POLITICSby SHERIFF GARBA
SHERIFF’S SHELF – THE FAILURE OF THE FEMINIST MOVEMENT IN NIGERIA
Feminism is a concept that is mainly associated with the western world especially the United States.
Nevertheless there are some women here in Africa and Nigeria, in particular, who would like to believe that a version of the women’s liberation movement has equally taken root in different parts of the continent, Nigeria included.
The emergence of female public figures in Africa and across the political, literary, scientific, economic, and entertainment worlds seems to support this view. Figures like President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia, the late Nobel laureate, Professor Wangari Maathai, Graca Machel, Mariam Makeba among others impacted their spheres of influence. In Nigeria here, the present crop of ‘feminists’ range from Joe Okei-Odumakin, Bisi Fayemi, Professor Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo, Abike Dabiri and Funmi Iyanda to mention a few.
The feminist movement, roughly perceived, is one whose mission revolves around achieving socio-political and even economic equality for women. The scale of the movement runs the gamut of the conservative feminists who work towards giving women at least near equal opportunities in education, political participation, and job opportunities, and other empowerment programmes that tow the basic demands of second-wave feminism, to the radical feminists who demand complete independence from their male counterparts. It is noteworthy that feminism of the conservative kind is what mainly exists in Nigeria.
Nevertheless, there has been considerable cynicism and even antagonism toward the movement especially in Nigeria’s male-dominated polity. The direct consequences being that radical feminism is arguably absent in Nigeria, conservative feminism is considerably subdued, and feminism among male ranks is virtually an unheard-of phenomenon.
Conservative Nigerian feminists, over time have been content to focus on political issues (increasing women representation in government especially) mainly at the expense of pressing socio-economic issues, despite the far greater elbow room now available to them to raise awareness about those issues with a view to tackling them. Issues that appear on the radar of feminist concerns and that still bedevil Nigeria’s social landscape range from rape, male spousal abuse (a marital norm more or less in African marriages); marital rape, the complex and twin issues of bigamy and polygamy, sexual harassment of female students in Nigerian tertiary institutions, alimony and child support systems, lesbian and transgender discrimination and abuse, female child marriage, abortion and contraceptive rights, female genital mutilation among so many other issues which have received scant if any attention from Nigeria’s self-proclaimed feminists.
The case of the girl who was gang-raped by male criminal elements from Abia State University and whose case has now been conveniently swept under the carpet by the Nigerian police, political class, and media is a shame on Nigerian men without exception and Nigerian ‘feminists’ who have joined their male counterparts in their criminal silence. It is even more pathetic that when other incidents of a similar nature occur, these ‘feminists’ are the first to come out and declare that the victim ‘deserved it.’ “Why was she wearing that skimpy dress? Why did she go visit?” While young women of today admittedly exhibit a lot of appalling traits that sometimes leave them susceptible to rape, there is no cogent or sane excuse for raping someone.
The issue of sexual harassment and abuse of female students in Nigerian tertiary institutions is one that a lot of female academicians are quick to join their male counterparts in explaining as the ‘girls’ fault.’ While there exists a few unscrupulous female students who are willing to peddle sex for grades, the reality remains that serious female students are the ones most often at the receiving end of the hedonistic proclivities of their almighty male lecturers. The attempts of these students to seek justice hardly yield positive fruit as the camaraderie that exists among these lecturers help to effectively thwart the students’ attempts.
In terms of female child marriage, the blatant violation of the Child Rights Act of 2003 by former Zamfara State Governor, Sani Yerima with his marriage to a thirteen year-old Egyptian girl, Maged Saleh Mohammed Eladly in 2010 remains an open sore on the conscience of anybody who claims to be a child rights activist or feminist in Nigeria. The continued controversy over female genital mutilation is another pressing cause for concern.
The issue of marital assault and battery is also another issue that needs to be urgently addressed. Perhaps the greatest work that needs to be done in this regard is the need to start sensitizing Nigerian men especially, to the reality that the true test of a man is not in how fast and easy he is able to turn his wife to a punching bag anytime she vexes him but in how he is able to resolve their contentious issues in a calm and mature manner. Female legislators especially should also endeavour to enact legislations that will address the issue of marital rape as unacceptable and unlawful.
This and other aforementioned topics are concerns that Nigerian men, needless to say, hardly care about or wish to address ordinarily. It thus behooves Nigerian ‘feminists’ to start canvassing for the effective, even if long-term, resolution of these issues if they do not wish to continue wearing the feminist toga as a mere and symbolic means of increasing their financial capital and boosting their academic laurels.
Sheriff Garba is a writer, researcher, socio-political analyst and Ayaka columnist for Sheriff’s Shelf. He is the author of the poetry anthology “Aries, Aphrodite, and Aries.” He currently resides in Ogun State, Nigeria.SHERIFF'S SHELF - THE FAILURE OF THE FEMINIST MOVEMENT IN NIGERIA,