I must confess that when I wrote Unlearning Sexism, a tiny part of me was convinced that it was all in my head. That I was misinterpreting well-meant gestures and comments. Well, I wish those thoughts were right because the truth is far worse.
Feminists of the West, our debate here in Nigeria is not whether or not it is degrading to grow underarm hair or for a man to open a door for a woman. We are fighting for the right to be human.
I once cited ignorance as one of the sources of sexism. Now I add fear to that list. Sexism is a phobia – the fear of losing power. There is no other explanation for what happened this week in the Nigerian Senate where a gender equality bill was overwhelmingly rejected.
Many newspapers covered the story as “Senate Rejects Gender Equality in Marriage”. The bill was actually titled, “Gender and Equal Opportunities”. By narrowing the focus to marriage, these agencies – many of them funded by politicians – are trying to distract us from the crux of the bill and appeal to our religious sensitivities on marriage. They cause us to be lethargic and more accepting of the dismissal.
In reality, the bill aimed to finally allow Nigerian women the basic human rights that men are so freely given, and introduce much awaited anti-discrimination laws. It proposed equal opportunities in politics and education. It also promoted the protection of women from the neglect of polygamous marriages and girls from child marriage. A lot of girls are not in school because their families don’t see the point of an education as they will be married off to brutes anyway.
It advocated the right for a woman to inherit her husband’s property when he dies. Many widows are thrown out of their own homes by their in-laws, leaving them with nothing. They are separated from their children unless the man leaves a will saying otherwise, and more often than not, they don’t because men are immortal, aren’t they?
It was designed to protect the rights of women who have been abused. Thirty percent of Nigerian women* are victims of domestic violence. That’s 27 million human beings, more than the total population of Australia. Over 25% of Nigerian girls* will be sexually abused by their 15th birthday. Fear of discrimination, of being branded a liar, keeps these women from speaking up.
By rejecting the gender equality bill, our leaders are implying that abuse victims should just grin and bear their pain because ‘men will be men’. It’s a man’s right to dominate and do as he pleases, as per their interpretation of the Koran and Bible. These women are to be content as silent insignificant figures. Nigerians have a way of becoming overly religious when it suits them.
Imagine the impact that bill would have had on Africa as a whole. Think of how hope would have echoed to women across the continent. Nigeria, the so-called giant, is crippled and diseased. Its stench can be perceived from far off.
When will my country stop wallowing in stupidity?
When will the twin horses rear, raising their hooves to the heavens with dignity?
When will the eagle soar with magnificent strength?
When will progress be indeed engraved in our hearts?
*Wikipedia. These figures are underestimates as most cases go unreported.
Image| Source: Joachim Huber, Flickr