July 9, 2015 by Kambili M.A. Chimalu
A little while ago, the hashtag #beingafemaleinnigeria provided an opportunity for Nigerian women to voice their opinion on what it means to be a woman in Nigeria. People talked about the gender inequality, the expected/forced domesticity, the indignities, the triumphs, and everything inbetween. There was no shortage of experiences to highlight the difficult task of being a woman in Nigeria.
In my first or second year in the university, I went to this boutique on campus, where they sold beer and other edibles as well, to meet my male cousin. On getting there, I saw that he was with a group of guys, so I decided to greet them individually by offering them a handshake (good manners?). As I made my way down towards my cousin, each guy accepted my outstretched palm and a “good evening,” but all that was about to change. When I got to the last guy, he hesitated for a little while, probably wondering whether to accept my offer of a handshake. Finally, he decided to accept the handshake, but while my hand was clasped in his, he said something along the lines of, “don’t you know it is improper(disrespectful) for a woman to offer her hand to a man. I am just shaking your hand this once, so don’t do it again.”
I was humiliated, but more than that I was furiously perplexed. This was someone I was meeting for the first time, so how was I supposed to greet him? Should I have prostrated before him to show my lower status as a woman? Should I have knelt in submission until he gave me the permission to rise? I bit down on my tongue and swallowed any retort I had, but that was the last time I offered him my hand or accepted his. However, after that hangout, I went back and did some research. The consensus was that the woman should offer her hand first.
That episode taught me a valuable lesson and made me a witness to a stark unabashed display of misogyny.
Over the years, I have witnessed other episodes of gender inequality and they never cease to enrage me.
My male friends like to remind me that we are Africans with culture as opposed to those western souls, but I love to remind them that the culture they cherish elevates one and subordinates the other. I give them this:
As a woman, I am expected to marry before 30, but men are not held to the same standard. If I marry before 30, I am expected to start producing heirs immediately because if there is no child, I bear the bulk of the responsibility while the man bears little if any responsibility. If I do marry before 30 and have children, but they happen to be all female children, I am looked at as a failure and I can kiss inheriting anything goodbye. If I marry before 30, have male and female children, but my husband abuses me or cheats on me, people ask what I did to provoke him (were you not submissive enough? Did you lose yourself after children) while encouraging me to endure and keep praying for him. If I get married before 30, have male and female children, endure my husband’s excess, but my husband dies untimely, I am expected to prove that I did not kill him in order to enjoy his wealth with my lover.
The most dehumanizing expectation of all is that I am expected to tailor my dreams to fit his. Dream, but limit those dreams lest you emasculate him and shatter his fragile ego.
My male friend, after listening to this, admitted that it was unfair, but still managed to tell me that it is part of our culture.
I believe being a female in Nigeria is one of the most difficult hands anyone could be dealt. We welcome female children as long as they come after the real heirs (males) have arrived or as long as they usher in the real heirs not too long after arriving.
Despite all the difficulties, being a woman in Nigeria is a testament to the immense strength of women, holding our heads high while navigating the numerous indignities with pride.
My strength comes from recognizing the sacrifices of the nameless/faceless women that have gone before me and contributing in my own little way, so that the women that come after me will have it better than I do.
I will gladly suffer all the indignities, so that my daughters do not have to.
#beingafemaleinnigeria is strength, courage, class, and ingenuity.