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Gender is a human creation and has been used for millennia to define the differences between the socialization of the male sexes and the female sexes.
Along with it are certain activities which each sex must strictly adhere to or be labelled “abnormal”. In Northern Nigeria like in many other places in the world, Islam and culture decree the gender roles. Here, women are not encouraged to make a living for themselves or contribute to aspects of society such as law-making and law enforcement are generally controlled by men. Women have roles that are typically restricted to house chores and looking after Family. Their duties outside the home are very few.
Culture dictates that a woman’s fulfilment is in marriage and raising children and nothing more. This manifests itself in the high illiteracy rate the region suffers, especially amongst girls. Along with the obstacle of poverty, young girls are socialized to believe that the greatest thing right accomplish is to get a good husband and have children for them. Boys on the other hand are encouraged to get an education seeing as getting an education or learning a trade will enable them to make money for the families they will head in future.
A conversation I had once with a friend whilst walking to the market and spotting a bunch of young boys dressed in rags, barefoot and holding begging bowls explained the rationale behind the practice of mothers who give away their children freely to a journey into the unknown for the sake of spiritual enlightenment, the almajiri journey. My friend revealed that even in their homes women have no power over the fate of their children because culturally children belong to the father and not the mother. The current state Alamjirinci is plaguing the north with millions of young boys out of school, pushed to beg, and steal to eat. And although the inability of parents to look after these boys is a major reason while the practice still thrives, a strong belief in gender roles is the reason why the practice exists in the first place. Boys are meant to be strong enough to fend for themselves at a young age. Boys are socialized to be tough, strong and brave even if they’re just children. It would explain why they’re placed under the care of a man with so many other boys – because it is believed that boys can look after themselves better than girls.
Although, Islamically women can make their own money and engage in business. This isn’t the case in practice. It isn’t very different amongst women in the middle class and elite families. Some in these socio-economic classes go to school, but just like women all around the world, marriage and childbearing are the markers of their success. Women who fail to “keep their homes” and the women who are unable to have children are ridiculed and castigated similarly with poorer women.
Women are discouraged from taking up jobs by their husbands and older family members because they are not able to raise their children if they spend all their time working. This is emboldened by the Islamic provisions of man’s right to restrict his wife’s movement. A Northern Nigerian woman would typically have to face the obstacles of society, culture and family values if she wants to thrive in any career.
Women make up 49 per cent of Northern Nigeria’s population. Yet, there are only about 5.6 per cent of us in the state parliament. This present administration has no northern Nigerian women in the Senate. This gross difference between representatives and the represented causes a serious issue in our society. Who will speak for the women’s issues in parliament? Certainly not men. When lawmakers are mostly male Policies will most likely neglect women. Who are half of the population and treatment of women’s issues will be seen as secondary.
Gender roles have made it so women and men are socialised to believe that there are certain aspects of society women are allowed to partake in and sadly law-making or economic pursuits for women is not one of them. If we must move out of the high illiteracy rate, poverty and blatant lack of representation of half of our population. There must be a serious reorientation about gender and gender roles in modern society. It must be established that women, like men, can be an active part of the society that they live in.