Before I begin, let me state that this was not an easy article to write. I’ve found Feminism to be an interesting word because its discourse tends to incite that all too familiar ‘walking on eggshells’ feeling we all know. Despite its good natured and powerful meaning, I cannot deny that there is something about the “F’ word that socially sends men running for the hills – even before the uncomfortable coughs and sneers. Personally speaking, the issue of feminism and equality for the woman had not occurred to me until after having also read Sheryl Sanders’s Lean in. In her book (and as Kenny rightly pointed out in his last article), Sheryl draws from her life experiences in order to bring some transparency on the subject of women in the workplace. After touching on the perceptions and societal expectations of women and seeking to link those with the African diaspora, Kenny then went on to seek the opinion of his Nigerian uncle regarding gender equality in Nigeria. His nonchalant response to the matter caught my attention as it highlighted the long road ahead that we face as a country. With more than a handful of pressing issues including lack of basic needs infrastructure and corruption, where does the female voice stand in a developing world?
Admittedly, perhaps I would have reacted the same way were the question posed to me a few months ago. In today’s western world where basic needs are met with education being free for all, the equality of women has progressed both politically and economically with anti-discriminatory laws in place to protect and empower the female. A real sense of hope, security and opportunity is available for all, which perhaps fuels the easiness of forgetting that the same basic need I enjoy is denied to another because of her gender. Realising that I had grown accustomed to a forward-moving world, I’d subconsciously begun to expect the same views, laws, and needs catered for in others, which is not so. I’d also begun to see that although the western world may seem progressive politically and economically, the definition of a feminist amongst both sexes had been misconstrued to mean ‘man-eater’ rather than a person with the view to support female gender equality and to discourage female maltreatment. An excerpt from Lean in which I found interesting quoted that initially, when asked whether they were feminists, 25% of women answered ‘Yes,’ but when presented with the true definition of what feminism means, that percentage had increased dramatically to 65%. Knowing this, I realised that being a heavy word, feminism may still negatively portray the cliché of a battle of the sexes in which male and female are at war.
Whilst some in the western world may view feminism with less relevance to day-to-day society, I’ve found that feminism and gender equality holds far greater weight in the developing world. Just recently, The Guardian published the news of Saudi Arabian women being able to register to vote for the first time in its country’s history. Not only would women be able to vote, they would also be permitted to run as candidates in local elections. A feat, which perhaps would not have been accomplished without the support of equal rights for women everywhere. Elsewhere from the Middle East, we have seen young women such as Malala Yousafzai take and continue to take an active stance for the right to female education in the face of violence after having survived a bullet. In developing worlds shaped by religion and cultural heritage, gender inequality is such that transcends deep within communities; especially with issues such as forced marriages and FGM.
I thought of my southern hometown back in Nigeria. Although the threat of violence is not prevalent in our community, I do observe unequal cultural and social expectations between both male and female genders. In our culture, we tend to groom females for early marriage and to take care of their future homes whilst the males are groomed sorely to be able to provide. Although I see nothing fundamentally wrong with this, I do have to question the ideology that has come from this. This is the ideology that for the female, her ability to find a suitor and get married early is what defines her as a woman. As a 26 year old Nigerian female, I have stopped counting the number of times aunties have asked why I’m still single and not yet married at my age. Their usual reaction would be to console me with pity, and provide reassurance that I was okay and that there was nothing wrong with me. On the other hand, males are seemingly free to take their time. In saying this, I am grateful however that in my community, women are given the same basic needs and rights as men. I say this knowing that in the north, Boko Haram has destroyed and continue to destroy communities favouring progression including education for all.
All in all, it is evident that although Feminism appears to have lost its relevancy to some, it is not just a word for many. Rather, it is a daily battle with some victorious moments. Not one with the opposite sex, but one that is rooted in gender inequality, negative social perceptions, maltreatment, and unfair expectations of women.
What are your thoughts?