My father was a ‘woman wrapper’, which in plain English means ‘a hands-on domesticated‘ husband and father.
As a young girl, who grew up and lived the first 15years in an underserved community in Benin city, Nigeria, I was very embarrassed by my father.
You see, the sight of a man:
accompanying his wife to the market;
chatting with her in a communal kitchen;
never raising his voice or his hand against her; and
accompanying her to the delivery room - only returning after she had given birth to my now 16-year-old sister,
was a sore sight in my Community;
The men in my community; the fathers of my friends were ‘emperors’ - they ruled their homes:
they physically beat their wives,
hung out all day, and only returned home to eat; mostly drunk.
And, when their wives needed to give birth, the husbands send for their mothers or sisters-in-law to accompany them.
Why couldn’t my father be more manly, (I don’t mean by beating my mom though); but why couldn’t he just be a ‘real man?’ He was educated – a veterinary practitioner, my mother didn’t have much education, he was the breadwinner, my mother was a petty trader. He was the man and head of the family. He just didn’t show it the way his contemporaries did.
A few years later, I realised just how wrong I was in my notion of manliness and masculinity, and how, even though my father took time to explain to me why gender assigned roles could be wrong and unfair to both genders, I still didn’t think differently about it. I felt a deep need to apologise to him. By this time, he had passed.
But, what is patriarchy and how does it affect us?
Patriarchy, is ‘a system of society or government in which men hold the power and women are largely excluded from it.’
Patriarchy dictates that it is the mans God given right to rule.
Patriarchy promotes the notion that the male gender is superior and female gender have no say in societal administration and decision making. Pursuing this type of dogma sometimes, and often times engender gender-based violence when some people challenge or act in ways that do not conform with their ‘so called’ assigned gender roles.
Patriarchy limits our experiences, as men and women, to go through life as humans, compassionate, feeling, exploring. It leads us into believing we are and should be stiff, never question, never curious, never adventurous. It tells us that there is only one way to be a man or a woman, and anything outside of that is unacceptable, even Shameful.
It tells us there is nothing else to be other than a man or a woman - how limiting.
Sadly, the situation hasn’t changed much from what it was over 15 years ago.
From Ajegunle, to Kibera, from Sogunro to Soweto, and Alapere to Bouer, women and girls are socialised almost into being blinded to patriarchy. It would seem, that men and boys, from a young age, are entrusted with the responsibility of fixing the world and leading their families with an iron fist; and that their manliness was in question, if they didn’t.
While boys were socialised to aspire to leadership roles, within their families, communities, states and countries, many girls could only aspire to be good wives and mothers and homemakers, and caregivers. They have been socialized to fit in even before they realised what their gender was and who they were.
But is this a Nigerian or an African problem only?
Not at all - Last year, I was in Canada studying with 23 amazing women from 20 countries worldwide. I was fascinated by the diversity and commonality that bonded us. So when a colleague approached me about co-producing a video featuring these women just sharing their everyday experiences and perception of patriarchy, it was such an honour.
What I did find, and what you would find, if you watch that video on YouTube, is that patriarchy affects us all – men, women, black, white, no matter our professions or status. Patriarchy and its ideals is keenly woven into the fabric of our societies and only a deliberate calculated effort would rip it right out.
However, there was a peculiar case; one of the woman who didn’t participate stated that ‘there’s no patriarchy in my society or country’.
Really? The thing with patriarchy is that it is so deeply entrenched, firmly embedded and finely ingrained in our culture and values, religions and traditions, our socialization and education that we often become too blinded to notice or even recognise it.
It is the reason for example, why many women and men didn’t vote Remy Sonaiya for president at the last Nigerian presidential election, not because they thought she was unqualified, but maybe because, they believed a man, who had
some macho (military) background would do a better job.
In many ways, men are not only the gatekeepers to women’s issues, they still have the decision making capacity to make laws and policies that would benefit and uplift women.
There is something wrong with this picture.
This, no doubt in my mind is why the bill guaranteeing equal opportunities for women as men was vehemently voted down a few months ago by the Nigerian senate, made up of 90% men.
I believe this is also the reason, why every community I have visited and worked with has only had had male tour guides, even though we were there to really get to know the women and girls and the issues confronting them on a daily basis.
So what is the solution?
To achieve a just and equitable world, devoid of patriarchy and inequality, we must make a deliberate effort to empower women and girls with education, skills set and the know how to speak up, assert their rights and live their truths, in line with SDG Goals 5; 10 and 16.
We need to promote and encourage women who lead or who aspire to leadership positions,
Another way we could stand up against patriarchy is to recognize that there is a problem. That patriarchy is a problem. How? By questioning our reason for making decisions that affects men and women, boys and girls, no matter what context it presents in.
For example, why would you rather wear your daughter pink and your son blue, why would you rather buy your daughter a doll and your son a toy car, bike or gun? And why would you rather vote a man than a woman, even when she comes qualified and highly recommended?
Why do you assume the driver in front of you is a woman, because, they are not driving as rough or as fast as youd like them?
Taking little steps to address these ingrained biases by deliberately questioning your motivations is a great step to ending patriarchy.
On the back of this is the need to consciously raise our children differently. The double standards that inherently defines and dictate how we raise our children is a major contribution to the problem, I realise, am not the first to believe or say this.
In one of her famous talks, Chimanmanda Adichie talks extensively on this.
And when, we meet men who are ‘women wrappers’ like my father, we must stand in solidarity with them, encourage them and hold them up high as role models. Lest they become endangered species.