by Ozzy Etomi

A few weeks ago, I hired a new lady cook/steward, first female in my house, and the best stewardess I ever had. During her interview, she told me she had a husband and children and thus needed to commute every day. From all that was left unsaid, I figured with her new salary, she would be raking in more money than her husband. Her closing time was 6 pm everyday, and one day, by her choice, she stayed a bit later as she was finishing up. The next day she never showed up. I called her concerned, as she had never been late and she tearfully explained to me that her husband had forbidden her from leaving the house. Dumbfounded, I asked, “why?” She said she had gotten home late last night and he thought it was disrespectful, and he had to have a think on whether or not he would allow her to continue working, but for today she was forbidden from leaving the house. Long story short, she never came back to work.

Today, a bill for gender equality was presented in front of Senate, and it was summarily dismissed, and thus, not passed.

The bill was proposed to protect women’s rights against any gender discrimination in education or employment.

The bill called for the elimination of discrimination against women in marriage and protection of widows and children (in regards to inheriting her husband’s property, and also becoming the primary custodian of her children).

The bill seeks to deplete all forms of violence against women including domestic abuse, rape, and sexual violence.

This proposal was reportedly met with a resounding and thunderous “NO!” from the senators (over 90% male) present.

What sort of country fails to protect the rights of its citizens?

One in which religion and tradition are men’s ultimate weapons in the oppression of women, of course. One must laugh at the absurdity of a legal hearing in which counter arguments are based on personal religion and cultural beliefs. Senate Leader, a Mr. Ali Nduma, believed he had cracked the reason for all this “confusion” regarding a woman’s place in marriage which, in his opinion, had to do with people not sticking to one belief system:

“The problem we have is the combination of our traditions and new religious beliefs. You will find an Igbo man who cannot speak Igbo language because he studied abroad. He will do traditional marriage then go to church again to get married in the church. The church wedding says if you marry, the couple become one while the Igbo tradition says when you marry a wife, she becomes your property. So when issues come up after the marriage, you now wonder which one to take.”

I will go a step further and actually say instead that the problem we have is not being able to isolate our basic human rights from our religious and cultural ones. Your great-great-great grandfather may have cooked up some cock and bull rules in his mudhut while chewing kolanut and flogging his five wives, and equally the Bible, the Koran, the Torah might tell you that women can be used as decorative carpets in their spare moments, but none of these should bear any precedent in the laws of the state, which should only be created to serve the people and their rights. The idea that a woman should not have any rights or be protected by law, in 2016, beggars belief and shows you the extent of ignorance women have to deal with on a daily basis in a country that believes a woman is nothing but property to be exchanged between men.

Where are all these hardcore religious and cultural beliefs when these same individuals are stealing the country blind and engaged in every form of corruption available?

I was not surprised to see that Senator Yerima (who married a thirteen-year-old bride a few years ago, to his eternal shame) fiercely opposed the bill which he claims goes against Sharia law, which is regarded in the Nigerian constitution, but I was happy to see a few other senators speak up for the bill like Ike Ekeremadu, who rightly stated that successful countries were those in which women were given opportunities.

It is a travesty that women have to live with the continued ignorance of this nation. One in which widows and children are pushed out of their homes by greedy family members who are somehow convinced a man’s life’s work belongs to them and not to his immediate family. One where women will continue to be beaten and battered in their homes, while their husbands do not have to reap any consequences. One in which a man can abandon his family and create another one freely, without being held accountable for his children’s welfare. One in which our constitution actually allows a man to “discipline” his wife. One in which women are continually disgraced, disparaged, discriminated against, sexually harassed, abused, blamed, treated unfairly based on convenient misinterpretations from holy books and centuries-old traditions that no longer have any place in any civilized society.

I for one am sick and tired. I have witnessed countless women become shells of their former selves, weighed down by vicious societal rules and oppressive male presence. I wonder what is so scary about giving women a voice. Why are these men so afraid of empowering their women?

Is it because a woman who is a free independent thinker, who has financial freedom, isn’t held back by societal, traditional, or religious gender rules, and is backed by the law, makes men feel powerless? Are they really so panicked over not being able to order women around, keep them enslaved in the kitchen and away from employment, while slaking their lusts freely and effectively holding these women to ransom?

“When you are accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression”

To anyone who thinks this is not their problem, it is all our problem. We cannot continue to care only about the things that directly affect us. The quick and severe dismissal of this bill shows that we are a long way away from achieving women and children’s rights in our society. It sends the wrong message; taking an even more solid stand on the idea that women are worthless chattel who will receive no protection or support from the government. It co-signs the reckless endangerment of women and children everywhere. It is irresponsible and ridiculous. It tells the lady cook/steward, a grown woman with an able body and a brain who is earning a living to feed her family, that she should sit home when ordered to do so by her master-husband, because he has the final say over her life decisions, according to the Bible or according to his village.

Yet, we keep “praying” for a better Nigeria.