The Nigerian Vagina Is A Problem

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Of Birth

It was early April in 2010. I had just given birth the day before to my lovely daughter, amidst and inspite of, so many issues. As was the practice in every hospital I was required to pick up a notarization of birth certificate ( different from the birth certificate). This was proof from the hospital that I had had a child and I would have to present it to obtain a proper birth certificate. The young lady - about 21 or 22 at most- writing the notarization asked for my name, the name I wanted to give my child, and the child's father's name. She proceeded to write a Mrs beside my name on the stub that would be left off  when the certificate was torn, even though it was obvious the differences in mine and the father's name. I am not married, I told her. I am not a Mrs. And that began an argument that lasted over 30 minutes and had to be settled by pleading from one of my nurse friends . She said that was how they did it, and she could not put me as Miss anything because it was not allowed. That was simply not how it was done, I had to be a Mrs even if I bore my own surname. Eventually she appeared to cave in to the pleas but when she tore off the certificate I had become a Mrs { his surname}. Effectively after going through all the stress of carrying my baby, and an absentee father, I -her mother-had effectively been eliminated from the process of being present at her birth. When I went for her second vaccination after birth, at a community health centre, I saw another opportunity to get a proper birth certificate for my daughter with the correct names as these people did not ask for a notarization. But when the guy writing it saw the names, he smiled and said I would have to pay ' something' for that. Because it was strange. Because it was not the norm for a mother not to have the same name as her baby's father. Because, Woman, Nigeria.

 Elimination of discrimination on grounds of marital status (a) Every organ or agency of government, public or private institution, commercial or corporate body, community, or other entity shall prevent discrimination against women on the grounds of marriage, marital status, or maternity; accordingly, shall: i. not dismiss restrict or otherwise impose any disadvantage on any person in respect of employment, contract, or other occupational engagement, whether in the public or private sphere, on the grounds solely of the person’s marital status, circumstances of birth, condition of pregnancy, maternity leave, or such other reasons relating to the person’s maternal or paternal status,; 

Of Life
When I was 6 months pregnant I was fired from my job. It was not anything I did. As a matter of fact I had received a verbal commendation from my then boss a few weeks before. It was just that they were unwilling to deal with the attendant issues of having a pregnant manager on staff. It hurt in every way possible, financially, personally, psychologically, etc. I was stuck in limbo because I obviously could not look for work in that condition or even for a little while thereafter. And my source of income was cut off so I had to find a means to support myself and my baby's needs for the immediate and short term. To cut a long story short it was not easy and there was no miracle. I suffered for a very long time. And more painfully, my child suffered too.
Fast forward 5 years later and I had just got a new job. The HR lady brought forms for me to fill, one of which was my healthcare. It clearly stated that we insert our biological dependents but as I filled in my daughter's name the lady stopped me. Are you married, she asked. I said I was not. Okay so your child does not qualify. I was stupefied. How does biological dependent not meant biological? How do children of married people differ from children of single parents? What if this was why I wanted the job? But ask as I did the lady held to her guns, and I told her to take her papers away until she knew what to actually do. She never brought them back. A week later I was fired because I had objections to my boss rearranging my weekly schedule by the hour; something I considered ridiculous to ask of a senior manager.

Every organ or agency of government, public or private institution, commercial or corporate body, community, or other entity shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the field of employment, occupation or profession, in order to ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women, and without prejudice to the provisions of section 6 of this bill, 
f. The right of a woman in employment to maternity leave or any such leave or concession relating to her maternity needs, shall not limit or restrict her right to equal treatment as provided under this section. 
Elimination of discrimination on grounds of marital status (a) Every organ or agency of government, public or private institution, commercial or corporate body, community, or other entity shall prevent discrimination against women on the grounds of marriage, marital status, or maternity; accordingly, shall: i. not dismiss restrict or otherwise impose any disadvantage on any person in respect of employment, contract, or other occupational engagement, whether in the public or private sphere, on the grounds solely of the person’s marital status, circumstances of birth, condition of pregnancy, maternity leave, or such other reasons relating to the person’s maternal or paternal status,
  iii. provide necessary supporting social services to enable parents in employment to combine family obligations with work responsibilities and participation in public life, in particular through the establishment and development of child-care facilities in the work premises;

