A friend of mine felt like throwing jabs at the whole idea of International Women’s Day. We were sitting over lunch at the office cafeteria when he blurted: ‘But it’s international. The whole idea is foreign….what does it have to do with us in Nigeria?’. It got me briefly thinking about how quick we are to distance ourselves from ideas that are supposedly ‘western.’ But not this time. I strongly believe that if anyone has a reason to celebrate International Women’s Day, it is the African woman.
Africa has had a long and convoluted relationship with patriarchy, from the flagrant polygamy our grandmothers faced to the pressure on young women today to get married. We have grappled with female circumcision, child marriage, low literacy and outright dismal of economic or social relevance by the society we live in. Yet, today as a continent, we have produced female presidents (elected and appointed) female policy drivers, changemakers in diverse sectors and industry, and international voices of social impact. In other words, the strength of the African woman is one to be reckoned with.
From backdated laws to breaking glass ceilings
For the longest time, our customary laws were skewed against women. Although many of these laws have now been repealed,the African womanstillfights to own property in many communities. Even when she does, she will likely battle suspicions of her motive and lifestyle.There are villages where a woman is required to have the surety of a man before she can own or rent property.Or where a woman’s circumcision is largely attributed to her chastity. Even in these modern times, African women are taught to be compliant, dutiful, ambitious but not too much.
They are scowled at for having career goals or reprimanded if they had to compromise family time for work. Never mind that men get away with it. And worst of all, they are thought to prize their silence. Yet, we have gone from that to becoming CEOs. There are women sitting on boards, building conglomerates and many other first of its kind ideas.
Sexual abuse and silence
Let’s not even talk about the stigmatization or the culture of silence that African women have had to endure through abuse. Doubled over from the weight of violence or sexual assault, she dare not speak or the burden is increased. Whispers and rumours of ‘It was her fault.’, ‘Didn’t she see what she wearing?’, ’How can she wear that short skirt without an ulterior motive?’, ‘She said no, but we all know girls don’t really mean no when they say it, she wanted it!’, ‘Couldn’t she see the signs? So she knew what she was doing.’ And then slowly, the accusations cloud her claim to justice.
But there is hope
There is hope. And it is this hope more than ever that we must celebrate on days like the International Women’s Day. The African womanshe is rising, like a phoenix out of the ashes, no longer bound, no longer controlled and no longer willing to be ‘put in her place’. She has a voice and sheusesit, to speak up againstthe limiting stereotypes, those that give her pebbles to hold and when she can throw boulders.She fights for herself, for the right to be seen, heard and to make a difference.And she fights for others.
As you read this piece, look around you. Celebrate the woman you see at the shopping mall, the one caught in the Lagos gridlock. Celebrate your boss at work, the female advocate championing the return of kidnapped young girls. Also, celebrate the small victories. And the big ones. Celebrate today, the progress we’ve made, and the journey ahead.
Happy International Women’s Day!