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NIGERIA: What Women Are Worth

In her letter to UN Women executive director Michelle Bachelet, Nigerian women’s rights advocate Olutosin Oladosu Adebowale decries practices that rob girls and women around the world of equal opportunities.

"My womb can only carry daughters and I would never trade them for any boys."

Dear Michelle Bachelet,

Women are not being heard and our opinions are not being recognized or respected. Women worldwide pass through different experiences and we know the best way to solve our problems. Read our letters. This is a matter of urgency. We need our collective wisdom.

With a painful heart I reiterate what you have read or seen—in our countries, a woman is a second-class citizen. If a girl survives female infanticide in India, she may not survive in Thailand where this is an acceptable practice. In case she manages to reach the age of ten, she may then be sold into the sex industry. A girl that survives this ordeal in Thailand or India may not survive in Pakistan or Nepal. I have heard of girls kept in brothels with snakes until they are overcome with terror and succumb to the strength of their captors.

Ma, can you imagine the betrayal of a girl watching her parents sell her into slavery? Can you imagine a child who has been told that this new uncle is going to register her in a new school in Mumbai—can you imagine her waving goodbye to her mother and later waking up in a hotel? This is the highest form of betrayal, and law enforcement agents are often aware and are a part of this act. It happens in Africa too—no girl child is safe from sexual assault. Even in the developed world, women are not spared from sexual assault and slaps from their husbands.

The girls who survive early marriages in northern Nigeria do not survive vesicovaginal fistula, a devastating but curable condition often caused during childbirth. This is a painful condition, but the physical pain is incomparable to the pain of rejection by her family and by her husband, who is old enough to be her grandfather.

Female genital mutilation is painful too. I know because I have experienced it. But this can’t be compared to the pain of accusations that I allowed a man to rape me.

Dear Michelle, do you know that without three witnesses, a rape case is closed in northern Nigeria? Did you know that many of our leaders are married to children? One of our senators married a 13-year-old Egyptian girl last year. One Nigerian leader has divorced 17 times, because in Islam a husband who is fed up with his wife can say “I divorce you, I divorce you, I divorce you”—just three times and that is the end of the marriage. A woman can say that as many times as she wants, and she may as well be singing. She cannot get a divorce.

Do you see the way religion is used to perpetuate gender inequality? A woman cannot be equal to a man in our societies. A girl child is like a daughter to her brother—it takes five girls to equal one boy. Have you heard that the heads of cows are more valuable than heads of girls? Inequality affects our psyche and we feel so worthless.

If there is no demand for girls in our countries, there will be no supply. Presently, there are five thousand Nigerian girls who are forcefully sold into slavery in Mali. There are more than that number in Italy and Spain.

The preference for boys has been perpetuated by our leaders as well. I haven’t seen women bribing, maiming, or killing over leadership positions. But in Nigeria’s 2011 party primaries, there was only one woman presidential candidate—Sarah Jibril—and she received only a single vote out of nearly 3000 votes in the primary.

There will be equality in our nations when there is an equal ratio of women and men in our parliaments; an equal ratio of girls and boys in our schools. And when there are the same number of boys forced into early marriages as girls; the same number of boys raped as girls; the same number of boys sold into sexual slavery. There will be equality when there is an equal ratio of infanticide of boys and girls; an equal ratio of school dropouts; when an equal number of boys and girls are expelled from school for being impregnated by a schoolmate or teacher. If you say this is impossible, then let’s end these vices completely and create a peaceful world for all.

I was barely 4 years old when my father died. My mother was denied access to my father’s property because she could only birth daughters. She was also denied access to her father’s property because a woman has no inheritance rights in Nigeria. My own two daughters and I are similarly unrecognized now. My mother warned me, but it wasn’t until I entered into my marriage that I realized how unrecognized I am. I have been married for ten years and I have never been allowed into family meetings.

My womb can only carry daughters and I would never trade them for any boys. You will not believe how sweet my daughters are. I can speak with them with my eyes and they will understand. I can turn my nose, and they know what it means. I am not alone in this struggle.

Please, you are our voice. Let your voice resonate. Thank you so much for listening to women and for fighting this far.

Yours in solidarity,

Olutosin Oladosu Adebowale
Lagos, Nigeria

About the UN Women Campaign

UN Women—a new United Nations agency focused exclusively on women's rights—opened its doors in January. This letter is part of a PulseWire campaign to build on this historic investment in women and to gather the voices of grassroots leaders to advise the new agency as it sets its priorities.

Comments

olowotee's picture

Lovely Article, Keep it up.