Of Death
My paternal grandmother fulfills all the stereotypes of typical women from my part of the country. She is domineering, possessive, hardworking, shrewd, materialistic, aggressive, strong and intimidating. She had 6 children, all boys from 5 different men and married none of them. When those boys became adults she ensured she held sway over their homes such that their wives felt stifled and inhibited in their marriages if they did not sway to her wishes or generally look to her in near -worship.
One of my earliest memories of this woman was how she made my mother cry whenever we went visiting. I know now that it was because she never thought my mother was good enough for my father and she made sure she told and showed her this in no uncertain terms. Including engineering the entry of several women into the marriage to ensure a breakdown. It was while she was getting familiar with one of those women, a very determined, ruthless young lady like her, that I had my first glimpse of another side of life as a woman in Nigeria.
At that time but my father had taken us, his children, and dispersed among his relatives, except for me, after sending my mum out of the house they shared. He then moved in with the new woman. Shortly afterwards my father, his potential wife and I had traveled to visit his mother. This particular evening we went out together. Everyone except my father, that is. This was in Benin City. I remember us walking into the premises of a small house. The soil was red and loose, not tarred or anything. Dirt earth. There were lots of trees and the shade from the trees was somewhat eerie. It was mid evening. I think my grandmother went to greet some elderly women in one building and then they took her to another building that was at the back of the house. The house, and the premises was full of people. In the other building we were led to a room, one of several, but this room was different. It was very small, dark and unpainted. There was a small fire burning right in the centre of the room and just a few feet from the fire sat a woman probably of middle age dressed totally in black. It was the first time I had ever seen a black wrapper and blouse in my young life. The woman looked exhausted and resigned and somewhat dirty. Like she had ash on her face. Beside her were a tin plate and a plastic cup. My grandmother and madam new wifey said hello to her, I was too scared to go near her even when she tried to reassure me. After a short conversation we left the room.I do not know how much of it I gleaned from the conversation between new wifey and my grandmother and how much was said in that room but I remember hearing that the woman was in day 6 of her 7 day stay in that room because her husband had died. She had to eat off that plate and drink out of the cup without having it washed. She had no baths and her hair had been shaved off. She was also required to drink the water from the washing of the corpse of her late husband; all this to prove she was not responsible for his death. If she died in the process, or fell ill, then the suspicions that the man died by her hand were confirmed. In retrospect maybe my grandmother was giving new wifey a tour of the torture chamber to keep her in line just in case, because she narrated these things with some sort of pride and humour, Like someone who held secrets to an undiscovered treasure. If you really thought about the irony it was laughable; an unmarried mother of 6 children from different men was the custodian of tradition that discriminated against women.

Rights and responsibilities as parents, irrespective of their marital status, in matters relating to their children including decisions relating to welfare and upbringing of their children. In all cases the best interests of the child concerned shall be paramount;

Modification of socio- cultural practices
Widows shall not be subjected to inhuman, humiliating or degrading treatment;

This was really difficult to regurgitate because they are painful memories buried underneath small triumphs. Everything is a war for us. I could go on with stories of sexual abuse by men in positions of authority swept under the carpet by people in positions of authority, of battery and other violence against my person, of discrimination and humiliation in public places based on gender. A cycle that anyone born female in Nigeria, i.e, with a vagina, experiences at least once.
The Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill provided an opportunity for woman and girls in Nigeria to finally begin to have hope that they could live and work in their country without fear. And for the less educated or sophisticated it laid the foundation for the opportunity to aspire to be a real actual person. But by throwing it out the Nigerian Senate proved what a lot of people knew but never said: the Nigerian woman on her own is insufficient, inadequate and incomplete. She can never be a real person in her own country.

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