Skip to content Skip to footer

Inside Northern Nigeria’s cultural practices that discriminates against girls

As she massaged the lump under her cheek with (Atalabakur) a local balm, 32-year-old Glory* could feel the pains from the multiple injuries on her body. 

Behind the mask of a luxurious life are bruises, cuts, welts, burns, fractures, internal injuries, and a furious “husband”, who could kill her if he finds out she has shared her story. All she wants now is a violent free life and a secured future for her six children. 

“I have stayed indoors for over two months as a result of a leg fracture, and I have been admitted to a hospital for hot water burns,” Glory says. “Because I live in a fine house and drive a car, some people think I have it all. But they don’t know my story.”

The ordeal of the girl child 

According to UNICEF, the girl child suffers more than boys in terms of missing out on education in Northern Nigeria. 

In northeast Nigeria, only 41 per cent of eligible girls receive primary education. Just like Glory, the girl child in this part of the world is still disadvantaged, discriminated against, underprivileged, and grossly underestimated. 

Glory comes from a nuclear family of a minority tribe in Bassa Local Government Area of Plateau State, Northcentral Nigeria.  She had just turned 17 and was about to write her Senior Secondary Certificate Examination, the final lap in Nigeria’s basic education system, when John* who was 38 years old,  asked for her hand in marriage. Her parents, who felt she was ripe for marriage and since they had no plans for her tertiary education, forced her into the marriage immediately after her SSCE examination.

John* was a bus conductor in Jos, the capital city of the state. He assured her of the completion of her tertiary education after their first child because he saw her interest in education. However, John became violent a few months after she gave birth to her first child, a girl.

Some nights, John came home drunk and angry, “you are such a useless woman, you can’t even give me a real child to carry on my name,” Glory relayed. 

Glory resorted to hawking fruits a few months after she gave birth to her second daughter, since John, who was a cab driver, stopped fending for the family.

One night, John tried to hit her. Glory stepped back, balancing her weight on her left foot, and throwing her right arm out in a curve to block the blow John had targeted to her temple. Before she could bring out her right forearm up, John had formed a fist with his left and threw it at her outstretched jaw. Just because she couldn’t afford to prepare a palatable meal.

Another time he pushed her to the ground in front of her two children, tearing her cloth as he dragged her on the floor. Even though she tried to save herself from his grip, she was too weak to defend herself. So he went on to kick her in the face with his foot several times.

When Glory summoned the courage to expose John’s abusive behaviour to her mother, all she said was “A good woman endures every challenging situation in her marriage”.

Girls are married off at an early age in Northern Nigeria, which interferes with their education. Nigeria has the largest number of child brides in Africa with more than 23 million girls and women who were married as children, most of them from poor and rural communities. While data suggests a decline of 9 per cent in the prevalence of child marriage since 2003, and a projected further decrease of 6 per cent by 2030, Nigeria’s rapid population growth means that the number of child brides will in fact increase by more than one million by 2030 and double by 2050.

The male child at all cost syndrome

An ugly phenomenon that has persisted among some cultural systems in Northern Nigeria is the undue preference for the male child by some men. A premium is placed on the male child. This is due to the belief that the male child will carry on the family name while a girl will grow to marry and adopt her husband’s surname. Women are tormented by their husbands or inlaws to bear male children. 

Women and girls do not share from the family inheritance nor get a piece from the husband’s inheritance. If a woman doesn’t have a boy child her in-laws set off to be the next of kin, even if she and her husband jointly acquire the wealth, except he writes a will that grants her access. 

Glory conceived again and again, hoping for a son. Instead, she has been blessed with five adorable girls.

“I can still remember how I prayed at night and fasted for days that God should bless me with a boy so that my husband can be happy” Glory recalls. 

Being industrious, Glory opened a mini-mart from the savings she gathered from her hawking business and proceeded to open a fabric store in Terminus market (the Jos main market) years after. John’s violent tendencies reduced as Glory became more successful. He supported her when she bought land. After Glory completed the building, John quit his cab business to manage his wife’s business and she allowed him to control the entire business.

When Glory got pregnant again, she delivered a baby boy. It was a joyous moment in her life, but little did she know that it would unfold a new phase in her life.

* [not real names] sources pleaded to remain anonymous

Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Sign Up to Our Newsletter

Be the first to know the latest updates