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7 March 2018
We women in Nigeria live in utter privation. We still face oppression of various kinds both at home, work, schools and in society. All these cannot be disconnected from the capitalist system - a system that reinforces patriarchy and creates inequality and discrimination. It is a system that survives mainly by oppressing and exploiting the vast majority, including women, to further enrich the tiny minority.
Indeed, for women, it is a double tragedy. In addition to being exploited as workers under the capitalist system just like men, women again suffer gender oppression in homes. Women are discriminated against in almost all areas of life because we are viewed as the 'weaker sex'.
In Nigeria, many girls do not have access to adequate education beyond a certain age. For instance, in the North, a great proportion of girls are not enrolled in school. Instead they are married off to older men as soon as they reach puberty.
There are many reasons for this i.e. cultural, religious factors etc. But the key factor is the underfunding and education commercialization, which forces working class and poor parents to decide on which of their children to invest their lean resources in to educate. Now, the Boko Haram insurgency and frequent abduction of school girls and boys, the latest being the abduction of 110 Dapchi school girls, will further roll back whatever progress has been made in girl-child education.
Likewise, sexual harassment is prevalent on campuses. Male lecturers often compel female students to have sex with them in exchange for good marks. If they refuse, they stand the chance of failing their courses. Also male students often sexually harass or rape female students. Unfortunately, several schools and even the students unions have no mechanism or programme to deal with these issues. Also most victims are afraid of the stigma and also do not trust that anything will be done.
Nigeria has some of the world's worst mortality rate of women during childbirth and pregnancy period. This has been further worsened by the underfunding of the health sector. Lack of access to prenatal and postnatal care, obstetric services and family planning information contributes to the high maternal mortality rate. Other contributing factors include unsafe abortions, inadequate post-abortion care, early and child marriages, early pregnancies, inadequate family planning services, the low rates of contraceptive usage, lack of sex education etc.
In the home, men are placed in the position of masters over women whether as their husband or father. Women do all the backbreaking work of cooking, washing, fetching water and firewood, taking care of the children and the old parents and even subsistence farming (unpaid care work). Because of this, they are unable to take any active part in the social, economic, political and intellectual life of society. They are practically consigned to the home.
If the domestic work women do in the home were to be paid for, the cost would run into billions of naira and this would take a mighty chunk off the profit of the capitalist class. This is why a precondition for the full liberation of women is the replacement of capitalism by socialism.
No doubt, the condition of women has changed from what it used to be in the 1960s. For instance, increased access to education and the impact of capitalist neo-liberal attacks on living standards are undermining some of the cultural and traditional beliefs that have consigned women perpetually to the home. In any case, given the fall in real wages, many working class households can only survive each month by relying on the income of both parents. As a result many women are now going out to work.
But instead of this constituting the basis for the full liberation of women, it has further increased our yoke because women now have to combine taking care of the home and children (unpaid care work) with our jobs. Women are often disadvantaged compared to men in access to employment opportunities and their access to opportunities for advancement differs from men. As a result, jobs readily available to women are low paid compared to men, contract jobs in industries producing garments or hair attachments or as teachers, nurses, bank cashiers, market traders, office assistants, petrol station attendants. All these are clear evidence of the double exploitation women experience under the capitalist system.
Rape, sexual harassment and domestic violence are prevalent in Nigeria. The situation is even more tragic for women on low income who may not have the choice of leaving violent relationships due to adequate means of livelihood. In other words, poor women are at risk of suffering greater domestic violence. Cases of women being brutalized for infidelity, especially in the North, cannot be overlooked.
As the mass misery in Nigeria intensifies, trafficking is rising. This reflects the worsening conditions of women and the working masses in general under capitalism. Women have also suffered atrociously from the violent crises breaking out across the country.
Organized women constitute a sizeable portion of the labour movement especially the teachers' union, nurses' union etc. Unfortunately, the trade unions rarely reflect in their propaganda issues concerning women.
The Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM), CWI Nigeria, calls for active campaigns led by the labour movement and students' movement against sexism, rape, unequal pay and all cases of women's oppression in workplaces, communities and campuses. The struggle against women oppression is the responsibility of all members of the working class and oppressed masses. We need active campaigns that link the discrimination and oppression women face with the fight against attacks on public education and heath, for increases in the minimum wage and improved working conditions, against privatization, deregulation and all anti-poor capitalist policies.
Crucially too, we need a campaign that is fully conscious that women's oppression can fully end only when patriarchy and the capitalist system that reinforces it are defeated. This means a workers' and poor people's government coming to power armed with socialist policies of the public ownership of key sectors of the economy under democratic public control and management as a step towards mobilizing and using the resources of society only for the benefit of the vast majority of the populace.