Sister, this is beaauutiful! Thanks for saying it as it is in Nigeria, Africa....
It's pretty saddening that the girl child is least considered and respected. It's not uncommon that families without a female child is of no importance. We live in a world where male treat their female counterpart as inferior, less-capable, and men treat their wives as punching bags, enslaving them from the outside world...

Now, is it really a crime to be a woman in these Countries? or is it our 'barbaric' culture that spells doom for women?.....truly, we need a change and we clamour for justice and gender equality....

olutosin's picture

My sister

We are in this together.......Let us change the world

Olutosin Oladosu Adebowale
Founder/Project Coordinator
Star of Hope Transformation Centre
512 Road
F Close
Festac Town
Lagos-Nigeria

https:

Phinnie's picture

Speaking the truth about women

What a powerful letter with incredibly heartbreaking reports of how women are treated throughout the world! Here in the United States, we are supposedly a developed country with "women's rights". However, when a woman or girl is sexually assaulted, beaten, or raped, she is often blamed! It is very difficult for her to be successful at having her attacker prosecuted in court. Women have fewer financial resources, the police tend to minimize abuse against women, and hospitals often don't record the circumstances of a woman's injuries when they result from assault.

Somehow, the whole system including how women are viewed, has to change for things to get better for women and girls. Organizations like the UN must make this a priority now!

olutosin's picture

Change is Imperative

Thanks for stopping by Dear sister, for any meaningful change to take place, the whole system must change. With the way we loose court cases of sexually abused children, the way we lok at victims and how we are blamed for being raped, do you think anyone will want to report sexual assaults? We have to overhaul the whole system, in my country especially, rape must be treated as murder or drug dealing! Many a time we leav leprosy and concentraring on treating heat rashes.

May we stand for change!

Olutosin Oladosu Adebowale
Founder/Project Coordinator
Star of Hope Transformation Centre
512 Road
F Close
Festac Town
Lagos-Nigeria

https:

Thais Moraes's picture

Wow!

That is an amazing and touching article. Congratulations for exposing so well the difficulties that girls and women have to face worldwide.

Thank you for opening your heart and sharing your knowledge and experiences with us!

All the best,

Thaís Moraes

olutosin's picture

Reading and Comment

Thanks for reading and commenting Dearest sister

Olutosin Oladosu Adebowale
Founder/Project Coordinator
Star of Hope Transformation Centre
512 Road
F Close
Festac Town
Lagos-Nigeria

https:

Jenny Ligo's picture

Very Interesting and Heart Break!

You may not be the only one! When you speak out you represent thousands out there who cannot speak for themselves. Only brave and confident women can do this!
Congratulations for speaking out!

olutosin's picture

Congratulations too

We speak for us all. Thanks

Olutosin Oladosu Adebowale
Founder/Project Coordinator
Star of Hope Transformation Centre
512 Road
F Close
Festac Town
Lagos-Nigeria

https:

warona's picture

Dear Sister Olutosin,My

Dear Sister Olutosin,

My dearest sister happy to hear your utter most concern.Its so heart breaking so breath taking and sometimes we remain helpless.But since we angage women in power like Michelle i people we will be free.Just knowing the truth frees and if we dont know the truth we will be bound for the rest of our lives.Yes you might be thinking: its only in Nigeria,oh no even here in Botswana we experience some form of inequality.

Oppression of women and girl child is all i hate to see with my naked eye,i mean like you say these things we must say them out,call a spade a spade,lest we be misled.We need adamant power to carry on voicing,otherwise even generation to come will suffer in this world.

Thank my sister for sharing ,you are such a powerful woman,you have represented us so well.Keep it up sister!

Greateful

Warona

"success will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time " And when confronted conquer with love

olutosin's picture

Thanks Sister Dearest

We are together!

Olutosin Oladosu Adebowale
Founder/Project Coordinator
Star of Hope Transformation Centre
512 Road
F Close
Festac Town
Lagos-Nigeria

https:

This is wonderful article, but you don't have to say what you don't know about Islamic religion, there no place in the Holy Qur'an or in religion were they said if a husband is fed up with his wife he, can say “I divorce you, I divorce you, I divorce you”—just three times and that is the end of the marriage.

