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Girls’ Leadership Forum: On Family and Marriage

Girls’ Leadership Forum: On Family and Marriage

Adeola Fayemiwo, Nigeria

Adeola is 15 and lives with her immediate family in Ibadan, Nigeria.

I believe that at some points in my life I’ve felt inferior to the male gender because I come from a country where both consciously and unconsciously girls are made to feel inferior (even though some parts hype girl empowerment). Growing up in an African country, Nigeria to be specific, it’s a bit hard to be a girl. I’m fortunate to have parents who understand the way in which the world is moving and accept change, but I still face negativity from my social environment. I come from a family with three children, who happen to be all girls. In Nigeria, people believe that when you have all girls, you don’t really have children; they will all get married, and then you will not have anyone to carry the family name to the next generation. Sometimes I meet people with my sisters, and they usually make rude remarks like, “Oh, where is your brother?” or, “Why did your parents stop trying to have children when they don’t have a boy?” As a growing child, statements like these are not really encouraging things to hear. It makes me feel like I’m not relevant. Although I feel this way, I can’t really show it, because I’m the oldest of the three girls, so I try to push my younger sisters to never give up on themselves and always push harder. Though experiences like these are not very appealing, it has helped me get closer to my parents and my sisters and find comfort in my family.

Aside from this form of sexism I experience, there are also other ones prominent in my country. The most common one will be an issue of early marriage, especially in the northern part of the country. Girls are married off as brides as early as the age of 10. It is devastating, as they begin their lives as wives with so much responsibility at a very young age. By the time they are 18, they are already mothers of three to five children, and sometimes even more. This means that most of them don’t go to school past their primary education, which contributes to the illiteracy of many Nigerian women. Child marriage increases the fertility rate, which has an influence on the birth rate and then on the whole population. Also, many parents (although this is slowly fading out) believe that girls don’t have a right to an education. They’d rather send their boys to school because they believe that they’ll end up with a job, but a girl’s job is in the kitchen and with the children. And, in a marriage, if a man cheats on his wife, it’s okay, and the woman is supposed to accept it, but if it’s the wife that cheats, she’s beaten. Sometimes it’s so bad that she dies from the beating.

Stacey Hope Namara, Uganda

Stacey is from Uganda but is currently going into her last year of secondary school in Kenya. She is 16.

Growing up as an Ugandan girl, I have seen sexism in my country in multiple forms, but I will speak on how I have faced it on a personal level. I am the youngest in a family of four girls. We have no brothers, so basically my dad is the only man in the house. I come from a somewhat evolved family when it comes to culture and tradition. What this means is that the values held in my house now are not the same as the ones my parents followed back when they were growing up. For example, my dad doesn’t expect us to not be in school and stay home to do chores and get married after a while. But, this doesn’t mean that we still don’t feel the fact that we are a minority gender often. These thoughts are not given to us by our parents, but by our extended family. My extended family has never evolved from the 20th century mentality that females are subordinate to males and come second to boys in any situation. The fact that we are all girls has not been overlooked at all by my great aunts and paternal grandma, who still believe that my dad should not be content with having no sons, even though it has been 17 years since my parents had their last child and are now technically unable to have another child. The even more interesting thing is that they do not blame my dad for this, but they blame my mother for this, as though it was up to her what gender she gave birth to. My mother has had to constantly fight for us and stand up for the fact that she only has girls. It has been hard for her, because her in-laws constantly make her feel irrelevant in society. Obviously, as her daughters, who are technically the reason she is being seen as a pariah, it is hard for us, too, because now we are left to wonder whether indeed we are worthless, after all. My dad has never ever made us feel this way, though. He often tries to tell his family that he is happy with the life he has been handed, but it once got so bad that his relatives were asking him to remarry just so he could finally have a son with a “real woman.” This was after my birth, when four girls just drew the line for them.

My parents always try to make us feel important because, in all honesty, we are. We have been put through the best schools and now together hold two law degrees, one degree in actuarial sciences/ financial math and an upcoming International Baccalaureate degree. That doesn’t sound like nothing to me. I always try to imagine what life would be like had my father listened to his family and treated us like they wanted him to. I wouldn’t be where I am, let alone have the platform to speak about this issue that is so dear to my heart. The same cannot be said for every family in Uganda. Who is to say that there isn’t an uneducated father out there who has kicked out his beautiful wife and intelligent daughters simply for not being male? Had my father not been the intelligent and loving person he is, that could have very easily been my sisters and me, which is something that scares me. That mentality is actually still very present in Uganda, and without proper education, will continue for a long time.

Robomi Ayo-Yusuf, Nigeria

Robomi and her family moved a year ago to Birmingham, England, so that she could further her education. She is 16. Her grandfather has three wives, and her father’s youngest sibling is six years old.

As a girl in Nigeria, you are automatically viewed as being weak and inferior to a boy. There is this belief that a family is not complete without a male child, as there is “nobody to continue the family name.” In addition to this, Nigerians attached certain jobs to men, and once a woman is in that position, there is so much disrespect towards her. In certain parts of Nigeria, female children are viewed as commodities, and they are sold to older and richer men.They are sold from the very young age of eight years old to men old enough to be their fathers and grandfathers. These girls are forced to be both sexual and domestic slaves to these men. The constitution of Nigeria also supports this view of women as being inferior to men. According to the constitution, a widow does not inherit her dead husband’s property. Instead, it goes to the husband’s family. The situation is so bad that the husband’s family could take the children away from the woman if they wanted. Domestic violence towards women is also rampant because men think they are “taming” their wives.

