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Women as half-men: Nigerian Senators as Case Study

*Religion, the wonder drug Karl Marx called opium fits the billing. Religion and tradition were at play a dominant role when the Nigerian senate threw out a bill that sought to empower women.”

Putting women down through legislations, as Nigerian senators have done, when they should be empowered means African countries cannot fully tap their potentials.

With pontificating religionists and traditionalists all over the place, Africa is not the right place to be the poster-boy for women emancipation and empowerment. And this is hardly surprising because Africans are lavish in the praise of their religions and traditions. Without both, Africans would simply be a shade better than an invented race.

Those who pounced on the ‘Am black and proud, mantra did not just react impulsively to their being depicted as black-faced savages; they were making a statement of fact that Africans have a glorious history! Curiously, when Africans celebrate tradition, they fail to realise that but for women, the tradition they so cherish would have been long dead.

They fail to appreciate the fact that women are the agencies for the preservation of tradition. It is these half men who bring forth full men who, later in life, pass on word of mouth to younger ones who also pass them on as a way of preserving tradition. It’s a chain: take the woman out and the chain is broken!

Ironically, and just as the Nigerian senate has proved, it is the same tradition, ably preserved by women which men employ as obstacles in the path of those same agents of preservation. The art has been fine-tuned:  today, all a clever male politician needs to kill the fighting spirit in a hard fighting female opponent is to cite aspects of religion and tradition that place the woman’s position in the kitchen!

Africans may console themselves that in many parts of Europe, women did not get the right to vote until early to middle years of the last century. Today, there are many who believe the paucity of female literary writers and inventors in the Middle Ages was the stubborn adherence to traditional practices that carved out bone-breaking household chores to girls while the boys had all the time in the world for leisure. It was this advantage that gave boys the necessary head start in the field of scientific inventions and exploration.

Tradition is beating a retreat in Europe and nobody, least of them politicians who crave acceptance, would jeopardize their chances by reminding women that the kitchen is where they belong. Tradition is also on the retreat in Africa. In many African societies, women are no longer told they belong to the kitchen so tradition has to be replaced by a stronger force. 

And religion, the wonder drug Karl Marx called opium fits the billing. Religion and tradition were at play a dominant role when the Nigerian senate threw out a bill that sought to empower women.

Irony is that few appreciate the role of women in the early history of religions. In Islamic history, Khadijah, the first wife of Prophet Muhammad, was the woman whose wealth contributed to the stabilisation of Islam at its infancy. And for her immense role, she is not only honoured today but has earned a place for herself in the hereafter. 

Khadijah was the former employer of the prophet whom he later married. She embodies clear injunctions in the Qur’an that husbands are heirs to their wives’ estates, a clear proof that women are encouraged to work and acquire wealth. Is there any other way for husbands to inherit their wives’ estate if women are not encouraged to accumulate wealth?

In the same vein, the Bible speaks of Mary Magdalene, not Mary the mother of Jesus, who was honoured by Jesus’ first appearance after his resurrection. It was this Mary who, in company of other women brought loads of sweet spices to anoint Jesus! Since Khadijah and Mary Magdalene, several other women have seized the initiative by being assertive in issues bordering on leadership.

But even outside the realm of religion, women have shown that they are suited for political leadership. That America, despite its advertised women empowerment credentials is yet to throw up a female president and, indeed overtaken in this regard by some African and Muslim countries, is no longer tenable ground for obstacles to be erected in the path of women.

 So far, African women presidents of their countries emerged by accident. Malawi’s Joyce Banda inherited the throne of an estranged principal. Interim CAR’s Christie Panza was a child of necessity. It is highly unlikely that the only exception, Liberia’s Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, would have made the mark if she contested against a credible male opponent. Despite his soccer prowess, many Liberians were simply aghast at the idea of putting former soccer star, George Weah, at the helm of affairs.

Yet, there are self-imposed hurdles. In this respect, those who say women are their own worst enemies have a valid point. In Nigeria, Sarah Jibril placed third in a male dominated race when, in 1992, she ran for the presidential ticket of her political party. A decade and half later, her lone vote was all she recorded at her party’s convention to pick a presidential candidate. 

Even women who constituted nearly 50 per cent of delegates at the party convention never believed one of their own she was good enough to be president!

Centuries of living on the periphery, operating as appendages to men and the fear of being labelled uncouth each time they challenge stereotypes have taken their toll on these half-men. 

The training begins early in life and, till date, there are tradition-bound communities where girls who are lucky to make it to school are made to accept their inferiority as normal or are made to see competition with boys as sacrilegious! By the time such girls become child-brides, whatever inherent talent they possess for personal and national growth simply evaporates.

We cannot continue to pretend that these half-men have no role to play in nation-building or national growth and development. Putting women down through legislations when they should be empowered means African countries cannot fully tap their potentials. And, this is not good for backward societies of the Twenty First Century.

Magaji <magaji777@yahoo.com><234-805-138-0793> is based in Abuja

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