I want you to please make research about it.

keep it up

Bissalam
Zainab Ahmed

Dear Zainab,

Thanks so much for your comment, I appreciate it. I am a Muslim by birth, My father was a Muslim and he died as one. All my siblings are Muslim, I chose to be a Christian because when my mother fled after the death of my father in 1976, May 9, it was a church that accepted us, I grew up in that church and had to adopt the religion because it provided solace in time of trouble then. I have read far and wide by God's grace and I have read that too, the only thing I can deduce is that there are some of our acts that is more of culture thatn religion and when some people who are predominantly Muslims accept such culture, we tend to say that it is practiced by Muslims or Christians as the case may be.

Oncce again, thank you for reading and voicing your opinion.

Olutosin Oladosu Adebowale
Founder/Project Coordinator
Star of Hope Transformation Centre
512 Road
F Close
Festac Town
Lagos-Nigeria

https:

Kim Crane's picture

Discussing religion

Zainab and Olutosin,

It is a tricky line between pushing to change the injustices carried out in the name of religion and alienating potential allies because of their faith or beliefs. I admire the grace in which, through your writing and comments, you both have navigated that ever-shifting line—coming from a place of understanding and love, if not complete agreement. It is what makes this community so special to me. I wish all debates over the issues that matter to us all could take place while we are holding each other with as much love and respect as you both have shown. The world would be a better place.

olutosin's picture

Thanks Darling

We are TOGETHER!

Olutosin Oladosu Adebowale
Founder/Project Coordinator
Star of Hope Transformation Centre
512 Road
F Close
Festac Town
Lagos-Nigeria

https:

olutosin's picture

Thanks Darling

We are TOGETHER!

Olutosin Oladosu Adebowale
Founder/Project Coordinator
Star of Hope Transformation Centre
512 Road
F Close
Festac Town
Lagos-Nigeria

https:

Vera Nicimpaye's picture

Dear Zainab and Olutosin, I

Dear Zainab and Olutosin,

I Personally don't think Olutosin was attacking any particular religion. She was mainly talking about unfair laws toward women. Those laws are not only found in the Qur'an, but in other "Holy" books. I am not familiar with the Qur'an but have read the Bible (both the Old and New Testament) many times and think that it is clear the book was written by men. That is what patriarchy is mainly about.

Laws are made for people, not the other way around (just my opinion). At some point in history, slavery was okay. But not anymore. Even for us women, at some time in history, being treated as commodities was okay. But not anymore. I hope we focus on that one.

Thank you ladies, and thank you so much Olutosin for sharing your inspiring story and talking on behalf of all of us.

Regards,
Vera Nicimpaye

olutosin's picture

Thanks for reading

Vera, I appreciate you.

Olutosin Oladosu Adebowale
Founder/Project Coordinator
Star of Hope Transformation Centre
512 Road
F Close
Festac Town
Lagos-Nigeria

https:

Mola's picture

amazing

your letter brought tears to my eyes. beautiful and strong.

thank you.

olutosin's picture

Tears Tears

I love wweeping, it clears my brain. lol

Olutosin Oladosu Adebowale
Founder/Project Coordinator
Star of Hope Transformation Centre
512 Road
F Close
Festac Town
Lagos-Nigeria

https:

Beverly Rose's picture

What a powerful letter! With

What a powerful letter! With such eloquence, you stated reality for women and girls around the world. Thank you for speaking your truth.

Aloha,
Beverly

olutosin's picture

Thanks Beverly

For reading and commenting, I appreciate you

Olutosin Oladosu Adebowale
Founder/Project Coordinator
Star of Hope Transformation Centre
512 Road
F Close
Festac Town
Lagos-Nigeria

https:

inspireevery1's picture

Gratitude

I read this beautiful and powerful letter and feel the pain of all my sisters from around the world.

As I sit in my relatively comfortable life, in a world where I can say what I think and feel and know that my voice is heard, I think of you and know in my heart that you are on the cusp of great things to come. Life was not always this way in my country and there was a time when our voices where not heard, but my fore mothers stood up for what they believed in, just as you are doing. They changed the world for me and my generation and all others after, and for this I am truly grateful.

Susan

olutosin's picture

Oh yes , we can

Thank God things will change, it was worse but has improved, definitely we shall overcome, someday

Olutosin Oladosu Adebowale
Founder/Project Coordinator
Star of Hope Transformation Centre
512 Road
F Close
Festac Town
Lagos-Nigeria

https:

lizvaah's picture

Well said

Sister Olutosin,

You couldn't have stated it any better than this. We of this generation need to leave behind a better world in which our daughters thrive rather than receive from the crumbs that fall from the high table. Society may try to keep them down. Its up to us as mothers, women and daughters to insist on our rights and never allow anyone to place us in pigeon holes. I have started with my daughters.

Elizabeth

olutosin's picture

My daughters too...

