For over half a century, women in northern Nigeria have been bearing the brunt of institutional neglect, domestic violence and stifling campaigns against any female activist who dares to speak out against their problems. Unlike other parts of the country where women are allowed to enjoy the trappings of modernity brought about by the fast-changing world, women in northern Nigeria are still facing an uphill battle from various fronts, and based on the seemingly endless woes, the solution is only possible if the women decide to break the taboo and fight for their rights and future. As someone who has spent over three decades in northern Nigeria, I know the causative factor that relegates women to mere sexual objects for men are lack of equal right to education and archaic culture which prioritizes early marriage over girl-child education.
“This is the same tradition that has denied millions of women access to education which is the key to a brighter future despite the UNESCO’s report that women in northern Nigeria are one of the least educated women on earth, the report was largely ignored by policymakers, and there has not been any attempt is being made to make amends to the outdated system”.
The problem with marrying off a girl before she finishes mandatory schools is multifaceted as she may never be allowed to go back to school for the rest of her life. Considering the fact that women are being divorced at an unprecedented rate, most of these uneducated women are left with children without any child support from the fathers and the women have to go back to their parents for support. This social crisis would have drastically reduced if women were being properly armed with education and the necessary skills to fend for themselves. This is a serious problem that virtually haunts every household in northern Nigeria, and a time bomb waiting to explode.
This is one of the reasons why it is normal to see abandoned kids roaming the streets and begging for alms, some of them being sent to faraway cities for Qur’anic education or being forced to hawk on the streets in order to help feed their economically disadvantaged mothers. The women on the other hands are often left with no option but resort cleaning offices, households, washing dishes or other menial jobs for a living. This also explains why so many women end up becoming prostitutes or disabled due to poor mental health and their children very unlikely to go to school and very likely to become victims of sexual exploitation and human trafficking, be indoctrinated by religious extremists into their folds ( one of the key reason’s terrorist organizations are able to recruits child soldiers) or turned into thugs by unscrupulous politicians.
It is a truism that it is impossible to have a decent society by downplaying the roles played by women in nation-building. No country can develop by ostracizing women. If we intend to truly find lasting solutions to our continued social crisis, the solution is simply to educate women, empower them with skills and let them be financially independent. Given the fact that these problems are deep-rooted and only a few people are alarmed by the rising costs of neglecting women, but the most who can challenge the problem and change the story are women themselves.
Regrettably, the female activists championing the course of gender equality, girl child education and efforts to end GBV are being insulted with vitriolic accusations of spreading lesbianism, polyandry, misandry and promoting alien values. The promoters of these campaigns are hell-bent on making sure the activists do not succeed which is why even some disadvantaged women in the society are cautious of dealing with women who are there to save them and help them open a new vista in life. Changing a stagnant society is a hard task if not the hardest, however, women need to realize that unless they rise and change the story themselves, they should not expect any change soon.
“The road is replete with challenges, the journey is bumpy but with commitment and support, they can change the story”