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Fear: the Enemy of Gender Equality

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?…As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” — Marianne Williamson

A woman’s fate is determined by men and women who play God. Her first gift is a doll-named-Baby with which she rehearses home maker, wife and mother. She is groomed to be a ‘proper woman’ — the silent one when the men are talking. All these in preparation for her husband’s house; is that not where all ‘good’ women end? A woman’s worth is defined first by her father, then her husband and last by the children she bears. She’s more blessed if she bore boys. If it’s a girl child, irrespective of her career success, she has to follow her mother’s steps. A ‘good woman’ doesn’t break the cycle! That’s not all, these ‘inequality gods’ add spice to her lifespan with other tough stops like the lack of freedom of choice; gender discrimination; rape and assaults of all kind. A woman should not allow these ‘inequality gods’, be they spiritual, economic, political or social, to script her life and that of her daughters.

I wish I could say the solution to gender equality is education but women are being educated so much so that they reach challenging heights, yet how much has changed is debatable. I wish I could say that it’s more opportunities. Yes, let there be 50:50 opportunities in politics for instance and wait for women to bell the ‘political’ cat. I wish I could say more sexual freedom—free distribution of female condoms; freedom to keep or abort a pregnancy; freedom to marry or choose not to. Wait a minute, do all these translate to equality? I dream of a gender equal society but wake up with questions.

There have been gender conferences; gender equality policies enshrined in constitutions; gender activism by many organizations; gender equality has a prestigious number three seat on the Millennium Development Goals Document—these show that it’s acknowledged that gender inequality has to stop but what I would like to ask is how? I am tempted to say that gender equality lies in the sincere intentions of the government and the civil society but that’s not sufficient. A woman has to strive for it, especially through her decisions. The journey is not for the faint-hearted. That’s why I think the sole enemy to gender equality is fear.

In Nigeria, women like Margaret Ekpo famous as the first female politician; Funmilayo Kuti, the first woman to drive a car; Grace Alele Williams who obtained her PhD in Mathematics in 1963; Queen Amina of Zaria who ruled Zaria; the Egba women who fought against imposed taxation in 1939 as well as the Ekiti women who stripped to their waist to protest election malpractices in 2009—fought inequality with every drop of blood in their veins. For each of these exemplary women, there is some other woman aware of her rights but is too afraid to act. Education is good; freedom from social structures makes sense; cultural emancipation is liberating; but my question is what happens after these as we still seem far away from our objective?

Every time I want to raise gender questions through my Facebook status, it takes me longer. Not that I want to put my question in the best words but because I spend time thinking whose ox would be gored. I fear some friends would ‘blacklist’ me as that ‘trouble making girl’ that should just shut up. I fear that a man who would love me for who I am would step back. Hilarious, isn’t it? I also fear creating a scene if I raise my voice against the boys who indulge in a bout of teasing or groping at women in the market. I’ve made scenes because I learnt that fear kills the woman silent in the face of tyranny. If we don’t raise a voice, who will?

Fear has held women down for too long. Fear of what people will say. Fear of the unknown, of the society. Fear of not being heard. Fear of not getting another man to marry silences a raped girl. Fear grips not only women; it claws deep in the brains of men too. Men fear that a woman—the one who pees from behind, the weaker sex—would be equal with them. Fear rules the world and keeps us fixed on a spot though it seems we are moving.

Women may be educated and gender-conscious but the real story at the home front might come to the observer as a shock. We should ask—how is a girl raised? Why is she raised to be another ‘good woman’? Why is a girl not brought up to be fearless? Let’s return to the cradle and answer these questions with sincerity. We should change the way we nurture our future generations so they have liberated minds, thus creating an equal world for all. Mothers should be courageous to raise brave girls comfortable in their skins with strong voices to say NO to inequality.

In Buchi Emecheta’s Joys of Motherhood, Nnu Ego the main character laments when she realizes that she has lived for others but herself. To quote her, “God when will you create a woman who will be fulfilled in herself, a full human being, not anybody’s appendage?” In response, that complete woman is you and me—educated or illiterate; rich or poor regardless of nationality. For ‘complete women’ to live in a gender equal world, courage is important.

As a woman, learn that nobody will give you equality.
You just have to decide that you are taking it.
Be fearless and then take it!


* Marianne Williamson, A Return To Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles, Harper Collins, 1992. (Pg. 190-191)
* Buchi Emecheta, The Joys of Motherhood, African Writers Series, 1994. (Page I82)

The essay is on the WLP website here:
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