The Unintentional Mistake: How Parents Unknowingly Promote Gender Inequality in Nigeria
Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa, with a population of 190 million people. 49% of this population are women, as revealed from the last population census in 2006. However, despite women being the highest population, the culture of patriarchy and male chauvinism is the social norm. In 2020, Nigeria ranked 128th out of the 153 countries in the 2020 Global Gender Gap Report, revealing the high level of gender inequality in Nigeria. Sadly, gender inequality is seen as an acceptable way of life. As a result, one gender is given more power than the other.
Unfortunately, even young children exhibit acts of gender inequality in their behaviours and utterances in schools, playgrounds and places of worship. I always asked myself, “who told the three years old boy he is stronger than his elder sister because he is a male”? What makes that young teenager believe he is the sole heir to the family inheritance? What can we say about the Darwinism origin of species and natural selection? Is this also in place? Can we also put into perspective Bandura’s social learning principles? All of these put the burning concerns about the default settings of patriarchy over matriarchy. In my quest for specific answers, I discovered it all started in the “family”, right in the home.
Our parents unintentionally taught us that “males are superior to females” by their actions and words. Gender inequality has been practiced and passed down from one generation to the other. Ashley Montagu, a great British anthropologist, said, “the family is the basis of the society, as the family is, so is the society”. The family makes up society.
It begins from birth. In Nigeria, parents celebrate a male child’s birth more than a female child. Parents provide more tender care to the male child and go as far as telling the female siblings that the male child is the bearer of the family name and future. The household chore is seen as the female’s domain, so the girl is given more work in the house because she is told that “she is a home keeper and will grow up to be a housewife”. The girl child is already conditioned for marriage right from childhood. Adichie wrote, “we condition girls to aspire to marriage, but we don’t condition boys to aspire to marriage, so there is already a terrible imbalance at the start”. Girls are told and conditioned to compromise everything for their male partners. Then the males are prioritized in education. The boys go to school while the girls help their mothers at home, farm or market. The boys are encouraged to build interest in politics and take up leadership roles, while the girls are told they are followers and cannot lead. Even in nursery and primary schools, the class/house captains are primarily boys. From a tender age, the boys have the freedom to go anywhere at any time, while the females are not allowed to leave the house at any time. A male folk is told to protect his sisters even though he is the youngest of them all. Parents share information and consult with the male children in making decisions in the family but neglect the females. The action of parents naturally communicates the message of patriarchy to the children.
Unintentional stereotyping of one gender through words is very common in Nigeria and is seen as casual, but it makes an everlasting impression in the hearts of the boys and girls. Statements like “why are you crying like a girl”? Quite a pathetic way of describing actions as weak and aligning such actions to the feminine gender, describing the female gender as an emotional piece that needs succour. “Why are you behaving like a girl”? Questioning the nature of one’s behavior as a strategy to make one wake up from a weak feminine associated state. “Don’t you know you are a man? You are worthless for letting a girl come top of the class”, as though academic prowess is meant for men alone. These statements begin to shape the thought pattern and behavior of the male child towards dominance and the females towards weakness. It all begins right from the Home.
The human system is not devoid of learning, especially in children at this stage of development. Anything the parents do influences the children either consciously or unconsciously. The human mind is adroit and takes cognizance of everything placed on it. Parents must do more if we need to take this challenge to bring equality to our society. Most importantly, start by showing equal love to your children, eliminating any form of gender roles in the home, and then giving them an equal opportunity as they all have equal rights. Parents should discourage patriarchy and promote gender equality in the best possible ways.