If you are Nigerian and you have never heard the common saying, “What a man can do, a woman can do better”, then you might need to ask your folks if you are truly from around here. 

This saying is mostly used by men especially when they are trying to supposedly encourage a young lady or woman who has surpassed their expectations.  People often assume that this saying is a compliment, but in a more realistic term, it is an indirect way of telling the lady that the man never believed in her ability – particularly in contrast to men.  As you can imagine, this is generally demoralising to any woman or girl, particularly in the face of her attempts to ascend the academic or professional ladder of success.

Growing up in such an environment once made me think that women were, to an extent, second-class citizens to men when it came to personal or professional achievement, but that assumption soon changed as I saw, and continued to see, women manage businesses, schools, and careers successfully without the input or support of a man.

I spent much of my childhood in Kaduna and Niger States of northern Nigeria, where gender equality was nothing to write home about - especially when it came to sending the girl child to school.  Instead, what most parents sought was a friend of the family who might be interested in solidifying the relationship between both families by marrying their daughter.  That this was all girls and women were suited for was an unfortunate perception I had for a long time, until I got into college where I met ladies who were dusters and gurus: Ladies who always aced their courses.  When I joined the campus radio in my second year, I met a number of extraordinary ladies who were doubling as presenters, producers, and program creators, yet were still performing well in Maths and Engineering programs.

This journey of promoting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5  - Gender Equality - officially began for me in 2014, when I was invited by the BBC Media action team in Nigeria to join their media team that promoted Child and Maternal Health issues.  During this project, which involved a lot of outdoor sourcing of materials to be used in the programme, I came across some funny young boys who said things like; “For Naija woman, no fit.  Dey the same level with man.”  This translated to: “A woman can never be equal to a man.” 

Upon hearing this, I shook my head in surprise, but didn’t speak; I knew where this prejudice came from.   The only response that came to my mind was that the patriarchal environment of my country had left its mark on the values of these young men.  In Nigeria, gender equality is a topic that is raised only in determining domestic responsibilities, but not when decisions are to be made, or regarding professional opportunities in delicate, juicy posts in organizations or parastatals.

Any boy who grows up in such environment will inevitably become a man who thinks the role of a woman in the family is to cook, clean the house, and make babies, whilst the role of the man is to make all important decisions… Even if they are, in fact, merely fathers, uncles, and brothers who made these decisions beneath the strong influence of mothers, sisters, and aunts.

These kids are a part of the future we are working for today.  Imagine the perception of a young lady who grows up in such a society - she will naturally be discouraged to fight for herself, and will accept that she is not enough or qualified enough for her input to be respected or appreciated.

As an experienced programme creator, I have come to understand that changing the behaviour of any generation has very little to do with the grown-ups in the society.  This is because many adults find themselves regretful about the decisions they have made, and fixate anxiously on what’s ahead of them.  However, their concerns do not extend to what the youngsters following them will inherit.  By contrast, the kids are filled with the zeal to learn new things, even those that they might not expect to be necessary.  And yet, they have the curiosity and insight to learn all they can, even if they are aware of a potential lesson’s usefulness until it’s time to utilize it.

What I am saying is that SDG 5 needs more awareness - and not just among young ladies, but also among young men - in other for them to understand what social relation issues and challenges they must change before they can achieve a sustainable society.  If the youth’s perception can be pivoted towards equality and mutual respect, then the beginning of a better future for several generations can be achieved.

 

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