“I don’t know which party my wife belongs to, but she belongs to my kitchen and my living room and the other room.”Muhammadu Buhari (President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria)
These were the unforgettable words of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari in October 2016, while standing next to Chancellor Angela Merkel, one of the most powerful women in the world. To the average Nigerian, such controversial comments were not much of a surprise. To the average traditionalist, it was simply an assertion of ingrained cultural beliefs. To countless young women aspiring for the presidency, such a sexist statement was a blow to the chest, a public affirmation that there was still so much work to be done.
Nigeria, a land boasting rich, bountiful culture in which we hold immense pride, is unfortunately a nation still riddled with cultural beliefs that systematically disfavour women, economically, socially and politically. However, as a modernised society and as cultures and religions evolve, it is apparent that the cause of this disparity is the automatic disadvantage allotted to women, resulting from a cycle of systematic oppression. In a paper by Oluwakemi D. Udoh of Covenant University, Nigeria, it is suggested that the prevailing discrimination against women has no religion backing, but is a misguided exploitation of the low educational status of women in Nigeria.
President Muhammadu Buhari’s comment is a direct mirror into his mindset: women’s primary functions are to provide for the man and the household. As many women have been able to break free and shatter limits, attaining corporate and state power, the glass box for women in politics makes the option of presidency in Nigeria a feat women can only dream of.
With a hopeful heart I ask, is smashing out of the political glass box as a Nigerian woman even possible? Will we ever witness a woman rise to Aso Rock in Nigeria?
The endless cycle
The power of representation cannot be taken for granted. Up until minority groups began to see proper representation in the media, it seemed nothing was missing. The absence of female presidents in Nigeria, subtracts the joy and encouragement in which proper representation comes with. There are no standards or role models to show young women such as myself that attaining such power is near possible. This lack of representation feeds the strength of the glass box, making it even harder and limiting women even more. It’s like this: a young African screenwriter starting off, and who is ready to showcase the depth of African culture in a realistic way may find it difficult or otherwise discouraging at first if no similar movies had ever made the cut. The idea may end up being saved for a later date, or put off entirely and substituted for a script easier to swallow, at least until they reach the top. This is exactly how the lack of representation by female presidents feels. In Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s work, We Should All Be Feminists, she states, “We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls, you can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful. Otherwise, you would threaten the man.”
No other woman has ever been president, or even come close to such a possibility, why not opt for the option which is easier for society to stomach, that is avoiding presidency entirely?
As quoted by BBC News Africa, “Women, on the other hand, get a discount – half price for the APC or totally free if you want to try your luck with PDP. But neither party has ever nominated a woman since the return of democracy in 1999 and only one woman, Sarah Jibril, has run in the primaries. She gained just one vote in the 2011 contest.”
Besides reforming the idea of gender roles and promoting further education for the girl child, one of the solutions that seem to have the most potential, is for major political parties in Nigeria, such as APC and PDP, to put women at the forefront of their presidential campaigns. Unfortunately in a political society, this is highly difficult. “Men are more likely to believe men”, says Chimamanda Adichie. The Nigerian society might find it easier to swallow the possibility of a woman being the president if she has the full backing of trusted politicians or major political parties. Imagine if both APC and PDP represent fully capable women as presidential candidates, with the best education, meaningful ideas, speaking skills, diplomacy, wisdom, and other qualities. There might just be a chance.