Gender discrimination and inequality is an inbuilt problem with the culture, tradition and socialization of many people in many different societies. The issue of gender inequality – disrespect of women, neglect of their rights and privileges, not allowing them play leadership roles at the macro and micro level of society – has always troubled me. In fact, I planned the topic of this article about three years ago while as a sophomore undergraduate in the university I studied with keen attention, the gender inequality in my school.
A university which ought to be the bedrock of politics, sanity and everything good in a country. In the student union government of the school, the highest a lady could aspire to was the post of vice president, while the presidential slot was normally reserved for a guy. I noticed even the brightest, most popular and strongest (in terms of personality) ladies on campus never aspired to be President of the union. From the talks I’ve heard with some of them who were my friends, I discovered they never even gave it a thought. Throughout my nearly five years sojourn, no lady ever became President or even contested for the post! While trying to understand this problem, I looked at the macro-level of the Nigeria state and found out the highest position a woman holds these days is deputy governor of a state. In fact, it has been like that for a while.
The last and first ever female governor Nigeria has ever had was the Anambra state former governor, Dame Virgy Etiaba (2nd November 2006 – 13th June 2007). It must be noted that her instatement came not as result of popular election votes but the impeachment of Governor Peter Obi by the state legislature for alleged gross misconduct. She had to transfer power back to Obi three months later when the appeal court nullified the impeachment. She was deputy governor to Obi. The last female speaker of the House of representatives, Patricia Olubunmi Etteh was booted out of office due to embezzlement and mismanagement of funds, a move which has further reduced the chances of a woman leading that lower chamber soonest. That period in 2007 marked one of the most scandalous periods in the National Assembly history in recent years. At the last general elections in March 28, 2015, the only woman who contested for President was Prof. Remi Sonaiya of my alma matar (OAU) and she was snubbed by Nigerians, judging from the number of votes she got. It was unclear whether fellow women even believed in her candidacy. When she declared interest in contesting, I had been expecting cheers and encouragements to come from the women in the country but as it seems, these days most ladies are only interested in ‘being a lady’ and not bothering for those ‘men-like’ vocations like politics and pure sciences.
Since independence in 1960, no woman has ever been Senate President, only one woman has been Speaker of the House of Reps and she was impeached within months! No woman has ever been president or vice president of the country. The 8th National Assembly ushered in by the March 28, 2015 general elections has only 7 female senators elected into the upper chamber, the remaining 102 seats occupied by men! Only Anambra, Oyo and Ondo (maybe one or two others) elected female speakers for their Houses of Assembly between 2011-2015. At the grassroot level, in 774 local governments in Nigeria, I know no female chairman/chairperson.
I must say the idea of ‘weaker vessel’ which I’ve heard for the umpteenth time nauseates me down to my spleen! For how could you call women weaker vessels when 22 women are currently the Presidents and leaders of their countries worldwide. Liberia, Brazil, Argentina, South Korea, Lithuania, Bangladesh, Denmark, Jamaica, Kosovo, Trinidad & Tobago, Poland, Chile etc. How then can women be weaker vessels? Dr Joyce Hilda Banda was also President of Malawi while the strong Benazir Bhutto also led Pakistan, a country with an estimated population of over 191 million, making it the world’s sixth-most-populous country. How could I not mention the effervescent Indira Gandhi, a woman who was as gracious as her father and probably gave modern India an even stronger leadership than her father. What of UK’s ‘Iron Lady’, Margaret Thatcher and Israel’s Golda Meir (both prime ministers), not to mention reigning UK monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. In the areas of academics, sociologists Jane Adams and Ida Wells Barnett made magnificent impacts in the lives of people, they’ve made lasting marks that even men cannot erase!
Some women are physically stronger and bigger than their husbands. There has been Customary and High court cases in Nigeria whereby the wife was alleged to have beaten the husband mercilessly in a domestic fight. It’s then clear from the foregoing that woman being a weaker vessel to man is not only a misnomer but a deliberate assault on the sensibilities of right thinking women. The Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA) made an outline recently of a typical day for a man and woman in a family that grows both food and cash crops.
