Growing up female in Nigeria, I was aware that gender inequality existed even before I knew there was a term for it.
One of my earliest memories was being told I couldn’t lead the Sunday School Bible Quiz team. It didn’t matter that I had the highest score and memorized the most number of Bible verses; you see, I was a girl and so, I was told to step back and ‘let a boy lead.’ Boys always led.
I attended a university in North-East Nigeria, in a geo-political zone that was notorious for having the highest number of out-of-school girls and child brides. Of course, I was among the few females in my class. It was there, in this place of minority that I learned to put a name to the gender bias and inequality that was becoming all too familiar.
I was surprised that the university where I studied Communications, a place that should pride itself on being an enabling environment for academic discourse and open engagement, wouldn’t even allow women head student unions!
We were reduced to what we wore and policed at every opportunity.
I remember once, being turned out of the Dean’s office because I dared to show up in jeans! I was rudely sent back and ‘advised’ to come back in more ‘appropriate’ clothing.
That was more than ten years ago, but sadly, things haven’t really changed much.
Women in Nigerian universities continue to face discrimination and harassment that is perpetuated by school management.
Women who dare to speak out in Student Union groups or attempt to make their voices heard are still harassed into silence, and unfair ‘morality’ laws, policies and dress codes are still passed to police women’s bodies.
In March 2016, the proposed Nigerian Gender Equality Bill was crushed by the Senate. It didn’t even make it to a second reading!
The Bill was supposed to protect Nigerian women from violence and to provide them with the same ‘marital rights’ as men, especially the rights of widows to inherit their husbands’ properties.
Sadly, Nigerian senators (102 men and 7 women) voted ‘no.’
The opponents all quoted religious texts as reasons for voting against equal opportunities for women.
A ‘re-worked’ version of the bill, which addressed ‘protection from violence’ but removed the ‘offensive’ equal inheritance, economic and political opportunities, was later presented and passed.
Here I am, a Nigerian woman, protected by law but not really protected.
I am an angry Nigerian woman. Angry at the injustice of having little to no representation. Angry at the male privilege blatantly displayed and supported by adulterated culture and religion. Angry at being told to ‘be grateful for opportunities’ that should be mine by virtue of my existence!
As a Christian woman, I cannot turn a blind eye to how the Bible has been and is still being taken out of context and used to perpetuate injustice to (Nigerian) women. That is why I speak. That is why I won’t be silenced. Those who don’t know must know.
That is why I am committed to raising and empowering females to speak up and demand a place at the table. It is NOT a privilege. It is a right! We belong here too.
Fola Folayan is a Nigerian radio broadcaster and media entrepreneur. She currently hosts THE REFRESH INSPIRATIONAL TALK SHOW every Sunday morning on 99.3 NIGERIA INFO LAGOS. She is the Director of the BROADCAST RADIO MASTER CLASS, a Radio Presenter training institute that organizes quarterly classes and workshops on basic radio presentation skills, and also podcasts at The Favored Woman.
Passionate about women, youth and social development issues, Fola is also a spokesperson for the STAND TO END RAPE initiative, an NGO that campaigns for the protection of women from sexual violence. She loves food, books and cats.