This is why girls should be feminists in Nigeria
The way we dress: People say the way you dress is the way you will be addressed. This is the case in Nigeria, especially in the workplace. A woman is expected to dress keeping in mind that her appearance must not show any signs of sexuality or she will be reprimanded. How many times has a woman’s outfit been called into question for being too snug, or showing her shape? Girls/women, can you remember a time in public where you were harassed for dressing a certain way? I remember the time I served my country for a year as a teacher in￼ Nasarawa State, Nigeria. One faithful day, I came dressed in a dress above my knees. While I was teaching, I was pulled out of class and surrounded by all the female teachers who were waiting with blow torches to burn my head off. These teachers began to yell at me in public about how indecent my dress was and I was immediately asked to go home or else my employment in the school would be terminated. By this time, most of the students were out of their classes, watching the ‘show’ with amazement. Some even laughed and pointed towards me mockingly. I felt like Mary Magdalene being stoned at the feet of Jesus but with harsh words from hypocritical women. I was not going to let them disrespect me that way so I asked a question: if my dress was considered incident, why didn’t they call me into an office and speak to me about it? Why did they think it was wise to drag me out in the middle of school to embarrass me? This is what we face in Nigeria, even women look down at other women in a condescending manner for showing a little skin. A woman dresses up in what she wants to wear and goes into a marketplace, the men she encounters throw slews of curse words at her. Instead of letting her go about her business, they sometimes drag at her clothes, exposing her even more. Where is the logic in that? The only person who pulled me away from the horrid scene was the male vice principal. He told me in a calm voice that the women were trying to protect their husbands and I should try to understand their point of view. It was shameful to me because I have seen boys come to teach in shorts above their knees and they were not sent home. Apparently a man’s body does not call for sexual advances, but a woman does, ergo must always be covered￼.
Underaged marriage in the Northern Nigeria
A woman embracing her sexuality is considered promiscuous especially in Northern Nigeria.￼ The nefarious thought irritates and amazes me at the same time because it is the same Northern Nigeria that marries underaged girls to older men. A staggering 44% of girls in Nigeria are married before their 18th birthday and 18% are married before the age of 15 as reported by Girls Not Brides. According to the Nigerian law Act 2, a child is considered to be under 14 years of age but going by this statistics, there is no such thing as an “underaged” girl as long as she has attained puberty. It is most common in the North West and North East of Nigeria, where 68% and 57% of women between 20-49 were married before their 18th birthday. In Northern Nigeria, a man is permitted to marry four wives. Young girls are taught that after high school, they should aspire to marriage. Some girls do not even get the opportunity to finish high school before being married to a man old enough to sometimes be their grandfathers. I have seen girls hawking on the streets, with their faces clad in heavy makeup in order to attract the attention of older men. I wanted to speak against this disservice to girls during my youth service in Nigeria but I was shunned by men when I brought this case up. It is the tradition of the North to clamor for women to be fully covered but these same people support underaged girls becoming brides. I remember the principal of my school having four young wives who could not be more than 14 to 16 years old and they all had children for him. Sometimes, these men leave these young wives or pass away and the burden to care for the children left behind falls on the hands of their teenage mothers. According to a report from Independent Newspaper Nigeria, medically, when an underage girl has sex, and she gets pregnant and goes through childbirth because her body is not fully developed for child bearing, she is highly exposed to Fistula. International Female Rights Advocacy Platform revealed that 65% of all cases of obstetric fistula occur in girls under the age of 18. The same report also revealed that girls who give birth before the age of 15 are 5 times more likely to die in childbirth than girls in their 20’s. Every time an underaged girl is married, her dignity, her future, and her freedom to make choices is stripped away from her.
School: Back in the day, parents who did not have enough income to send all their kids to school would usually pick between the male and the female. Unfortunately, the male would always get picked over the female because he is to become the breadwinner, while the girl is expected to learn a trade￼. In Northern Nigeria, The percentage of girls not enrolled in school is very high.￼ According to a report by Africacheck.org￼, only 4% of females complete secondary school in Northern Nigeria￼, while two-thirds of girls in other regions are unable to read a sentence compared to less than 10 percent in the South. This is because some parents believe spending money on girls to go to school is not a good use of their resources. After all, they’ll be married to men and have to become wives, caretakers, and mothers.
Properties: In regards to property, women do not have legal rights to own properties if they are not married. This is according to the 1978 Land Use Act of Nigeria. Women are not expected or allowed to own any property as it is rarely recognized by customary law in many communities in Nigeria. Land and properties are meant to be passed down from father to son and the woman can only have access to it if she is legally married to a man￼. Patrycja Koziel, stated that despite the implementation of the Nigerian Land Use Act￼ of 1978 the women’s user rights are regarded as secondary to those of men, who are given decision making control over almost all spheres of life and by virilocal residence. It is estimated that 80.2 million (49%) of Nigeria’s 162.5 million people are women. Almost 54 million women live and work in rural areas, where they provide 60-79% of the rural labor force and make a living from the land. However, only 15% of all households are categorized as female-headed. Even though women are responsible for 70 to 80 percent of all agricultural labor in Nigeria, it is shocking to know that under customary law women “typically” can not obtain land rights on our own. It is safe to say that women are perceived as subpar to men and are not given equal opportunities to participate in the social, economic, and political sectors on the same level as men.
More to come.
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