Why Older Women Find It Hard to Work against Gender Inequality: A Nigerian Teenager's Reflection
I am the second child of four children and the only daughter of my father. I always felt like my brothers and did the same thing as them until I was informed about my difference.
You can imagine how distraught I was, being told I couldn't do certain things because I was a girl.
Let's paint a small picture of how it was.
My parents were average-class people, largely unavailable for most of my formative years. This is evident in the relationship we now share. Also, my childhood heavily featured the presence of aunts now married.
I had heard tales about how they lived with us when I was younger. They were the ones to cook, clean and care for and make my elder brother’s childhood void of domestic work.
My upbringing didn’t involve copious consumption of television and since the TV at home only allowed for the Nigerian Television Network (NTA) and Broadcasting Cooperation of Oyo state (BCOS), I was not familiar with the cartoon shows my classmates talked about.
At the time, I was not a fan of the stage-acting newscasters on those channels. Little did I know that 16 years later, I would find a balance in the media and would at the same point crave a mother-daughter relationship; harbouring secrets, talks about gender and sex, physical appearance, insecurities and all other ‘girly things.
While my peers talked about Disney's Hannah Montana and Nickelodeon’s Dora the Explorer, I buried my nose in the literature books assigned by my school to read. My parents couldn’t even afford the luxury to buy the other books I requested except for the ones the school had listed for the session. This didn’t limit my curiosity about writers, their rich imaginations and the circumstances surrounding their works.
Suddenly, I discovered feminism. I wanted to be like so many people since I loved those who manifested excellence especially if they were women. These women include Michelle Obama, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
At that point, I unconsciously considered society’s perception of women. They are rare in success stories. They are less talked about. I discovered I was growing to be a woman and must strive to achieve a landmark against the odds of society. I also wondered how these world-celebrated women grew against philosophies held by their African families.
In my family, my brothers are free to walk away or slam domestic duties. All they do is get food on their table and litter spaces rather clean. Meanwhile, I’m lectured now and then about what attribute is good to take on in my husband’s home. There’s no other value attached to a feminine gender than domestic activities. It led me to question my academic certificates and why my brothers couldn’t help out.
My mum reiterates the fact that she’ll be questioned by some people – she doesn’t seem to know them but she’s overwhelmed by the burden of having a non-conforming daughter. She advises me to be subservient like she is to my dad; a strategy to reap a long-term goal and be loved by all.
In the African culture, there’s the unchanging view of women as objects and subservient creatures. These are the people Buchi Emecheta called “Second Class Citizen” in her semi-autobiography published in the early 70s of the twentieth century. 48 years down the line, Adah, the feminist and protagonist in the novel still stand against the horrible situation of gender discrimination unlike other weary ones: my mum and aunts.
Unsure of my aunt's ages, I estimate the eldest to be about 45 years old and I try to understand them. I consider how life must have been difficult to live as a woman in that period and how my aunts and mother would have had no other choice than to comply and silently wish beneath their breath that they were relieved of gender insecurity, mistreatment and ungrounded mythical roles – as a result, passing on the same treatment to their offspring. To me.
One of my aunts told me how ‘we’ (women) have to succumb to men. They have the power to pull us down. Regardless of their age. This was a responsive reflection of how she’s been worn out by male dominance in her marriage. I couldn’t veto her belief. The position of an elder in the African culture demands respect even when they are blatantly wrong.
A different aunt sits at home and is kept on an allowance by her husband. She fits the typical description of a “housewife”; religiously committed to taking care of the home, personal goals relinquished for the sake of family life. She imposes her beliefs of the old ways not on her daughters who are too young to receive such advice but on me, a teenager fast developing into a woman and would be in ‘ile oko’ sooner or later.
To become a woman in the African culture is to marry. A respected woman is married and has children.
Before the rise of feminism and gender identity campaigns in Africa, theories held that women were involved in decision-making, politics and less demeaning attributes assigned to them during the colonial era.
Women involved in monarchical roles in pre-colonial Nigeria are often typical examples of inclusivity. For example, Queen Amina of Zaria was recognized for her proactiveness. Critics state that women were only queen mothers and princesses, having little or less to do and this was the only exception for those in royal homes. Tritima Achigbu’s essay explored how women were perceived in Igbo, one of the dominant tribes in Nigeria.
The gender equality campaign has taken on different aspects. From South Africa's women's suffrage movement in 1889 to the Aba women's riot of 1929 in Nigeria against the oppression of colonial rule and warrant chiefs.
Female writers also participated in addressing feminism. Among them was Flora Nwapa, the mother of modern African literature. She was also a voice in post-colonial literature. The same period saw male chauvinism as themed in Wole Soyinka’s The Lion and the Jewel.
Religion has my people in a chokehold. Submission and women are mentioned so often in the Bible, that it has become synonymous with womanhood.
“Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior”, it says in Ephesians 5: 22 – 23.
As a Christian, this verse has been corrupted. It becomes a tenet for African women against the fight for freedom and also a defence for wild African men. It gets clumsy when adherents refer to another quote from Matthew 5: 32.
“Whoever divorces his wife, except on the grounds of porneia (sexual immorality), makes her an adulteress; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery”.
This makes it hard for women to leave relationships which no longer serve them. Their faith pushes them to endure and pray.
On occasion, I've kicked back against the advice of my aunts. I've tried to educate them even. However, I've come to understand that these hurt women are from the past and the longstanding treatment has made them complacent, unable to stand against these expectations.
Twenty-first-century feminism is in a state of perplexity and there’s an urgent need for unity to collectively achieve desired results. I think if we all educated our mothers, our aunts and our older friends about feminism, we could present a stronger front to advance women's rights in Nigeria.
*Ile Oko: (Yoruba) a lady’s marital home, usually built by her husband.
Author Bio: Adebola Makinde is a freelance journalist, vast in areas concerning society and development, arts, tech and culture. She describes herself as a menace when it comes to inclusivity and injustice.