Growing Up: Culture could not stop us

otahelp
Posted October 7, 2016 from Nigeria

My birthplace lags behind economically, socially, culturally and politically especially as it concerns the lot and life of women and girls. In my earlier blog titled “My Community-Child Marriage: A Barrier to Girls’ Education” which the edited version made it to the “Girls Not Brides” website :http://www.girlsnotbrides.org/my-community-child-marriage-a-barrier-to-g..., I talked about blood rituals. My community is a patriarchal and closed community whose major source of livelihood is subsistence farming.

According to tradition, it prevents sexual promiscuity among married women. It is a violence against every young girl getting married to men from my birthplace, most times against the girls wishes and their would-be husbands as Christians; but their parents will go behind to perform it on their behalf.

Aside from outright sex with another man, if the woman’s hip or buttock is touched or her legs crossed over by another man while sitting or lying down accidentally or otherwise, she has committed a taboo and the ancestors will come for their pound of flesh.

Consequences of this blood rituals are

very difficult and prolonged labour pains until the woman confesses of her infidelity; after confession, there will be a cleansing ritual before the woman can deliver such delays could cause insanity and most times deaths. It attracts instant death or protracted undiagnosed illnesses for their husbands if he eats food prepared by his wife ignorant that the wife has been contaminated.

Civilisation, urban city movement and settlement have compounded the problems; which means congested environment in residential, markets, hospitals, shops and streets; people touch one another unknowingly, thereby making it more difficult for women to maintain the status quo. These practices have denied so many women from progressing beyond being a school teacher which is the safest profession for them and cannot engage in most recreational activities.

Growing up in an urban city was fun filled and exciting. My mother was a beautiful woman who had her early education uptill Standard 3 in a vocational school ran by Catholic Nuns. They were taught housekeeping, cookery, sewing and etiquettes aside other subjects, had us 8 girls and we did not notice that there was anything wrong with that until my father married a second wife and our once peaceful home turned to a battle front. From grapevine, we heard that for a woman to have all girls as children is a taboo. Societal and family pressure made my father go in for another wife. According to tradition, he needs a male child to continue his lineage.

As soon as my step mother stepped into our home the atmosphere of events changed. The tension could not only be felt but touched. Two women fiercely competing for the attention of one man and living in the same house was like being in a battle front. The story had it that, my step mother who did not want to marry my father, ran away so many times to her mother’s relatives in a bid to stop the marriage but on each occasion, she was returned to her parents which means they too were in the conspiracy. She had her own boyfriend whom she was looking forward to marrying but her parents wanted it otherwise. So, she was packaged to my father who already had 8 daughters (though the first daughter died when she was about 5 years) simply because he had affluence.

The feelings, thoughts, happiness and Rights of the young girl was not considered by anybody. But my people did not know anything about Human Rights, assuming they knew, would they have acted differently? No, I don’t think it would have changed their stance.

My step mother also had some level of education but I am not sure at what level she stopped, was given so much preference over my mother. She was given anything she so desired just to make her happy and prepare her to bear the family heir. That act opened my eyes that being a girl in a society with sons’ preference has so many disadvantages and made us girls form a more formidable bond though my father did not treat us differently. My father was pressured to divorce my mother outright with her hood of girls but he refused and still sent us to the best of schools to acquire good education, informing whoever cares to listen that the resources he is spending is his. He had series of meetings with us where his sole advice was that we take our education very seriously as that is the only window we have to prove to the world that we are capable. He always emphasised that we were living in a very hostile society but will not explain further maybe he did not know how to explain the war against female children.

We realised when we were grown of the severe and several battles my father fought to keep us in school and we did not disappoint him because we became life sustenance for him till he died.

There were many accusations and counter accusations because from what I understood later, my mother and step mother had series of miscarriages which was ascribed to “spirit-invoked” by both parties. Eventually, my father sent my mother and her children(us) to the village (usually known locally as “leave township”) to give the younger wife space to bear him a much-desired heir. To the glory of God, my mother was delivered of a baby boy before my stepmother; my mother was resilient and her faith in God gave her the strength to persevere in prayers as a Christian. My father took my mother back to the city and sent my stepmother to the village where she still resides now. In all these we remained in school except having to change school when my mother went to stay in the village and after she went back to the city.

We did not get married early like other girls because we were in school and we were labelled old maids but we all got married when we graduated from the university and doing well in our jobs and careers except that we lost one (1) of my sisters who was already working in the banking sector as a Customer Care Executive in that ill-fated Sosoliso Plane crash of December 10, 2005 that killed 60 Loyola Jesuit College students going home for Christmas holidays and others.

My father was a gender champion because he gave all his children (both boys & girls) to acquire good education. He encouraged others around him to do same but they did not heed and are living in regrets now. My family is one of the reference points now when it comes to women education.

Far from my vision of a society where girls and women are giving space to show case their potentials, young girls in my community take pride in being social mothers, which is adding to public health epidemic and a major impediment to global development efforts to reduce poverty. These girls have no less than 3 children in their parents houses thereby scaling up poverty. More mouth to feed and less economic power to do so. Most of them had the chance to go to school but dropped out when they became pregnant and could not go back after child birth, had no means of sustenance except to continuously sleep with men to take care of their immediate needs. This life style adds to HIV/AIDS, Cervical cancer and other Sexually Transmitted Infections prevalence.

Poverty is the root cause of unintended pregnancy and dropping out of school. Lack of mentorship and determination to work up their way through education adds up. They allow themselves be deceived by relationship of power imbalance (sugar daddies) as a means of making it big, dress up like other people they see.

My vision for young girls is to see them fully engaged without any form of limitation whether by culture, gender, race, colour age or race. The only way we can realise this by giving them the most desired education.

My organisation has designed, planned and implemented some interventions on Behavioural Change Campaign for these girls but lack of fund has been a challenge but we are not giving up. These girls need means of livelihood and sustenance. Proposals on economic empowerment interventions have been submitted to some community policy makers and we are waiting hopefully for a favourable response. From continuous engagements, these young mothers are ready to be trained to fend for themselves.

My organisation has opened a window of dialogue with two (2) community Leaders to see how this blood ritual tradition could be set aside as so many lives of young, vibrant and productive men & women have been lost thereby making more women widows, children fatherless and motherless and scaling up poverty.

There have been lone voices in the past that spoke against this evil practice but was drowned by culture and power imbalance. These lone voices and the prevalence of death of young men have spurred our organisation into action. Our engagement with women and young men focused groups show that more people are ready for it now than ever.

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