By Angel Nduka-Nwosu.
I grew up Christian and was raised attending a very close-knit community church. My childhood memories are still coloured largely by night vigils, house fellowships and child dedications. I loved the last one because the rituals involved in naming a child in church have always fascinated me. From the names themselves to the sprinkling of holy water right to the point where parents were asked what they intended the child to be, it is something that has held me in awe and inexplicable delight.
Growing up, I noticed that compared to male children, the dedications of baby girls were not celebrated as much or held in high regard by the church members. They often spoke about the birth of female children in pitiable terms. Some would go as far as telling the mother of the baby “miracle” stories of ultrasound scans changing twin girls to twin boys amidst the food and fanfare; often as a way of encouraging her, I suppose. Though some of these women sharing these stories were educated, they too would offer the mother prayer tips and what to do in order to get a male child. I thought all of it ridiculous and when I discovered later on in my Biology classes that it was men who made women pregnant and determined the sex of the baby, I was all the more infuriated.
There was another group of reactors to the birth of baby girls though. These ones often encouraged the mother to love her daughter not necessarily because she was a child deserving of love, but because this female child would be a great source of domestic help when older. This comment was said especially if the baby girl in question was the first child. If a family was known to have female children alone, this group would go on to tell the father to be of good faith especially seeing as he would be the primary beneficiary of their bride prices. In essence, he should take them in because they were a compromise on the journey to more wealth and economic growth.
Now, both groups are wrong in how they receive and respond to the birth of female children. Female babies must be accepted as human first not as help, rewards or even those whose bride prices would be used to lift the family out of poverty. Female children are not tools whose lives primarily center the upliftment of other people often at the expense of their wellbeing. A female child is as worthy and deserving of being treated in a way that does not reduce her humanity to a consolatory prize. Or worse to one that is viewed through the lens of something to be endured pending when a man would come to lift the “burden” off her parents through marriage.
I am the second girl. When I was born, my mother was told she was not a real woman and could only become a real woman when she gave birth to multiple boys. I have heard people praise my parents for training my sister and me in very good schools because to them our bride prices shall be higher seeing as we are of more value as educated women. It’s almost as if women and girls cannot simply exist as women and girls and still be worthy of respect and access to dignity/life-saving care. We have to prove our humanity even when educated and
we view our education not as something that every human needs but as that which we should be extra grateful for receiving because we are women.
The theme for this year’s International Women’s Month, is #ChooseToChallenge. For me, I have decided to go back to the basics of my feminism and challenge the seemingly small things that ultimately mark women as less than human. Two of such are son preference and the disparity in the education of female children. I am of the strong opinion that daughters must feel wanted right from birth. I am also of the very strong opinion that we start creating new cultural practices that will eradicate the pressure put on women to birth male children primarily to continue a lineage.
As we celebrate Women’s Month, as Nigerians we must question why we have placed the power of life and death of a family history/lineage in the hands of male children. We must question why we view children as extensions of us not as full people. We must question why even though women do most of the backbreaking work needed to keep a family legacy intact, women’s names are often erased even from the family trees where they are married into. We must also question why women have reduced say in naming processes; whether their own names or those of their children.
Nigerian women matter. We matter and we will always matter. It is time Nigerian cultures start from the root and treat daughters not as consolatory prizes but as those whose existence shall be of great value in the shaping of our nation’s wellbeing and history.
About the writer: Angel Nduka-Nwosu is a writer, multimedia journalist and editor. She is a graduate of English Studies from Babcock University. Her work as a writer and journalist has been seen in YNaija, Kito Diaries, AFREADA, The Girls Like Me and Gumbo Magazine to name a few. She has also worked as a researcher for media organizations like BBC Africa and has edited creative work for writers like Jesutomisin Ipinmoye. Currently, she is a freelance writer, editor and journalist. You can engage her for collaborations or editing work via her Twitter and Instagram.