BEFORE our attainment of political freedom in 1960, women in Nigeria were subjugated and oppressed by the men-folk, and shackled by injurious cultural mores. In the North, the women were disenfranchised based on their sex.
Then, women were seen as chattels that could be bought off the shelves by the men. They would do the biddings of their hubbies even when those biddings were inimical to their physical and psychological well-being. Then, there was no doubt that women in Nigeria were second-class citizens in the country.
Buchi Emechata, a feminist writer, wrote novels that portray the suffering of women. In the Joys of Motherhood, one of her best – selling novels, Nnuego, one of the major characters in the novel, suffered terribly owing partly to her gender.
Education is the cornerstone of national development. But the education of female children was neglected in the country in the past. In that period, male children were offered the opportunity to go to school as only boys could carry the names of their families into the future.
With the passage of time, and with the acceptance of Western education by our people, the erroneous notion that the girl – child is undeserving of education is discarded by people. Now, we have highly-educated ladies in Nigeria who are contributing to our national development. Had Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Oby Ezekwesili, Professor Joy Agwu and Professor Dora Akunyili not received Western education, they would not have rendered unalloyed and qualitative services to our country, which affected us positively.
Although millions of Nigerian women are educated now, they are oppressed and humiliated by certain injurious cultural mores. In some communities, married women are forced to drink the water used to wash the corpses of their husbands. Is this not an unsanitary deed which can harm their health?
The cultures of some communities in the country disinherit widows who are supposed to be the inheritors of their husbands’ properties. And female circumcision has persisted in some cultures up till now. Has the campaign to stop child- marriage, which leads to VVF, yielded positive results in the North?
These issues that affect women have not been solved because not many women are occupying exalted political positions in the country.
The person who is wearing the shoe knows where it pinches him or her. Only women can solve the problems confronting them. But, now, in our country, our type of politics cannot produce great female political leaders, who can tackle the issues affecting women.
As our type of politics is monetized, not many female politicians have the huge financial war-chest, which they can use to prosecute their political battles. Again, as our politics is marked by violence, intrigue and bloodshed, those playing politics in the country must possess uncommon courage and fearlessness. Aren’t women considered to be the weaker vessels? So, there are few females who got elected into political offices; but the number of men occupying exalted political posts far out-number the women in government in our country. Women cannot address the issues affecting them when they’re not in government.
In Plateau State, the Deputy Governor, Pauline Tallen, fell out with her boss, over her political ambition. And the political ambition of Gbemisola Saraki, who is vying for the highest political prize in Kwara State is contemptuously viewed through the prism of religion and gender. The Muslim population in the state considers her contesting for the governorship post a taboo. But in the past the intrepid Benazir Bhutto was the Prime Minister of Pakistan, a Muslim-dominated country. That sex and religion determine the winners of elections in Nigeria shows our backwardness.
Now, the high-flying Professor Dora Akunyili, the nemesis of fake drug manufacturers and a great scholar, is battling to overcome societal stereotypes and prejudices hindering her political progress.
Misogynists and male chauvinists are not supportive of her political ambition to represent Anambra Central senatorial zone in the Senate. Has Professor Akunyili not acquitted herself well in the discharge of her duties as Minister of Information and NAFDAC boss? She bested her male colleagues in her chosen area of academic discipline.
Her academic exploits as well as that of other female achievers have eroded the myth that women are mentally inferior to men.
It is lamentable that some Igbo traders are still seized by prejudice and stereotype that women cannot rule over men. During the electioneering for the Anambra Central senatorial election, some men with provincial mind-set and ideas asked me this question: “So, you prefer a woman whose urine does not flow in a jet straight – line to a man?” Is this question not asinine and chauvinistic?
These stereotype and prejudice are the hindrances Professor Akunyili is battling to overcome so as to achieve her political ambition. These hurdles are Herculean tasks, indeed.
Sadly, and surprisingly, women in Nigeria rarely support female politicians who are contesting for elective posts. Sarah Jibril, a female politician, recorded an abysmal performance at the PDP presidential primary election. The women did not cast their votes for her.
Ironically, the Nigerian women are using different platforms to persuade the government to implement and enforce the 35 per cent affirmative action. They posit that what a man can do a woman can equally do it. But are Nigerian women sincerely committed to the task of achieving gender equality and obliterating gender bias?
As the person wearing a pair of shoes knows where it pinches her, it follows that only women can address such problems as teenage- marriage, obnoxious widowhood rites, sexism and VVF that are troubling our women.
I urge the Nigerian women, especially women from Anambra Central senatorial zone to support the political ambitions of Professor Akunyili. She is one of your own. Don’t you know that the person who wears the shoe knows where it pinches him or her?
Mr. CHIEDU OKOYE, a commentator on national issues, wrote from Anambra State.