“Chineke m oh, o mugo akwunna ozo (Oh my God, she has given birth to a prostitute again!)”. This was the exclamatory remark of an elderly woman in a public bus, as she hissed and whispered under her breath, in Igbo, when told about her daughter-in-law gave birth to yet another beautiful baby girl.
After sensing that what she said must have been overheard by others, she pretentiously brightened up and said, “We thank God for this one.”
The woman’s reaction divided the crowd. Those offended by her words argued bitterly amongst themselves whether what she said was true or not while the woman at the centre of the storm pleaded earnestly that she was misunderstood. She later explained:
“I am not saying that women are prostitutes per se. I was reacting to the several problems that we face raising a girl-child in Nigeria. This is her fourth child and they are all girls.”
In many homes today, the view held by the elderly woman is quite a common one when it comes to the issue of raising a girl or female child.
Indeed, many families tend to be less excited when a baby girl is born. Some of the concerns being expressed include doubts about the continuance of the family lineage; the hope that she would not get pregnant before marriage or not find a suitable husband.
Some Nigerians who spoke to Daily Sun on the issue blamed not only culture for the stereotypes about the girl-child but also the social media for making things more difficult.
A father and mother’s stories
“I nearly died of heartache thinking of my female children,” said 65-year-old Samson Ndukwe, He shared the reason thus:
“God blessed me with five beautiful daughters and a son. Fortunately for me, they are all beautiful and that was how my problem started. I practically locked them inside the house and never allowed any male cousin to live with me.
It was only my son that was allowed to live in a boarding school simply because I was scared that my daughters would be abused. God was kind enough to have given me enough money to build a house and buy cars.
Still, I had no peace when they became teenagers. Everyman that came near them for whatever reason became a suspect and as we men are, the pressure was much on them. I had to provide everything that they asked of me because I was afraid that someone would give them that out there. This was how I managed till they entered the university.
I guessed the reason I was too protective was that as a young man, I was so popular among women. I had friends who were crazy and took delight in breaking the hearts of young women. My friends laughed at me when they learnt that I had five girls.
In the university, they had issues because of the way I trained them. I had to lock up one of their lecturers and I am proud to say that the incident led to his dismissal. He wanted my daughter to sleep with him in exchange for grades. This she refused.
I am grateful to God that three of them are married while the remaining two are in the university. It has not been easy; I will not complain about money because God blessed me with the much that is needed. It is now that I am enjoying because technically, I have handed over the stress to their husbands.”
Bimbo Oyekoya, a mother, insisted that raising a girl-child well in Nigeria is a very difficult task. She narrated:
“I don’t need to raise a girl-child to know the difficulties that exist. I am a woman and I know what I am passing through at the moment. Growing up, every boy wants to touch you in the wrong places. You are seen as an experiment and it takes God to keep you away from them.
It is not only about the consensual relationships but the fact that the girl can be a victim. I was one. I attended a mixed secondary school and because of my body structure, I had hips that drew all bad attention my way.
I was living in the boarding house. My mother kept warning me not to bring disgrace to the family. So I switched off from having any male friend in school. The bad boys got offended and set a trap for me. This was how I was defiled by four of them inside the school premises at the age of 15. I will forever live with that guilt. My parents changed my school because those evil boys made sure that the news was spread around.
As a parent, you are always scared of how your daughter would turn out. You are worried if she would get pregnant out of wedlock. Would she marry at all? And when she finally does, what are the chances that she would have kids? Married women who cannot conceive go through a lot.
In her workplace, what are the chances that she would grow in her job based on merit? It has nothing to do with religion or the way one dresses. I have a case study. The lady who is married does not apply makeup, wears long dresses, and braids her natural hair.
She is currently a housewife because her boss who suddenly became obsessed with her cannot take no for an answer. Generally, Nigeria is no longer a good place to raise children, no matter how many times you preach or counsel them, as soon as they get out there, the rotten society will automatically rubbish your efforts.”
Differing views on raising a girl-child
Mrs Adeola Ekine, chairperson of Nigeria Association of Women Journalists (NAWOJ) said she believes that there is a need for parents to let their daughters know that they are not a piece of property. She explained what she meant by that while at the same time seizing the opportunity to educate parents on what it takes to raise a girl-child.
“The challenges are quite enormous and as mothers, we have to be careful in making sure we don’t allow our girl-child to have low self-esteem. They are delicate; we put a lot of things in consideration. From the age of three, they should know their body parts; we should let them know it’s not for anyone to touch.
We should be careful and make them understand that it is for them and it’s their right to determine how it should be used. Remember they will grow breasts and start their menstrual cycle; we should let them know about these things on time.
Let them know how to take care of their body. Girls get mature more quickly than boys. So, at a tender age, they have a lot to deal with. We should also let them know that they will get married and get children. Let them know these early enough.
They should be comfortable in their body and know that they are blessings to the world. They should not lose their self-esteem because of their body. We should let them know that it is not only when they are with men that they are complete; we should sensitise them that they should be a self-sufficient individual on their own.
When they grow, it grows with them? Finally, as girls grow up, the parents should make it a duty for them to cook. But the boys will not sit around and play while the girls cook and clean the house. Mothers should learn to give responsibilities to their boys and not make it look like girls are servants to their male counterparts. That is what we have been advocating. They should not see them as a piece of property.”
