Sometimes, one gets bogged down by so much bad news coming out of our obodo Nigeria that we run the risk of forgetting the good, and this past week had a lot of good. Especially for Naija women.
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala became the first African, first woman Director-General of the WTO. All over Twitter, Temi Giwa Tubosun’s #NOIGoestoWTO trended. Young women and little girls dressed up like NOI- her trademark gele, glasses and single strand necklace to boot – and made videos of themselves sending her messages of support. If there’s one thing we do well as Nigerians, it is to celebrate our own and to celebrate them well. It was a beautiful thing to behold the #AnkaraArmy. If I had the talent for gele-tying I would certainly have participated. Shebi Temi was giving the winner of the challenge N100 000? Plus who no wan celebrate such a massive achievement? Is it beans to be the Number 1 Boss of the WTO? To be its first woman and first African head in its 73 years of history? This is neither the place nor time to talk about what it says about the marginalization of women and of Africans, so I won’t say pim. Not one word. Not today. Not here. But what I’d say is that the joy it gives me to think of all the young girls that Okonjo-Iweala’s shattering of glass ceilings will continue to inspire has no part 2. It fills me up like jollof. It is a river overflowing its banks. And so, today is all celebration and jubilation and popping champagne and eating isi ewu. Naija women no dey carry last!
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In the same week that NOI was officially selected as the head of the World Trade Organization, three young Nigerian women made it (and deservedly so) to the coveted Times 100 list: Damilola Odufuwa, Odunayo Eweniyi and Feyikemi “FK” Abudu. Odufuwa and Eweniyi (founders of Feminist Coalition) and Abudu raised over $380,000 in two weeks to help #EndSARS protesters with food and legal aid and so on. In the same week, Ebi Atawodi, former Uber West Africa Manager announced her move to Netflix as Director of Payments, (Europe, the Middle East and Africa) and in Onitsha, my sister, Uche Onwuamaegbu welcomed a new group of bright, young girls to her STEM Academy for six weeks of a free digital literacy and coding programme. It was under Onwuamegbu’s mentorship that five female students from a secondary school in Onitsha won gold at the 2018 Technovation Challenge World Pitch Summit in Silicon Valley, defeating teams from several countries including the USA and China. And then to top off a really glorious week, my big sis., Mildred Okwo announced that her film featuring superstar Rita Dominic, La Femme Anjola, is dropping in March.
So yes, it’s been a brilliant week for Nigerian women. It’s the kind of week that makes one forget that there are many Nigerian girls who are not getting a chance to maximize their potentials. Nigeria has over ten million out-of-school children ( a whooping 45 % of all out-of-school Children in West Africa) and that six million of those ten million are girls. Further more, 43% of Naija girls are married off before the age of 18 and 16% before 15. Nigeria has the 11th highest number of ‘child marriages’ in the world, according to UNICEF. By the way, can we stop euphemizing the union of a grown man and a kid by calling it marriage? Child marriage is not a marriage because children cannot consent . It is statutory rape. Perhaps, if we used terms that did not sanitize the union, many more adult men would be forced to confront the naked truth of it and be shamed away from it. Recently, a guest posted a calendar they got at one such ‘wedding’. The calendar had a picture of the ‘couple.’ The man looked old enough to be the little girl’s grandfather. The girl herself looked scared. I don’t understand what would possess a whole grown man to look at a pre-pubescent girl and see anything else but a kid. While Nigeria’s Child Rights Act of 2003 states that children under the age of 18 cannot get married, a sub-section of the constitution (a clause in Section 29) says that “any woman who is married shall be deemed to be of full age.” How can it be illegal for children under 18 to marry but then marriage confers maturity upon them so it is impossible to prosecute men who marry children? Is that not speaking from both sides of your mouth? Luckily, even among our very young, Nigerian women are fighting to have this changed. In 2019, three teenage girls, Temitayo Asuni, Susan Ubogu and Kudirat Abiola started the NeverYourFault campaign to get the constitution changed.
Young girls like Asuni, Ubogu, Abiola; young women like Odufuwa, Eweniyi and Feyikemi “FK” Abudu; trail blazers like Onwuamegbu and NOI and so many other Naija women and girls, shining the light in big and small ways, some whose names we will never know, fill me with so much pride. More importantly, they also fill me with hope. I am reminded of this line from a poem by the Greek poet, Dinos Christianopoulos : “What didn’t you do to bury me / but you forgot that I was a seed.” Naija women? We thrive. We no dey carry last.