A typical woman’s day:
Breast feeds the baby
Washes and dresses the children
Walks one kilometer home
Washes cooking utensils
Breast feeds the baby
Walk a kilometer to the field with food for husband
Walks a kilometer back home
Walks a kilometer to her field
Breast feeds baby
Gathers firewood on way home
Walks a kilometer to fetch water
Walks a kilometer home
Breast feeds baby
Puts house in order
Goes to bed last”
A typical man’s day:
“Rises when breakfast is ready
Walks a kilometer to field
Works in field
Walks a kilometer home
Eats when wife arrives with food
Works in the field
Walks one kilometer home
Rests, eats, walks to the village to visit other men
Goes to bed
Summons wife to comfort him”
Personally I believe this outline to be a little over-blown in terms of the works women do, because in most families it is actually the other way round. In this modern era and with economic stress everywhere, the husbands practically break their backs to provide for the family while some wives shop and hang out with friends. Some housewives take at least two naps before the end of the day and still sleep at night. This being clear, we still can’t afford to undermine or belittle the impact of women in every home. A friend of mine once remarked that “women are the reasons why the world is enjoyable, without them there’s nothing to live for.”
According to Professor Ademola Popoola, ”gender refers to the socially and historically constructed relations between men and women, as opposed to their biological differences. The social relations of gender are dynamic and change over time, being shaped by cultural, social, political and economic relations of power that affect males and females in different ways of all societies.” The Beijing declaration which was made during the 4th world conference of September 1995 was majorly to “advance the goals of equality, development and peace for all women everywhere in the interest of humanity.”
The divine purpose for which God created woman (as seen in Genesis 2: 18-24) was to serve as companion and certainly not as a slave or subordinate to man. Also, she (a woman) is to serve as instrument of ensuring the continued survival of the human race through procreation. Thus, in the Epistles of St. Paul though, man is described as head of the family, same man is enjoined to love his wife “just as Christ loved the church and sacrificed Himself for her to make her Holy” (see Ephesians 5:20-21)
If there would be a change in gender inequality, there has to be a change in the way women view themselves too. I’ve met some very young women whose self-esteem and pride are so terribly low that they believe they must always be with a man and do degrading things to maintain the man before their lives can be ‘glorious.’ A lot of ladies are like the lady in Eddie Murphy’s 1988 award-winning comedy film “Coming to America” where the prince met his betrothed wife for the first time on his 21st birthday. While getting to know her, he asked her a few questions which the poor lady simply replied in a way that shows how many women have been taught to think (a sad reality). Eddie Murphy acted the character named Hakeem, the sole heir to the throne of a wealthy African kingdom named Zamunda, in West Africa. The conversation goes thus:
Hakeem: What do you like to do?
Lady: Whatever you like!
Hakeem: What kind of music do you like ?
Lady: Whatever kind of music you like?
Hakeem: Do you have a favorite food?
Hakeem: Ok, what’s your favorite food?
Lady: Whatever food you like? (is anyone laughing yet?)
Hakeem: Are you saying you’d do anything I say you should do?
Lady: Yes, your highness!
Hakeem: Ok, bark like a dog!
Lady: (she starts barking)
I remember the speech of legendary American female rapper, MC Lyte in 2013 when she was given the ”I am Hip Hop” at the BET awards. She finished off her acceptance speech by saying, “women if you want to be treated like a queen, act like one!” That’s perhaps the most important instruction to women that I’ve ever heard in my life. So cogent and apt that statement is, I’ve ceased to forget it in two years. For how can a woman rightfully hope to be treated with respect if she doesn’t respect herself first? How can a woman hope to be seen for her intelligence and not as a sexual object if she keeps dressing provocatively? How can a woman hope to win a public election if she allows herself to be compromised? How can a woman hope to become President of a nation if she doesn’t herself aspire and determine to break the jinx and go against the odds? Women, the ball is in your court.
Popoola, Ademola (Professor) (2015) Of Women, Law and gender justice: The rhetorics, the realities, and the African perspectives, University of Ilorin annual public lecture 2015
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