Speaking Out

June 18, 2009

Being female in Nigeria

By Morenike Taire
Which Nigerian woman has not suffered the psychological trauma, mild or harsh, of being treated as a second class citizen every day of her life, many times by men younger or of clearly less intelligence than herself?

A man who drives badly is denigrated for driving like a woman, and a woman who does is told that she does so for no other reason but her being female. Phrases such as “öri aku”, an Igbo concept, are used with much fondness by Igbos and non-Igbos alike.

Yoruba sayings to suggest that a bad child belongs to the mother while the bad belongs to the father have likewise been embraced by the rest of the country as facts. Of course, other facts of life include the undisputed rules that girls and women in a family are the cooks, cleaners and launderers of the men of their family as well as their own male friends and associates.

A woman without a husband in Yorubaland is said not to have a crown on her head. In short, her head is unadorned and inferior, and her contributions to her society are not taken seriously.

This, of course, was borrowed from some of our religions, which first of all inspire women to be subordinate to men, and men to subjugate women. Even the most sophisticated and cosmopolitan jetsetting pastors are guilty of going on about what Christian women and girls are wearing and not wearing, while men basically wear what they please.

Whatever good religion has done in this country, it has not been in the area of propagating gender respect.

In our big cities such as Lagos, women of marriageable age are required to have husbands before they can be rented houses to, for which they are ready and willing to pay full rents.

Landlords in these cases are often women who have either themselves built houses or inherited real estate. Here, we are not speaking about violence against women in their various and uncolourful ramifications.

In the main, and most unfortunately, we simply bear it with a good natured grin at the very best; or in many cases even join the perpetrators. We have failed to protect ourselves, let alone our sisters in gender.

And there was every danger of things continuing just in that manner until recently, when spouse of writer Elechi Amadi was given the condition, in her bid to get a new Nigerian international passport issued to her, of getting a letter of consent written for her husband.

Dr. Priye  Iyalla Amadi has since sued, and got justice for us all in a landmark judgment given by G.K. Olotu of the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt.

All of a sudden, issues such as this that are considered mere irritations will be seen for what they really are-the greatest power game of all time.

The NIS has not categorically condemned their obnoxious and repugnant practice but when they do, let them also take into consideration that a single mother or female guardian ought also to be able to obtain a travel passport for her ward without a letter of consent from anyone.

A case for June 12

Thanks to the Nigerian human rights community, of course with good support from their international equivalent, June 12 has refused to die, let alone have a ghost.

Once more this year, the number of organisations both home and abroad putting together parties, rallies, lectures, shows and what not in commemoration of the day has increased.

The Abiola legend is growing, and with it the moral case for declaring the twelfth of June Democracy Day by the Federal Government rather than by a few Yoruba states as has remained the case. America’s Martin Luther King was no Abiola, and Abiola no Martin Luther.

What they have in common was that they both had dreams concerning their respective countries, and these were snuffed right out of them along with their lives.

If Martin Luther and his ideals were eventually honoured by a holiday (during the Reagan administration) so, eventually, will Abiola and the ideals June 12 has come to stand for.

Some children left behind

For some time now, the Lagos State legislature has tried to show it is serious about issues concerning women and children, and has been amongst the first in the last 10 years to actually debate bills concerning these issues.

Now that it appears to be settled on the triangular issues of child labour, child education and child abuse and is spending taxpayers’ money on public campaigns about these, it would be nice if the clamour were to be matched with perceptible action.

Everywhere you look, it appears, there is a small child or two laden with oranges, boiled peanuts running in between vehicles on the highway trying to make a sale or trying to pacify a yelling infant while ‘madam’ is determined not to have her makeup ruined. All these, most times, during school hours.