Being a Nigerian woman who lives outside of Nigeria, trying to understand the complexities and diversity of Nigerian women’s experiences who live in the country is both easy and difficult. Easy because Nigerians tend to retain aspects of culture even when they grow up away from the country – it’s a dominant national identity in many ways. But it’s difficult because you can’t claim something that is not yours – and the experience of being a Nigerian woman in Nigeria is not the same as one who is in Diaspora.
Nigerian women have taken to Twitter to express their frustration with the sexism that is sometimes cultural, sometimes adopted from the historical relationship with colonization. Either way, it that shows sexism is a global phenomenon. But it is also culturally and nationally specific in particular ways that are dependent on space and time. Indeed, while the tweets are most reprieve for the many women who share their experiences – which are diverse – they are too an education for all of us.
[Note: “Ashewo” is a Yoruba word that has come to be used in national vernacular that means “prostitute literally. But is used to call women “loose” or a as synonym for slut.]
[Note: “Oga” can have many meanings depending on context, but in this case means, “boss,”]
What we’ve learned here is that Nigerian women are expected to be smart but not too smart. Because being too smart would mean that you’ll likely “end up alone.” That is not unique to Nigeria. We’ve also learned that domestic abuse is a huge problem – and that the burden falls on the women to “prevent” it by not “provoking the man they’re with. I think that it is not unique to Nigeria but the way it manifests itself in Nigeria is specific to the country. We’ve learned that there are cultural expectations for morality that mostly have more expectations from women than men. The list goes on; sometimes uniquely cultural, sometimes globally relatable.
Culture is a hard thing to break. But it is not impossible. Indeed as I recall, Chimamanda Adichie said once in a speech, “Culture does not make people; people make culture.” I love Adichie, I consider her one of the best writers of our time but the cultural student and scholar in me disagrees with this. As human experiences have evolved, I contend that the relationship between culture and people is circular; they create each other. People are partial products of their culture, and indeed they participate in it and are therefore also creators. Indeed Nigeria needs people who change the culture as much as it needs a culture that will change the people.
#WhatItsLikeToBeFemaleInNigeria is trending. Let’s hope that it is not just a mere trend that will pass in time. But perhaps the start of a much-needed cultural revolution for many a woman In Nigeria.