My daughters believe that it is only women who can protect women and children. Is it the fact? I said No, Everyone can protect themselves but children need our protection. It is the duty of every responsible adults to protect children but women should learn how to protect themselves too. If we did not demand, no one will give us our rights, our right is our right!
Thanks Lizvaah for stopping by, reading and commenting.

Olutosin Oladosu Adebowale
Founder/Project Coordinator
Star of Hope Transformation Centre
512 Road
F Close
Festac Town
Lagos-Nigeria

https:

elsietina's picture

Well Said

Very powerful and true!
Sad many more are going thru it.

Regards
Elsie Ijorogu Reed
Founder/CEO
Deltawomen
www.deltawomen.org

CEO/FOUNDER
Deltawomen Ngo
www.deltawomen.org
deltawomen.blogspot.com

olutosin's picture

Thanks sister

You are encouragiing me. Thanks

Olutosin Oladosu Adebowale
Founder/Project Coordinator
Star of Hope Transformation Centre
512 Road
F Close
Festac Town
Lagos-Nigeria

https:

Dianakintu's picture

SHOUT IT OUT

What a beautiful, reality and attaching article!!
Yes, Indeed we have to rise up on our two feet
and shout it out.
In Uganda Baganda say,
''When an elder steps in your wound
and you are in a congregation,
when you keep your mouth shat
because he is old, you will die in
Pain. So, better speak and save
your life.''

olutosin's picture

Non Stop

We will not stop speaking out loud. Thanks Darling for this beautiful Wise saying.

Olutosin Oladosu Adebowale
Founder/Project Coordinator
Star of Hope Transformation Centre
512 Road
F Close
Festac Town
Lagos-Nigeria

https:

efe's picture

a passionate piece

Tosin, you are speaking from a heart that has been bruised. I have heard about women who keep on giving birth to more children than they can cater for in the search for a son. Children (male or female) are gifts . I am glad you take such pride in your beautiful daughters. when they grow up (if their in the mood) they will give you beautiful sons through marriage i.e their husbands. About that peadophile legislature who married a teenager, he makes me sick and to think that i have spoken to a female who is totally in support of his action . He is lucky he is not in Italy or he would be in the hot seat like the Italian president is at the moment.

Zainab A.B, thank you for enlightening us. As a Nigerian, i have heard over and over again that all it takes for a Muslim man to divorce his wife are the words 'i divorce you' Is it in the Hadith or is it just a cultural phenomenom that is widespread?

olutosin's picture

Thanks for adding this too

This is a beautiful contributon too, thanks for reading and commenting.

Olutosin Oladosu Adebowale
Founder/Project Coordinator
Star of Hope Transformation Centre
512 Road
F Close
Festac Town
Lagos-Nigeria

https:

Gbemisola's picture

In our time women will stand

This is a good one my sister,the Lord will empower you more and more by His grace.Thanks to the church that took your that is male child stand the chance of going to school better than the female child so she was deprive of education.What, a world that is why we will stand for our right and make the difference here in this world.

God's mercy will keep African women.

Gbemisola's picture

In our time women will stand

This is a good one my sister,the Lord will empower you more and more by His grace.Thanks to the church that took your that is male child stand the chance of going to school better than the female child so she was deprive of education.What, a world that is why we will stand for our right and make the difference here in this world.

God's mercy will keep African women.

Atonement's picture

Dear Olutosin

What a beautiful article it brought tears in my eyes ,In Pakistan if a woman being raped she need to produce four eyewitnesses in court to prove she is a victim .In many cases, the failure to find such proof of the rape places the woman at risk of prosecution for committing adultery by herself. In 2002 Zafran Bibi in Pakistan was convicted of adultery and sentenced to death by stoning,(it wasn’t carried out) even though she claimed to have been a victim of repeated rape. In 2001 Safiya Husaini, from the Northern Nigerian state Sokoto, claimed to be a victim of rape, was convicted for illicit sexual relationship and sentenced to death by stoning by a local Islamic court.
Tooba

afrikangoddess's picture

You Made Me Cry!

Thank you for writing this. Thank you.

Zoepiliafas's picture

We are listening

Dear Olutosin,

Your thoughtful letter uncovers the urgent need for a SYSTEMS change. I still at my desk sending strength your way. Sending prayers your way. I will also share your story with those around me to make our voices unified, loud and demand for a better more equitable way.

Your sister,

Zoe Piliafas
Voices of Our Future Community Manager

Zoe Piliafas

Voices of Our Future Community Manager
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