“For any society to develop and compete with global development, gender inequality must be bridged, gender-based violence must be stopped, and girl child education must be given a priority”.
And to actualize all this, women are needed to lead the campaign. Yet, feminist and gender activist from Northern Nigeria face as much or even worse counter campaigns against them.
Hadiza (not real name) is one of the leading female activists in Northern Nigeria whose major projects include campaigning against child marriage, domestic violence and supporting divorced women who have been living without child support. Hadiza was steadfast and her campaign was yielding desired results, but she did not anticipate that her reputation would be shattered by baseless accusations of promoting lesbianism and promoting anti-marriage sentiments. The accusations were so damaging to such an extent that even her parents turned against her and her advocacy, a development that almost crippled her campaigns. Sadly, Hadiza’s story is only one out of many challenges facing female activists as they struggle to be relevant in a society that is entirely dominated by men.
From requesting sex in return for favours to misogynistic behaviours, female activists working with various organizations continue to face mounting pressures from a growing number of people in Northern Nigeria who think there are limits to the freedom women should be entitled to.
“For the years I have been working as a humanitarian worker, aside from mounting pressures and campaigns of calumny waged against us by certain elements of the society, I have come across so many individuals who directly request sex before they grant a favour or assistance.” ~ Mariam Aliyu
Mariam Aliyu also runs an NGO that is dedicated to helping people affected by the conflict in North-Western Nigeria. She bemoaned the libeal, victimisation and misogymistic behavious of men as one of the greatest challenges affecting humanitarian work in the region.
“It is a serious challenge a lot of us face in the course of our duties.”
Amina Mubarak Ahmad rose to limelight as a powerful voice leading awareness on menstrual hygiene and gender equality, she also says the challenges are quite stressful.
“Being a feminist or an anti-GBV activist in Northern Nigeria is challenging and tiring, to such an extent that at some point you will just feel as if to stop and give up. The society makes it out to seem like it is a crime to speak out against harmful cultural practices against women and denigrating manner in which they are treated in line with what patriarchal society dictates; for men to do and undo simply based on what suits them.
Speaking out makes almost everyone come out against you, and call you with all sort of names like lesbian, hypocrite, apostate or being a foreign agent.”
She, however, believes these challenges are a wake-up call as it has enabled her to devise novel approaches to neutralize these unfounded criticisms.
The major challenge that scares many of such female activists is the way the critics use religion (which remains the most sensitive and provocative issue)and cultural norms to silence them by tarnishing their images just like Hadiza was subjected to.
“I had to read more about Hausa Muslim women in the Hausa community and Muslim women rights so that I could prepare myself for any challenge,” added Amina when asked how she was able to steer clear of troubles.
Aishatu Kabu Damboa, a humanitarian worker in Maiduguri also shares her experienced on the continued demonization of women by men
“Once a lady reaches puberty and focuses more on what matters to her life instead of marriage, this is where the problem lies. “Everybody will ask you to stop wasting your time and get married.”
Aisha is not alone in this dilemma. So many single feminists face such pressures to get married.
“I am under constant pressure from men and my community to get married simply because I am an outspoken lady,” added Amina, “But later on the same men will be afraid to seek my hand in marriage because they think I am talking too much, hence I cannot be the kind of lady they can easily enslave. It’s not easy being a feminist or GBV advocate in a conservative place like northern Nigeria.”
“It is simple,” says Zara Muhammad Kareto, one of the leading feminists in northern Nigeria, “people see us as a threat to male dominance and they are doing everything at their disposal to defame us.”
Regardless, social media has enabled more and more educated women to continuously defy gender barriers and norms, and press for more actions against gender inequality and lack of equal access to education and opportunities. The impacts their campaigns are recording may be what makes many people think women are threats to male dominance.
But are these women willing to feel the pressures and pull back? Some have, but many feisty feminists like Zara Muhammad and others are determined to continue, and their campaigns appear to be gaining momentum as more and more people are waking up to the vital roles women play in the development of every society.
But why does the society turn against female activists, and why are they being subjected to smearing campaigns in order to keep them at bay?
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