It’s Not Just Boko Haram—Women in Nigeria Have It Rough

Everyday instances of sexism point to ingrained cultural discrimination.

(Photo: PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/Getty Images)

Jul 1, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

Life as a Nigerian woman includes being treated like a prostitute for entering a hotel, requiring a man to cosign a home rental, and being offered fashion magazines instead of hard news.

All of these instances of sexism, along with tens of thousands of others, were brought to social media light with the hashtag #BeingFemaleInNigeria.

The idea came out of a book club discussion of We Should All Be Feminists, a personal essay written by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Her stories of gender discrimination—from childhood to adult life—resonated with the group of 10 women and five men.

“We all started discussing our experiences, and then we thought, ‘This should go to a wider group,’ ” club member Florence Warmate told BuzzFeed. “If no one talks about it, it just escalates, and it becomes a normal thing that happens to everyone. So we wanted to spread this fire.”

With a tweet from Warmate to kick it all off on Tuesday afternoon, Nigerian women and men joined the conversation to detail instances of sexism large and small.

Gender bias isn’t limited to Nigeria alone, but these tweets stem from the institutionalized sexism in the country, which has one of widest gender gaps in the world. Taking into consideration economic, education, health, and political opportunities for women, Nigeria received a cumulative ranking of 118 out of 142 countries evaluated in the World Economic Forum’s 2014 report. Looking at education opportunities alone, that score drops to 134, with only eight countries faring worse when it comes to sending girls to primary school.

So, Why Should You Care? Barriers to girls’ education perpetuate the cycle of discrimination and injustice. Sending a young girl to school is not without risks in Nigeria, as evidenced by the mass kidnapping of schoolgirls by Islamic militant group Boko Haram in a rural area. In cities, girls may miss out on school because of high fees or because they’re forced to help out with housework.

Higher levels of schooling allow women to enter the workforce and contribute financially to their families. With money and education comes the potential for power and political office. Nigeria has never had a female head of state and has an all-male national assembly. More women in politics can lead to real legislative changes that favor women’s rights.

But these tweets prove that gaining power in Nigeria will prove difficult, as men are taught that powerful women threaten their masculinity.