Women, the gender that brings forth and nurtures life, are often inappropriately referred to as the ‘weaker vessel’. This is the obvious perception of what women in Nigerian society are (as in other places elsewhere) by their male counterparts. As the gender lacking in physical or emotional strength. But the larger percentage of men in our patriarchal society do not easily acknowledge the endurance or mental strength of this peculiar gender. Or that these qualities of women make them advocate more for peaceful, quality-above-quantity home building and nation building. Herein lies the age-old challenge of gender inequality.
Women in Nigeria: A Quick Overview of Modern Society
There is no time more challenging to be part of women in Nigerian society than in the last one or two centuries thereabout. The challenge of womanhood in Nigeria became even more pronounced with certain discriminatory practices of the British colonialists against women in local administration. Very unfortunately, these discriminations took a deep root in political, cultural, and religious practices in our male-dominated society long after the colonialists had gone. The situation further fuelled any religious and cultural bias that women faced in their communities in pre-colonial times. Nigeria is still on the journey of gender reform.
Women in Nigeria: The Challenges
Women are our mothers, sisters, wives, grannies, and daughters – the gender with the ability to give birth and nurture life. By virtue of their natural role, are at the forefront of taking care of the home and children day in, day out. They are the fortress to lean on, the go-to person when critical help is needed by their husbands, fathers and children.
Thanks to the gradual increase in the enrolment of female children in schools. Women in Nigerian society are now more economically empowered to take greater responsibility for themselves, as they move up the social ladder. But just how empowered are these women to meet their needs? The statistics of economic, social and political empowerment of women in Nigerian society is still quite gloomy, as we shall soon see.
For a long time, women in Nigerian society have faced significant gender discriminations. In the workplace, religious gatherings, cultural setup, immediate and extended family, and in politics. Nigerian women have had limited access to quality education, healthcare, political decision-making and economic earning power. Women in Nigerian society also face poverty, sex trafficking, domestic abuse, girl child labour, sexual abuse, prostitution and other forms of violence. Some cultural practices also hinder women from having an equal say, or outrightly harm them. These include female genital mutilation, child marriage, seclusion of women in homes (very common in Northern Nigeria), and lack of family inheritance rights.
Most women are seen as physically incapable of achieving the same results or success as their male counterparts in the corporate world. Hence they have difficulty earning as much as the males, or being given managerial and leadership roles.
Challenges of Women in Nigerian Society: The Statistics
The experiences and social roles of women vary from one culture and geographical location to another. For instance, women in southern Nigeria have more active roles in social and cultural life than females in the North. In traditional society, the Igbo and Yoruba women were known to hold important family, social and political positions before the era of colonial Nigeria. Even in the North, there were female monarchs and political officers in Hausa and Borno empires (remember Queen Amina of Zaria). To an extent these practices have continued.
However, the British overlords took actions to deliberately ignore or silence women, and denied them access to education and work opportunities in favor of the menfolk. The British rulers considered men to be more agile and useful to them than the women. All these acts contributed badly to the reduced economic power of women for a long time.
The mortality rates of mothers in Nigeria is the highest across Africa, and fourth highest around the world as we speak, due to inadequate healthcare. Child marriage, early pregnancy, induced abortions and malnutrition are primary factors contributing to this high mortality rate. It is far worse in Northern Nigeria than in the South, due to the prevalence of child marriage there. Women and girls in Nigeria are also generally observed to be given less food than the males. They are made to do more manual household work, and their movements are more restricted than that of men.
Attempts to Reform the Discrimination Against Women in Nigerian Society
For a long time the Nigerian justice system ignored women in cases of domestic violence. And many women would not speak up for fear of derision or lack of support from their families and law enforcement officers.
Nigerian women also acquired voting rights as late as in 1979. But till date, women representation in Nigerian politics is very low. Women are either bullied or outrightly denied participation in political affairs. No single state governor is a woman, which has largely been the case for many years. In the recently concluded 2023 elections, women were only able to clinch 15 out of 423 legislative seats (both Senate and House of Representatives). In 2019, only 18 female lawmakers were elected into office.
But rescue came in the form of women advocacy groups that are pressing for better representation of women in social and political life. Such groups include Women in Nigeria (WIN), Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre (WARDC) and the Nigerian Women Trust Fund (NWTF).
In fact, NWTF and WARDC have publicly declared a “Nigerian Women Charter of Demand” since 2014. They have consistently demanded to have 35% of women incorporated in all sectors of government. And they have the able backing of the Ministry for Women Affairs and Social Development, as well as the United Nations Women group.
These women advocacy groups have also continued to assist and empower Nigerian women through training, funding, mentoring and networking activities. In particular, there is now an increased focus on educating and empowering women and girls by women groups and non-governmental organizations. Indeed many girls have been excelling in academics, including female children from poor backgrounds.
All in all, the journey to a meaningful reform of women participation and gender equality in Nigeria is an ongoing project. It may take years to perfect it, but there is light at the end of the tunnel for women in Nigerian society to be respected and treated with equity.
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