It’s come to my recent attention that my president recently said something quite outrageous about women to one of the greatest women in recent political history.
On a visit to Germany, General Buhari was heard saying “I don’t know which party my wife belongs to, but she belongs to my kitchen and my living room and the other room.” He was responding to an earlier statement made by his wife, Aisha Buhari about the direction of political parties in Nigeria. General Buhari appeared to be joking ( although I generally take the view that there is some truth behind every joke) however, joke or no joke, there are some things you don’t say especially in the presence of women. I think even being completely oblivious to the ramifications of your opinions, especially as a leading figure is particularly bad as it demonstrates how out of touch you are.
I’m insistent on public figures not having public opinions. I’m also insistent on prior briefing before making any public appearance. However, I’m somewhat glad ( albeit disappointed ) that my president made this blunder as his words reveal something about the nature of Nigeria’s bias towards women which I have grappled with for years.
Whilst I don’t live in Nigeria on a permanent basis, I’m fortunate enough to visit my homeland every year and every year some of my experiences with men, especially men with a degree of power, has been abysmal.
There’s the interaction with landlords who don’t want to lease their apartments to “single women” because of the apparent negative connotations to prostitution. If you’re a single women looking to rent in Nigeria, your lifestyle must apparently be as a result of an obscure sugar daddy somewhere because it could not possibly be as a result of hard work. Then there’s the disgusting treatment you receive by male drivers whose egos are bruised if you happen to overtake them. Your confidence on the road is greeted with suspicion or a response similar to “is that how you treat your husband at home?” Then there was the occasion myself, my mama and my sister were being driven to Calabar. A police officer pulled us over and then shouted at us to get out of the car. He didn’t recite the caution neither did he tell us the reason why we were being humiliated. When we questioned the reason for the harassment, he resorted to “you people must not have husbands at home.”
It would be an easier pill to swallow if the insults were coming from men of little education but my president’s sentiments prove that it has nothing to do with educational attainment. It’s the culture. Culture dictates everything and unfortunately the Nigerian culture promotes notions that relegates the woman to the kitchen or the “other room”. If a woman even dares to exist outside the remits of her job description, then she is reminded of her position as chef and sex toy.
Certainly, there will always be men who do not subscribe to these notions but when the president of a major African country publicly professes his ideals on womanhood, the we really ought to unpack the culture that underpins these statements.
I wish for every Nigerian woman to see themselves as more than a maid and sex toy. I wish for every man to see these women as worthy and not throw gendered insults at them on the occasion that they feel threatened by the sight of a confident and non-conventional woman.
Nigeria has a gender problem. We didn’t need my president to point this out but perhaps it will inspire new conversation which will further inspire change.