When in October last year, President Buhari said Aisha, his wife, "belongs to my kitchen, and my living room and the other room,” a good percentage of Nigerians (men and women) lambasted him for demeaning and derogating women. As condemnable as the comment was and still is, President Buhari was simply expressing a sexist resort that is still prevalent in Nigerian cultures. His comment captures the portrayal of women as undervalued group not just in the North, but also in Central, Eastern and Western Nigeria.

The irony, though is that most Nigerian men that ridiculed the President’s comments are also guilty of a conscious and systematic action used to derogate women as second class beings. They use a variety of intimidation tactics to scare their wives into submission, subject them to emotional abuse, including controlling what they can and cannot do, as well as isolating them from friends. Another irony is that most of the women that ridiculed President Buhari cannot stand up to their husbands when subjected to intimidation and domestic violence.

It was thus not surprising that President Buhari stubbornly maintained that his wife, belongs in the kitchen, even in the face of national outcry. He added that Aisha should stay out of politics. But Aisha has spoken. For daring to voice the genuine concern of the majority of Nigerians, Aisha Buhari should be seen and celebrated by Nigerian women (as well as men) as a symbol of courage.

This is especially relevant for the 2017 International Women’s day (IWD) which seeks to celebrate acts of courage and determination. By speaking up about the cabal that hijacked her husband’s administration, Aisha Buhari demonstrated a rare courage that encapsulates this year’s IWD theme: “Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50 by 2030”. 

The aim of this year’s theme is to consider how to accelerate some of the key targets of 2030 Agenda. These include; building momentum for the effective implementation of the goal to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls; ensuring inclusive and quality education for all, promoting lifelong learning and celebrating extraordinary women.

Nigerians should use the opportunity of the 2017 IWD to identify and celebrate ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in our communities. This brings to mind the Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG) group and the role of co-conveners Aisha Yesufu and Dr. Oby Ezekwesili. The blacksmith that does not know how to forge a metal gong should look at the tail of a kite. Aisia Buhari, Aisha Yesuf, Chimamanda Adichie, Dr. Oby Ezekwesili etc. are the kites Nigerian women should be looking at.

I was particularly thrilled by the power and stubborn determination exhibited by Aisha Yesufu in demanding the rescue of Chibok Girls. Even when they were asked to stop “acting like an opposition party” by Lai Mohammed, they increased the tempo of their demand by declaring that they will no longer accept “delays and excuses” from President Buhari on the release of the missing Chibok girls. Their persistence resulted in the release of some of the Chibok school girls.

The Nigerian political class should take the lead from these fearless women to ensure that by 2030, all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development so that they are ready for primary education. Every Nigerian child has the constitutional right to free and compulsory primary education, and free junior secondary education as recently ruled by a Federal High Court.

Nigerians should use this year’s IWD day to change the way we treat girls, especially house helps. We should treat our housemaids humanely. We should stand up for them when mistreated by our uncles, brothers and friends. We should ensure that those poor girls in our villages are not “forced” to work as housemaids or marry just to make ends meet. All it will take is small personal sacrifice. Just a weekend of resisting hanging out with our friends will be enough to save some money and give a poor girl an opportunity to at least finish secondary school.

To effectively eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls, especially in private spheres (including trafficking and sexual exploitation), Nigerian women should not allow long-aged dominance to weaken their consciousness.  Just like Aisha Buhari, they should speak out. They should come to the realization that their destiny is in their hands. Don't let anybody tell you that there are set paths for you to follow. Follow your heart and pursue your dreams.

The 2017 IWD is also an opportunity to reflect on the progress made by women in Nigeria. Already, Nigerian women are gradually taking over proceedings in education and civil service. The female population in all the higher institution in Nigeria is on the increase; male teachers are disappearing in our elementary and secondary schools; the civil service is being taken over by female employees as more men shy away from the low paying jobs.

Here is a warning to Nigerian men; the time for acting as "lord" in homes, communities and political sphere even in the face of glaring incompetence is coming to an end.  Nigerian women are coming. Some have even arrived, but not in the kitchen. The dire consequences of derogation of women can be seen in many broken homes where the woman in an attempt to protect her rights gets kicked out or opts out on her own.

As a matter of fact, some women are the once “kicking” themselves out of their matrimonial homes. Popular examples include Tiwa Savage and Tonto-Dike. Some woman have chosen to remain single and divorce rate continues to increase. The trend is fast spreading from developed countries where the rights of women are protected by law to developing democracies where such rights are still being trampled on. The women are no longer waiting. Their reasoning; I have a good job, I am educated, I can maintain myself and train my kids, I am a professional woman, so what?  This new trend is setting the stage for an imminent violent revolt.

Finally, the 2017 IWD should be a time for cultural reorientation and steps towards empowerment of our women. This will help create a better educated and enlightened society as well as good economic standing for families. It is either this is done to forestall the tragedy and clash ahead or we prepare to face the volatility of the violent mix.

I may be wrong, but the era of relegating the role of women to the kitchen or the other room is coming to an end.

You can email Churchill at [email protected] or follow on Twitter @churchillnnobi. 

Churchill Okonkwo

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