GIRLS TO WOMEN IN NORTHERN NIGERIA
By Balkisu Muhammad.
Growing up as a girl in Northern Nigerian society is very different from any other society. The Northern Nigerian society as we all know is very conservative in nature. As a girl you are also expected to be conservative and reserved in everything you do. In your dressing, your interactions with others, you are not allowed to express your views, you are expected to lower gaze, you cannot look at elders directly in the eye, and when greeting an older person, you go down; you expected to exhibit a serious sense of humility and meekness…. All these are considered attributes of being a proper woman. You are also made to believe that a woman is inferior to the man. You are expected to know your place as a woman. Any attempt at being liberal is frowned upon.
Any attempt at questioning this system is quickly and viciously put down.
As you grow up and mature into a woman, these cultural rules have implications on your lifestyle and world view. No matter your position in the society, if you are single, you will be looked down upon and disrespected because you are a woman, especially if you are an unmarried or divorced woman. Most people treat ladies who are past their early twenties and single as outcasts. Even in our institutions, sometimes single ladies get maltreated by men and women alike simply for being unmarried after a certain age. Divorced women are negatively stereotyped in the North. They are seen as uncontrollable and loose women.
Any problem in a marriage is mostly considered to be the fault of the wife, as if the man is a saint. In Northern Nigeria, sainthood and angelic immunity has been bestowed on our men by the society. Women experiencing any abuse in their matrimonial homes cannot speak up because they are afraid what the society will think of them. They cannot leave for fear of being ostracized and branded as women that have no manners to remain in a marriage. Instead they cover up all manner of atrocities and suffer, often to their detriment and that of their children.
The most profound of these challenges as Northern Women is our career choices. In the north, some people still believe that women were created solely to take care of their husbands and children. To these people any woman that aspires to becoming anyone apart from a wife and a mother is an abomination and an aberration. For some liberal ones, you should be a civil servant or do a little buying and selling. And if you are really lucky, you will meet others that approve of teaching or nursing! Careers like banking, diplomacy, medicine, journalism, acting and politics are frowned upon and not encouraged. For instance, society frowns at female bankers. Likewise, any political participation on a woman’s part is termed irresponsible behaviour capable of bringing dishonor and shame to the family. It is very unfortunate that Female politicians are usually stereotyped as Karuwai, loose living women or women who have no sense of value or morals. This is Unfortunate and counterproductive to our political development as a nation.
No matter your qualification, experience and vision, most of our people will never vote for you. Not because your manifesto is rubbish but simply because you are a woman. The Perception of the northern Nigeria society, female politicians is very carefree and lack proper values. Some go as far as calling them all sorts of demeaning names i.e. yar iska, karuwa that depict wayward lifestyles. Just like our sisters who are excelling in banking, medicine and other great careers.
There is also an ingrained false belief that career women cannot maintain a home. If other women are doing it, why cannot the northern woman do the same?
It is important for our society to understand that the place of women has changed from being exclusively homemakers to nation builders and decision makers. Our young girls must be encouraged to have great ambitions. Ambitions beyond being wives and mothers, beyond only weddings and naming ceremonies, beyond gossiping and childish behaviour to lofty heights we can all be proud of. The only way forward is to include our girls and women in the task of developing from a 13th century mindset to the realities of the 21st century.
I for one will like to be diplomat someday. I do not care what society thinks, nothing will stop me. I have the likes of Mrs. Amina Mohammed, the United Nations Deputy Secretary General and Dr. Zainab Usman of the World Bank to look up to. I do not think of those that have failed but those that have continued to strive to make a difference in this world. Because these barriers and limitations were there yesterday, are still here today and might be there in the future, and the only way to progress is to break these barriers!
Arise Arewa Women.