There were times when it felt like society was against women being their own person and working. There was an incident in my church when the topic was “the perfect wife.” The floor was open to everybody to say if he or she thought there was such a thing or not. This man in his 50s stood up and said a perfect wife is a woman who is submissive to her husband and cooks meals for him whenever he wants a meal made. My mom then stood up and said she works and so doesn’t have time to cook all the time, and because of this she hired a cook. The man I mentioned earlier stood up and said my mom is not a real woman because a woman isn’t supposed to work to begin with, but if she insists on working, then she should never complain about being tired and should still be able to cook. My dad and the pastor had to stand up and defend my mom and women who work. There is also the usual comment of you are a “hoe” if you wear shorts or croptops and the uncomfortable catcalls when you walk down the street. If you are raped, the first comments people make are, “What did she do? What did she wear? She probably led him on.” People never have empathy for the victim.

I, personally was shielded to an extent from the discrimination against the female child, because my parents are educated and understand the need for equality between the male and female child. I grew up with the same opportunities as my brothers, and I was never refused the chance to do anything just because I was a girl. But, only a small percentage of girls grow up like I did in Nigeria.

Kilali David-West, Nigeria

Kilali attends secondary school in Lagos, Nigeria. She is 16.

Being a girl in Nigeria

Since I was a child, my life goals were already set aside for me. I was going to go to school, receive a degree, get married, and be the best wife I could be. In order to do that, I had to know how to cook, clean, and be submissive to my husband. Unlike most girls in my country, especially the ones who live in rural areas, I was never sent off to get married to some middle-aged man. I grew up in a good Christian home, my parents have good jobs, and I was pretty sheltered. My mother only wanted this stated future for me so that I could have a good life like hers. According to my society, a woman’s goal in life is to pass from her father’s house to her husband’s. As if men had more prospects, and women only had to marry. Whether at 12 or at 25 years of age, marriage is the thing.

Well, this beautiful life prospect didn’t mention one thing: I was supposed to be subordinate to a man all my life. Women are supposed to be perfect fairies, ready for sex at any time and at any age. Many women don’t have their rights respected: some can’t work without the permission of their husbands, others are forced from an early age to get married. A possible solution can be equal rights for Nigerian men and women, so that women themselves can have a chance to be great like their male counterparts. This bill was supposed to pass, but the male Senate preferred to keep their “traditions” and not pass it. This is it, the future of all Nigerian girls are decided by old men who refuse to know what it’s like to be a girl. For some reason, people think it’s better that women don’t decide their own futures. These men presume that women are weak and that their only significant use is having children and cooking for their husbands.

Nigerian women are strong and brave. The only reason why men think like this is because they are afraid of women. There are many strong independent women in my country and in Africa; they are role models who are often ignored. However, the problem isn’t just the men themselves, but the women. They think, “I can’t do this and this because I am a girl.” We see womanhood as a limit, as a curse, something that should never have happened.

Some women agree with these constraints, others like me believe that Nigerian girls can achieve anything, if they really believe in it. What plans do I have for my future? I want to live my life, get married and have kids when I’m ready, and, most especially, have a kick-ass job. And, I’m not going to limit myself because of my sex. We are more than mothers, sex toys, child-making machines, cooks, cleaners. We are people. The fact that we have a vagina is not a valid excuse.

Damilare (Dara) Apampa, Nigeria

Damilare is from Abuja, Nigeria, and currently attends boarding school in the Rift Valley in Kenya. She is 15 and was born in Ireland.

Being a girl, I feel, has limited me in many ways. For example, in my school we don’t have a female basketball team, simply because “they wouldn’t go very far.” I see the world as a very divided place in terms of sex: a place where men hold all the positions, and women serve under them. It is a fact that since 2014, possibly even before that, women have surpassed men as university attendees. Yet, men still hold more CEO positions than women. The figurative “glass ceiling” (where opportunities and certain goals seem achievable but actually there is a limitation) that women have to live under is still very much unbroken.

Even around the house, I experience some forms of tradition-based sexism. In Nigeria, my home country, the classic “women are supposed to stay home, cook, clean, and look after the kids” story has been superimposed on me for as long as I can remember. However, my parents remind me a lot that if I were a boy, I would have to complete the same chores, and if I had a brother, he would do the same as well.

I believe that poverty amongst women has a lot to do with the fact that they are trapped in this same “domestic sphere.” Women do not get a chance to get out and explore what life has to offer, and, as a result, they are not given equal opportunities to men. Also, a lot of young girls are sold as child brides, which limits their future right from a young age. This tradition is especially prevalent in the northern parts of Nigeria.

The simplest way to end this systemic oppression of women is to change the mentality of people in relation to what women can and cannot do. Although this conflicts with many cultures and religions, the ever-changing society that we live in has called for the fluidity of certain values, including the role of women in society.

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