Image Source: GirlHub Nigeria

Image Source: GirlHub Nigeria

In March this year, GirlHub Nigeria invited me to give a talk during Social Media Week Lagos, which I started with a prayer I’d written for little girls. I’d like to share it with you bearing in mind that it is not religion specific.

Dear God, may the next generation of girls not grow up to worry about the same issues that our generation of women worry about, may they not grow up to fight the same struggles that we are fighting. May they come of age into a world that will not discriminate, violate or restrict them from reaching their fullest potential. May they rejoice in their humanity. May they live freely and wholly and contribute to making the world a more interesting and just place.

Unfortunately, the events that have taken place in Nigeria in the past few weeks make the prayer seem utopianist. Yet the truth is, in a country where only eleven percent of girls complete secondary school and where a quarter of girls are married before the age of fifteen the prospects for girls were bleak even before the abduction of hundreds of girls by Boko Haram.

A significant amount of Nigerian girls live under a strict patriarchy where their lives predominantly serve the purpose of servitude to men: fathers, brothers, uncles, husbands, you name it. Don’t get me wrong, both girls and boys are impacted by Nigeria’s cultural, political and economical landscape but make no mistake about it: gender is not a secondary “special” concern of the Boko Haram insurgency – it has everything to do with it. First, because war and conflict always strengthen male dominance: from Serbia to Syria to Somalia, what all conflict situations share in common is that they put more men in power and extract more women from it. Furthermore, using girls as pawns, sex slaves and general caretakers is a way not simply to assert ideological beliefs but to assert male centric ideological beliefs.

This is important because while the #BringTheGirlsBack campaign is first and foremost a campaign to return the abducted girls and fight against the imminent threat of Boko Haram and the lesser-known Ansaru it is also a campaign about creating a more just, safe Nigeria. At least to my sensibilities, #BringBackOurGirls signifies a shift in awareness in the Nigerian psyche that has much to do with demanding better leadership and accountability, and, this should include gender equality.

The past decade has seen many positive developments for women in Nigeria and Africa at large. Together with financial and technological growth, there have come changes in attitudes: African societies are seeing an increasing amount of women leaders in politics, culture, entrepreneurship and so on. And there is a rare opportunity to make women part of the political, social and cultural fabric of society. However, this will only be sustained if we create a better future for girls.

In practical terms, this might mean any number of things: protesting, advocating and raising awareness; mentoring a girl; lobbying that laws that protect girls are enforced; advocating that schools teach girls about leadership; creating apps for girls; crowd funding to write a children’s book for girls. Or just simply stopping when you see a little girl looking shy and sad, to tell her that she is beautiful, strong and that she has the right to flourish.

What matters is not what we do per se but that we understand that the safety and thriving of girls in Nigeria goes hand in hand with the safety and thriving of Nigeria itself. Boko Haram knows this truth about girls’ lives in Nigeria: that is why they have taken our girls.

Please add your thoughts to the conversation!

Minna Salami writes, speaks and advocates on a broad range of Africa, Diaspora and feminist issues. She writes the award-winning blog, MsAfropolitan, and is a member of the Duke University Educator Network as well as the Guardian’s (UK) Africa Network. Follow her on Twitter @MsAfropolitan.

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  • IO505

    Great article!

    “At least to my sensibilities, #BringBackOurGirls signifies a shift in awareness in the Nigerian psyche that has much to do with demanding better leadership and accountability, and, this should include gender equality.”

    Make no mistake, a lot of Nigerians have been aware of these issues (of poor leadership and gender inequality) but just haven’t made the effort to fix them. I was talking to another Nigerian recently about how Nigerians like to wring their hands and cry to God to make change, rather than do something themselves. The measure of whether #bringbackourgirls made a difference is whether action to bring about change follow from the people and from the government. (And I acknowledge that protestors and communities have been taking action, but that kind of action hasn’t been and will never be enough.) Until that happens, I don’t think we can properly say any positives have come out of this situation, except that the international spotlight has captured it and is putting pressure on the Naija gov to do better.

    Smh @ third world countries that still haven’t learned that growth and development depends on women being educated and incorporated into the economy (especially at high levels). When will they learn though?

    “Boko Haram knows this truth about girls’ lives in Nigeria: that is why they have taken our girls.”
    And I’ve been saying this!! It’s funny to me how we Africans can be so shocked about the abuses of women as if our sexist cultures are not at the root of it. The significant devaluation of women in Nigeria created the environment where a terrorist group like BH could even fathom doing something as horrificvile as this. And I get annoyed with Africans who don’t acknowledge it, especially when they’re nursing sexism/misogny and passing it down to their children then acting as if this event and related issues are so far outside of themselves. I mean, don’t many of already communicate that women are inferior in scores of different ways? And didn’t some politicians push marriage laws than sanctioned pedophilia? There is a lack of critical thinking among my people, and as long as this is left unaddressed situations like this will be repeated.

  • Sunnaya

    This should read, ” The truth about MUSLIM girls Nigeria”. Christian black women in Nigeria have it much better. Their lives are no different from other women overseas. But then again, it all boils down to religion and geographical area/tribe. Just because we are in the same country does not mean we all are the same or share common practices. Muslims and specific tribes have their own ways of doing things.

    • Jen

      You know that isn’t true. Nigeria in general is a patriarchal society
      where women are not considered equal to men and expected to be
      submissive. Christian
      Nigerians love to quote the Bible verse that women should submit to
      their husbands. Yoruba women, who are Christian, Muslim, or practice
      their traditional
      religion, are some of the most educated Nigerian women. They are also
      some of the most submissive to men. I can give many examples of gender
      inequality amongst non-muslim Nigerians; women who address their
      husbands as Sir, husbands who refuse to help their wives with household
      chores because it’s “women’s work” even when their wives work, husband
      who take second wives because their first wives didn’t have a male
      child, etc. Of course things are changing and
      there are Nigerians who are exceptions to the rule. I believe that was
      the point of this article.

    • debinbrooklyn

      Thank you Jen. I’ve been to several countries in Africa and throughout the African diaspora. To say black female oppression is only amongst Muslims is a diabolical diversion from the overwhelming scope of sexism and misogyny in Africa and anywhere that black women reside.