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The treatment of women as secondary human beings is pervasive in all aspects of patriarchal societies like Nigeria. Everyday, mundane, unproblematic activities like renting an apartment (where there are no financial difficulties) should be relatively simple.
However, for single Nigerian women, this is not the case. As if life isn’t hard enough for women, things that should be relatively easy like securing accommodation are fraught with difficulty.
“Before I start, I’d like to establish that my mom is a single mother and that makes it even harder. The first time we wanted to rent an apartment, the landlord asked for my dad, and when my mom told him that she was separated, he said he could not let us rent his apartment because single mothers were wayward and unruly. The next apartment we wanted to rent, the agent asked my mom to bring our full names (mine, my sister’s and hers) so they could go and check it out traditionally to see if we were good enough tenants and if our “head” goes with theirs. My mom refused and two other landlords rejected us until my mom lied to another agent that my dad lived abroad. My uncle posed as my dad over the phone before the landlord agreed to rent it to us after complaining that we weren’t Yoruba and that there was no male in the house.” – Chioma.
Like many other women, Chioma’s mother was treated like she was unqualified to acquire accommodation because she was untethered; unattached to a man. Numerous women have had sordid experiences renting.
Landlords have biases against women with no male figure in their lives. They refuse to rent out to single women and, when they do, they implement ridiculous restricting rules to govern their behaviour. Many people take the moral policing of women to be their mandate and, this belief that women can and should be told what to do is evident throughout society.
To get an apartment in some areas in Lagos it is necessary to fabricate a man if you do not have one. A husband working abroad and “taking care of you very well”, a fake wedding band ties the lie together nicely and if the landlord proves difficult, drag a male friend to act on your behalf.
The problem with jumping through all these hoops to get accommodation is that your landlord, upon hearing of this phantom husband will probably take it upon themselves to protect the sanctity of what they deem to be a man’s property. So, of course, no male visitors and such unless you’re lucky and your landlord is completely detached from the house.
Single women trying to rent apartments are repeatedly told that they’re unqualified simply because they are women. The landlords, the self-appointed promiscuity police, turn prospective female renters away because they believe unmarried women are wayward and they don’t want that on their property.
These standards do not apply to single men. Renting for single men, though not entirely hassle-free, is at least devoid of the systemic oppression linked to the patriarchy. Renting an apartment in Lagos as a single woman is an extreme sport.
Eno Ita said a landlord once called her fat and refused to rent to her. Bisola said she had to regularly lie to her landlord about her faux husband and his whereabouts. Conversations about the renting process for women in major Nigerian cities are full of narrations and advice centred around bending themselves to portray the image demanded of them.
These behaviours stem from the sexist notion and expectation that women live at home with their family and then their husband. The in-between period and the thought of a woman who wants no husband are entirely alien to them and, if brought to their attention, they vehemently oppose it, prioritising their harmful biases over even business.
Women should not have to lie their way into housing, a fundamental right. Being autonomous individuals capable of self-determination, we are whole and not mere extensions of the men around us.