Women’s rights in Nigeria: breaking the silence

My country, Nigeria, is on the western coast of Africa, is popularly known for its oil, corruption and jovial people.

Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa, home to more than 175 million people, 62.5% of whom are below 25 years old. Nigeria is also very diverse – there are over 250 ethnic groups and more than 500 languages.

Approximately 50% of the Nigerian population is female. This is important because it means that even the smallest percentages represent a vast number of people. But another noteworthy point is the poor quality of data available about Nigeria. Many of the things women go through in Nigeria are not spoken about or dealt with formally, so for every survey result, there are probably many more women suffering in silence.

Nigerian society, though varied in many ways, is predominantly patriarchal. Patriarchy appears to be embedded in the culture and as a result, change comes slowly. On account of the nature of the attitudes and beliefs of Nigerians, many females face myriad challenges. These challenges include Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), child marriage, domestic violence, sexual harassment and assault, maltreatment of widows, human trafficking and shortened education. It is difficult to do justice to the pain, injustice, shame, stigmatisation and discouragement embodied by the discrimination involved in each of these practices in so few words.

Patriarchy manifests in many forms in Nigeria: it is the idea that a wife is owned by her husband and he can do with her as he pleases, and when he dies his family can have their turn. It is the opinion that a girl’s occupation is to be married and the sooner she can start her job, the better. It is the threats of a lecturer to fail a female student unless she does what he wants. It is the belief that men can speak to women as they deem fit, as well as take offence when a woman does not take delight in their crass jokes and leery looks.

Besides patriarchy, there are other factors that foster the continuation of these practices. Poverty encourages early marrying off of children as well as the withdrawal of girls from school to work. The shortcomings of the public education system suggest that basic education costs more than it is supposed to, which prevents children from finishing school. If girls do not finish school, they may marry earlier which exposes them to birth complications such as obstetric fistula. They are also more likely to marry off their own children early. Furthermore, the encouragement of women to stay silent when they go through unjust and painful things to maintain reputations or to avoid shame aids these unjust practices. It is acknowledged that these are sensitive issues, but if they are not recognised for the wrong that they are, how will they end?

This article was written by Ozioma Ahaneku, Nigeria research intern at WONDER Foundation.

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