Women in Nigeria

Eunice Eze


Eunice Eze is a 25-year old Nigerian woman who has recently emerged from a one-year mourning period after her husband‚s death. What is known as the Widowhood Practice in Igbo Land has more to do with proving a wife‚s innocence in the death of her husband than actually mourning his death. Eunice, like other widows in Nigeria, was taken out of her house upon her husband‚s death. Her head was shaved, she was kept in one room in the family‚s compound for a whole year. Eunice was not allowed to leave the family compound, change her clothes, use soap for showering, or cut or comb her hair. She spent the year in a corner of a room that was a dirt floor. Eunice survived the Widowhood Practice even with tuberculosis. Says Eunice, „It was so painful to go through the mourning period. I could not go out of the house. I could not attend any festival or congregation. I suffered from many sleepless nights. I was so depressed. Many times I was in shock and disillusioned∑ not able to distinguish dreams from realityš. After she emerged from one year of confinement all of her belongings were gone, even the table she had in the market where she sold fruits and vegetables. Eunice has had to take her 12-year old daughter out of school because she cannot afford the school fees and she needs her daughters help in working on the farm and helping to raise the other four children. Eunice‚s daughter will likely suffer the same fate as her mother. 

Where is Nigeria and who are its people? Nigeria is located in Western Africa bordering the Atlantic Ocean in the South. Its neighbors include Cameroon and Chad to the east, Niger to the north and Benin to the west. Nigeria is a very important country in Africa since it exports oil worldwide. Agriculture and industry constitute most of Nigeria's economic activity. Women represent an estimated 60-80 percent of the agricultural labor force, producing about two-thirds of the food crops. Currently, Nigeria's population exceeds 110 million. Nearly 50 percent of the country's population are women. Within Nigeria there are about 250 different ethnic groups that speak nearly 4000 dialects. Its religions are: Islam (50%), Christianity (40%) and traditional beliefs (10%). Ethnic problems have been common among the various tribal groups. Also, religious unrest has been seen between northern and southern regions of Nigeria. 

What is the history of Nigeria and its people?

Nigeria was under colonization by the British until independence in 1960. Traditional tribal life existed prior to British colonization. Since 1960 Nigeria has been on the path toward development and modernization. This path has been difficult: military takeovers and corrupt regimes have repressed many civilians. In June 1998 the first civilian government in sixteen years was put into place. Nigeria saw local, state, and federal elections in 1999 and a new president took office in May 1999. 

What are some social, political and economic issues in Nigeria?
Nigeria is a diverse country that has many different ethnic and religious groups, that have clashed periodically. Because of unpopular past military regimes, political instability and slow economic development continue to plague Nigeria. The unemployment is about 28% and about 34% live below the poverty line. The overall literacy rate in Nigeria is over 50%, one of the highest in Africa, thanks to recent education reform policies aimed at eliminating illiteracy. However, only 35% of women are literate. 

What has the status of women in Nigeria been?

Historically, women in Nigeria have played a significant role in society and the home. Women contributed significantly to the household income through their work in various areas like farming and commerce. Women in Nigeria had more economic freedom than those in many other societies. Western influence from colonization to the present has hindered women's freedom in many areas from family to health. 

What current challenges do Nigerian women face?

Nigerian society upholds the traditions of marriage and family. Women are under enormous pressure to marry and bear children in order to have a place in society. Once married, a woman's status is under her husband's family and she has very few rights. Also, wives have little male support since Nigerian law does not enforce the husband's responsibility toward family. Many women labor in the fields as farmers, yet the males in Nigerian society commonly deny profits and appreciation for this labor. Inheritance is a repressive issue for many women in Nigeria. Legally, a woman is entitled to a share of her husband's estate if he dies. However, women rarely receive anything because property can only pass between members of the same sex; women cannot even inherit from their fathers in Nigeria.

Why focus on women in Nigeria?

Women in Nigeria are facing a wall of challenges to their individual rights, inside and outside of the home. They have little economic power and rarely see the profits of their work. Political power is still held by males in the state, municipal, and national governments. Domestic violence is still common and marital rape is not a crime in Nigeria. Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) or female circumcision continues to be an issue for Nigerian women with an estimated 60% of women subjected to female circumcision.
Nigeria is an underdeveloped country in which more than one-third of the population lives below the poverty line. Many women in rural communities live on less than $200 a year with no electricity, running water, paved roads or hospitals. Women still labor and raise their families in poor conditions with little recognition for their economic contributions. Nigerian women have few hopes for improvement without further educational
opportunities and effective support programs. 

How can I help women in Nigeria?

You can help a woman in Nigeria through Women for Women International's program funds. By contributing, you can help support the expansion of the Sponsorship Program to match more women survivors with sponsors, women's job skills training and civil society reconstruction coursework, and the country offices that run the programs. You can make a difference for a woman in Nigeria! Please make a donation to support Women for Women International's programs. E-mail: general@womenforwomen.org