Today, March 8th, is celebrated all over the world as International Women’s Day. For the Nigerian woman, the road to equal rights with the men has been long and tortuous. In a strongly patriarchal society where religion and culture are used to subjugate women, it is safe to say there is more work to be done before women can confidently they’ve finally arrived.
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The first recognized International Women’s Conference was held in 1910 in the city of Copenhagen, Denmark. But it wasn’t till 1975 that the United Nations decided to recognize the March 8 date as an international event worthy of celebrating.
It is significant that it took the 65 years before the male-dominated world decided to acknowledge the need to set a day aside the world’s women. The blunt truth is that men consider women issues not worthy of their time.
Even with the level of education and advancement in technology the world is witnessing, many men still want to stick to the old ways. Sometimes, even the most urbane and cosmopolitan of men casually discriminate against women on instincts. They simply do it the way all of us blink.
You don’t have to look too far to see instances of clear, mind-boggling acts that aim to relegate women to second-class citizens.
In Nigeria, it is easy to point at several laws seeking to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women and minorities. Even though some of these laws work to protect the fundamental rights of women, men breach them with impunity at all levels.
For instance, the problem of child bride is still with us despite it being a criminal act according to our laws. In a popular case, a Senator of the Republic went all the way to Egypt to marry an underage girl.
He was condemned strongly by various interest groups. Unfortunately, the heinous act was spun into a religious and North vs. South issue. The moslems, especially those in the northern part of the country, insisted such a union was sanctioned by Islam. In which case, the senator was enforcing his right to practice his religion.
Even women whom these laws are made for were strident in their support for the senator. Sadly, what the senator did set back the progress made in stopping child marriage in Nigeria.
A couple of years ago, the President jokingly put his wife in her place by declaring publicly that, ‘She belongs in the other room.’
Though the President’s remark caused a lot of laughter all over the country, it points to a worrying attitude adopted by men, especially conservative men like the President.
The First Lady had spoken eloquently about the problems confronting her husband’s presidency, but that reply questioned her intelligence and belittled everything she said.
For men, events like the International Women’s Day are simply token gestures to placate women and right-thinking folks who believe women are not getting a fair deal. It is just like putting lipstick and perfume on a pig hoping it would obscure all signs of ‘pigginess.’
Though women have made giant strides in the public and private sector, the gap between the sexes is still huge. For women, everywhere they turn to, there is always a hurdle they can’t overcome simply because they are women.
Abhorrent practices like excluding women from inheriting their husband’s property are taken for granted in many parts of the country. Violence against women by husband’s (or partners) doesn’t lead to criminal persecution because the Police openly encourage men to deal with wives any way they deemed fit. It is a domestic affair they’d tell you if you insisted the man be punished. So many women have lost their lives because domestic violence is allowed to go on unpunished.
One of the biggest and commonest crimes against women is rape and sexual assault. Nigeria News on numerous occasion reported how women in Nigeria are getting a raw deal from people charged with protecting them against these sorts of crimes. Reporting a rape case doesn’t guarantee the perpetrator would be arrested.
Even if he is, the police never treat it with the seriousness it deserves. In many cases, they end up accusing the lady of asking to be raped with her behavior and attitude.
As the world marks another International Women’s Day with the theme #PressForProgress, Nigerian women can only hope that this deeply religious and patriarchal society would one day do the right thing.
Even though Nigerian women don’t have it as bad as women in many Arab countries, the fact that these injustices are still around is downright disgraceful for a modern society aspiring for egalitarianism. Men should bury their heads in shame.