free. Most parents still have to pay school fees, as well as the costs of uniforms and books. For most households, school fees are the largest expense in a family’s budget – next to rent and feeding. And for a lot of families that money is better spent on male child who will bring better returns in terms of higher income and carrying a greater burden of parental care. Many families still believe that it is more important for a woman to marry than to have an education and so will withdraw their daughters from school at various levels once they feel they have had “enough”.
There is also a perception that schools are dangerous places for women – and that is not entirely wrong. Nigeria’s educational system still uses corporal punishment which often leads to excess and abuse for both boys and girls. But research has shows that girls from the poorest backgrounds suffer a disproportionate amount of the beatings and public humiliations that come with this system. Girls are often required to do more school chores like sweeping classrooms, fetching water and cleaning school grounds which can cut into their study time. Finally, there are the dangers of bullying and sexual harassment from teachers and older students that can cause many girls to drop out.
Violence against Women
The low status of women in Nigerian society is reinforced through violence and threats of violence. And the violence isn’t just physical. There is the verbal violence of harassment, bullying and intimidation. There is the sexual violence of rape and molestation and there is the “soft violence” of rumour-mongering, innuendo and insults.
The fear of all these things keeps women in their “place”. Many women curtail their social lives for fear of being labelled prostitutes and subject to physical and verbal harassment. Others limit their education and employment opportunities for fear of “overshadowing” their partners and being victims of physical violence. And many more circumscribe their personalities and desires in order to stay within narrow definitions of what makes a “good” woman.
Violence against women is a problem all over the world – regardless of education, status and location. According the UN’s 2010 report on Women in the World, most but not all of the physical, sexual and psychological violence experienced by women comes at the hands of family members, especially husbands, partners and fathers – and much of it is normalised. In Nigeria, statistics show that unmarried women between 15 and 35 are the most vulnerable to violence but this masks the fact that married women who experience violence within their homes are less likely to report it.
A high number of women in Nigeria believe it is acceptable for a man to beat a woman if she “disrespects” him. Acts such as speaking out of turn, taking decisions without permission, failing to submit to sexual advances and failing to perform household chores are all grounds for physical violence. And the question of rape is still a hotly contested issue where many regard it as a punishment for the bad behaviour of the victim.
There is also institutionalised violence against women where certain bodies are structured in such a way as to actively discriminate against women. Institutions such as the police, the judiciary, political offices and higher education where there are “entrenched cultures of impunity” for the perpetrators of rape and other violence, all work to harm women. For example, women are not allowed to post bail in Nigerian jails, law courts tend to favour men over women in domestic disputes and sexual harassment and rape is endemic in many schools and universities. Many men in positions of authority – especially in these institutions – regard opportunities to receive sexual favours from female subordinates as one of the privileges of their positions.
Soft violence against women is used to keep women out of patronage networks which disproportionally favour men. Women who try to break into these networks can find themselves the victims of whisper campaigns designed to destroy their reputations – and because the social consequences of a “bad” reputation are higher for women than men, many women simply opt out of the process.
The future of Nigeria
There are many reasons why despite our vast natural resources we continue to lag behind comparable countries but I think it ultimately comes down to one thing. Our society is deeply unequal. In fact, Nigeria is among the 30 most unequal countries in the world, particularly when it comes to income distribution. Yet, studies show that societies with greater gender equity have lower crime rates, fairer distribution of resources, and are healthier and more stable, in general. This is not an accident. Right now, Nigeria is like a runner trying to compete in a race while tying one leg to his back. We simply cannot progress as a country without the full and equal participation of women.
Our political system must be more accountable to women – they must take women’s issues of health, education, economics and violence more seriously. We have to begin by electing and appointing more women into positions of power. The lack of representation by women in political office (just 9%) is one of the reasons why our country has not allocated as much resources to sectors such as health and education that are key to our development.
And our social dynamics need to change. We cannot continue to accept violence against women in any form. We cannot continue to limit the opportunities of women and girls for our own comfort. For when we exclude women from participating fully in society, when we insist on narrowly defined roles for both genders, we are limiting ourselves to using only half of our resources, half of our creative spirit. Ultimately, when we work to hold women back, we are only holding back ourselves.