Feminism is not a monolith. It is impractical and dishonest to group all women and our struggles as a single entity when the reality is that we live different lives and have different problems that interact to give unique experiences. Even though feminism is a universal movement, different groups of women practice feminism within the scope of their environment in a way that caters to their own unique experiences. The struggle of a middle class white woman in America is not the same as the struggle of a 17 year old housewife and mother of two in Nigeria. Yes, they may both seek liberation but liberation means different things to the two of them.
Western Feminism is often used wrongly as a standard measure of feminism all over the world. Unfortunately, it does not accommodate the diversities of women in the west alone, talk less of the whole world. During the first wave of liberal feminism across western countries like the United states, France, Sweden, etc. the movement fought to secure a woman’s right to vote. In theory, this fight was for the liberation of all women. Yet, when the 19th amendment was passed in 1920 in the United States, it was not a victory for all women; while the white women sang mazel tov, the black women continued to suffer misogynoir. As feminism evolved through the 2nd and 3rd waves, it became more intersectional and began to recognize the many ways women are oppressed. The advocacy for women’s right has now become more inclusive and intersectional. However, feminism is still not a one-size-fits-all movement and our local feminism must be sensitive to our local needs and intentional about adapting western feminist theories and ideologies.
Feminism in Nigeria is complex as Nigerian women have come a long way from precolonial Nigeria to the colonial era to our present day. Even though the patrilineal system of Nigeria has contributed to the gender bias in the country, colonization too, brought about significant gender inequality that the post colonial woman still struggles with. The precolonial woman, to an extent, was empowered. Although her primary role was being a mother, she had economical power as she was actively involved in producing and distributing goods and services. Politically, the precolonial woman could hold her own – Queen Amina of modern Zaria, Moremi of Ife and Emotan of Benin were women who waxed political strength in the precolonial era. With colonization, the gender bias grew even more as colonialism is built on male superiority. The colonial woman was denied any education, economic empowerment or political holding and was only to be seen not heard. The post colonial woman through the 1st and 2nd republic was more visible and was heard. She played a role in national development but was still politically suppressed – Esan Wuraola and Margret Ekpo were some of the first women to be sworn into parliament. These different women, through the different periods in Nigeria, paved the way for the modern day woman and when feminists like you and I, advocate for the rights of the Nigerian woman, we must do it in the context of our history, lived experiences and environment.
One important context of our local feminism is the lack of access to education among our girls which contributes to the economic suppression of the Nigerian woman. Nigeria has the largest number of out of school children and the rate of this illiteracy is higher in girls than in boys. Nigeria is also the poverty capital of the world with the average person living on less than 2 dollars a day and women, with less access to education and employment opportunities, have the shorter end of this stick. While western feminism worries about breaking the glass ceiling, we must first ensure that our women can afford to live in a house with a ceiling. The empowerment of the Nigerian woman cannot be overstated as there is an interaction between female poverty and other pressing feminist issues in Nigeria like domestic violence, child marriage, teenage pregnancy etc.
Another important context to consider is the hostility of the Nigerian environment towards feminism. Feminism in Nigeria is wrongly interpreted to mean an anti-male, anti-cultural and anti-religious movement and even the conservative feminists in Nigeria constantly have to watch their backs. Even the portrayal of feminists in the media is often antagonistic – man hating, sex starved monsters who don’t shave and this is an extra hoop that Nigerian feminists must jump when advocating for women’s rights. It is difficult to get anyone pay attention to what you say when everyone is so distracted by how much they hate you and unlike western feminism, we cannot rely on anti-discriminatory laws.
Our local feminism is divided on gender as many Nigerian feminists are reluctant to question the idea of gender, gender roles and heteronormativity. As a result, feminism in Nigeria is still far from inclusive of queer women and non binary people – this is unsurprising as Nigeria is rated the most homophobic country in the world. Unlike the west, where many systems recognize the oppression of the LGBTQIA, Nigerian feminism is yet to fully recognize the existence of this minority group and oppression even within feminist spaces is not uncommon. As a result of the SSMPA passed into law in 2014, feminists in Nigeria are limited in their advocacy for queer people in Nigeria making even our local feminism, non-inclusive.
Nigerian women share common problems with all women of the world but we also have have our specific problems. While we draw perspectives from other regions like the west, we should always remember to look where it matters the most, inwards. We want liberation but we must ensure that we are not merely adapting the western definition of liberation into our local experience. Our conversations must reflect the reality of Nigerian woman and our advocacy must have her at the center.