I had the privilege of growing up in a modern household. In the sense that even though I had Delta Ibo parents and 3 brothers; as an only girl, my parents did not view me as being lesser than my brothers. Yes, I was taught by my mum to cook and clean- as all girls are- but I also learned from my mum, to be just as engaging as the boys were, in affairs outside the “typical realm” of feminity. I think it was also easier, because I had a great example to learn from. I don’t think my mum would have ever described herself as a feminist- she was far too modest with words- but her actions could be said to reflect the spirit of feminism, in modern times. She was the quintessential “super woman”. She took care of the home-front with a passion that would rival that of the biblical Hebrew woman, and she was just as passionate (and shrewd) in business. Trained as a teacher- later getting involved in business- my mum was also a lifelong student. As a child, I saw my mum watch the news. I would hear her ask a million questions, even to us- her children. I saw her strive for perfection; but it was not in an aggressive manner, but in that simple, subtle, graceful approach that comes with being confident in one’s feminity, while also seeing one’s self as being just as capable as the opposite sex. Okay, enough about my mum now! So I said all that in order to trace the female path from childhood to adulthood, and to highlight those traits which are inherent in the typical African female, that inevitably set the tone for most of the female’s life. You see, I think I am the woman I am today, and think and act the way I do today, largely because (consciously and unconsciously) my mother “built” me to be this way! I was never told, “Buchi, you must become President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria”- no. But I was shown that I was just as valid and just as important as the boys, and that I could become just as successful and powerful, if I set my mind to it. My mother did well!
The funny thing though is that when I look at my life today and my interest in politics, I’m still somewhat amused. Growing up, I “thought” I wanted to become a pharmacist. And for that reason, I became a science student in secondary school. But you see, even though I “thought” at the time that I wanted to do pharmacy, a large part of me always knew the path I would eventually take in life. And so for some strange reason, I took history classes…and I took literature classes…and I would stand at the window during government classes from time to time, listening with rapt attention. There was just something about policy-making and the act of governance that always appealed to me- and then I wrote, too. You see being a girl child in Africa, you are trained to serve. Serving one’s parents and siblings in childhood prepares the girl child to serve her future husband and children. The dynamics involved in the tutelage of this service in childhood, may be seen as “backward behavior…something reminiscent of cave-man days” by our counterparts in the western world. But I think that if balanced with a wholesome view of individuality as opposed to teaching the female child to simply be subservient because of gender, the tutelage of service can prepare the female for a life in politics and governance. And for me, that is what it did.
You see, the female child learns to not just serve, but to preside over her household. She is taught this in a much understated manner because “father is King”; but she quickly comes to see that the home basically ceases to function efficiently, without female supervision. The man may have brought home the money, but the woman makes the plans as to how it is spent. She oversees the implementation of the technicalities that run family life; then she gives feedback to her husband. A woman in her home is akin to a politician in the domain of public service; bestowed with resources to improve the lives of the citizenry, but also held accountable to them at the same time! The girl child is trained for public service!
So seeing as this is so, one then wonders, “Why are more women not involved in governance, when the very nature of their upbringing prepares them for this?” Good question. In the old days, one would answer by saying that unwritten rules and regulations which translated into normal ways of traditional life, were the reason why women did not take part in governance outside the household. In the old days, a woman found her worth in her husband; and he became her mouthpiece in public domains. She may speak to him within the confines of their home, but he spoke for her when in view of the watching public. She would lay with him at night, but would sit by his feet at daylight. Such were the days of our forebears. Today though, the woman is “liberated”- I chuckle as I say this. The African girl child is still brought up and guided by the “principles of African feminity”, but she is no longer restricted by the barriers of gender. Actually, she refuses to be! The African woman today is mostly learned. She may be a wife and mother, but she is also a career woman. She is politically conscious, just as much as she is “home” conscious; and even though she may keep up with Beyoncé, she also keeps up with the actions of the politicians in the Capital! The reason why this “liberated” African woman does not take her place in the sphere of public governance is not because she is not capable enough…it is because even though times have changed, the status quo has not moved at equal pace. The systems of government in Africa (and some other parts of the world) are more receptive towards men…and when you reflect on the fact that these systems were designed by men, then you are not surprised! Nigerian women clamor for 35% representation in government; but when you think of it, if women make up 51% of the population, then the percentage representation being clamored for, is grossly disproportionate and unfair. But sadly, it is still not given! I find that the “rare” Nigerian female politician is usually propped up by the influence of her powerful husband. In rarer cases though, the unmarried (or married ) outstanding female technocrat may be appointed to public service solely by virtue of merit- as she should be- but this phenomenon whenever it happens, is not the norm, but rather an oddity! The African man even though he recognizes the capability of the woman, to a large extent, still does not see her as being capable enough to lead him in government! I know that there were great female leaders in historic Africa- Queen Amina of Zazzau, the great warrior queen; and Egypt’s Queen Nefertiti come to mind- but they were very few. I know that there are great female politicians in Nigeria and Africa today- hello there, Abike Dabiri and President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia- but they are still so few. Nevertheless, despite their little numbers, women like me are proud of their achievements, guided by their examples, and hopeful to one day walk in their paths, and even surpass their achievements. We are hopeful that we would become the new norm.
I would say to the Nigerian woman striving for public service, “you are just as capable”. In fact by virtue of your gender, I would venture further and dare to say, that “you are more than capable…actually, you are more capable; so don’t stop striving”. I would not give too much advice, because I am even yet striving, and have not yet fully attained. But I would give you one of my favorite quotes, which was spoken by the great Abraham Lincoln- “I will study and get prepared; and perhaps, my chance will come”. Study and get prepared. Nigeria has not yet had a female President. I reckon that day is coming. I reckon your chance will come!