Mrs Esther Agomuo, a woman confided in Daily Sun reporter said that she is not interested in having a girl child because of the enormous challenges that women face raising them. She stated her reason thus:
“This is the reason why I asked God to bless me with a son. You only worry about food, a few clothes, and good education. You are not scared when you see him playing with the opposite sex; the worst that can happen is that a girl will come with a child and alleges that he is the father.
It does not stop anything but the girl who opened her leg even if it’s consensual will be the one to suffer. She is the one that will drop out of school and face the shame alone because it’s her tummy that will grow.
It’s unfortunate especially in Nigeria; that is why the celebration of the birth of a male child is different from that of a girl. It’s so bad that parents prefer their sons to further their education and the girl to rush into marriage before or after her first degree.
The societal norms and beliefs make life difficult for them. This automatically affects the girl children who are also observant. The worst is the breed of men that we have in this country. They do not have respect for age anymore. They spend so much time and money to woo them making whatever story of contentment that you preach impossible. It’s now a crime to have a daughter and be poor.”
But contrary to Agomuo’s stance, Alhaji Sami Ahmed, a bureau de change operator in Lagos is of the belief that raising a male child is more challenging than raising a girl-child. He said he prefer the girl-child to the boy-child.
“They are sweet and are the ones who will care for you at your old age. Boys get distracted easily in their quest for money and women. It is even harder to be a man in Nigeria; society expects you to succeed. To raise a girl-child, all one needs is money and good guidance.
I have two daughters and I am so proud of them. I pray God will send good and responsible men their way. It is not easy to raise them but I still prefer a girl child to a boy. Boys are to continue the lineage of the family and this happens only in Nigeria.”
His love for girls, he said, is traditional. He shared further:
“I am from the north and we value our women more than the men. The only issue people tend to raise is early marriage and multiple wives. This is the choice of the man who wants to marry and the father who chooses to give out his daughter at a tender age. I am a Muslim, married to a wife and have four kids. It’s my choice and there are so many of us toeing that path.See Also
Things have changed, a lot of men and women are educated now and they know the importance of education. I spend more money on my daughters than I do on my sons. It’s because I am aware that they have more needs than men.
It’s even harder to be a man because for you to maintain your position as the head of the house and earn your respect, you need to work hard and succeed. It’s the reason why you see a boy who is 11 join a truckload of onions to Lagos without any plan or relatives at the point of arrival.
They move while the women stay back and are taken care of. There are challenges but it is not as stressful as raising a boy child.”
Mrs Ngozi Nwachukwu said that the birth of social media has doubled the challenges that parents are faced with raising a girl-child in Nigeria. Her words:
“In the olden days, the advice that one received was only from your mother and neighbours. Today, having a child outside wedlock is now a trend. It’s either you accept their decisions or lose them. What we have these days are social media-trained children, they tell you what they want and as a parent, the fear of losing that child will make you succumb. It’s unfortunate but that is our new reality.
It is no longer a big deal that a 12-year-old is dating a married man and the parents are handicapped. No one cares anymore and I fear it is getting worse. Things are no longer like in those days that you will tell a girl-child to submit to her husband.
Divorce is no longer a big deal, even churches encourage it. Everyone is playing an equal role to keep marriages now. If you ask me, training a girl-child is much easier now than before. If you force her into marriage, she will obey you temporarily and for the fun of getting married.
If she doesn’t get what she expected she would leave the marriage and live on her own. She won’t come home to live with her parents.”
But the President, Literacy Integration and Formal Education (LIFE), Elvira Salleras insisted that cultural belief, not social media, is to blame for the challenges being experienced in raising a girl-child in Nigeria. She said:
“Girls are just children. Girl or boy-child, they are kids and what makes it a bit challenging is we have our set ideas of what role a girl should be playing in the society. They feel that a girl-child should be submissive to the parents more than the boys.
The girl-child should have a higher standard of morality than the boys. But today’s world through the internet is saying that there should be no difference. Culture is our biggest challenge.
Again, we expect the girl-child to dress in a certain way but by the time they get to their teens, they see the way others dress, they want to do it. For this reason, the child is always in conflict with the mother, especially in the Southern part of Nigeria.
This is so because there is hardly any parent that speaks their language to their children. They want them to be more modern, and you are busy telling the child that the value of the western system is better.
Language is the vehicle in which culture is transmitted. We forget that in the western world, everyone is the same. This is where the difficulties come from. You wonder how come your 16-year-old is sexually liberated and takes alcohol.”
A banker, Segun Adeyemi agrees to some extent with Salleras’ position. He said that his siblings were so overprotective of their only sister that they feel guilty about how she eventually turned out.
“To date, my siblings and I feel responsible for the break-up in our only sister’s marriage. We are seven boys and a girl. Growing up, she was seen as the baby of the house although she is older than the three of us. Everything about her was special and no one dared to make her cry.
It affected her as a teenager as the boys stayed away from her because of us. We were so scared that boys would destroy her life especially when she hit puberty.
But when she got married, she could not submit to her husband and there were issues. Trying to defend her landed us severally in the police station till the marriage ended.
It is now that we are adults that we realized that to some extent we played a major role in how her marriage turned out. Raising a girl child is now the most difficult assignment on earth. Except you are ready to keep her in the cage, the morality level has collapsed.”