The BBC media space has been dominated by “wake up to the menopause.” The aim is to normalise menopause the way pregnancy is seen in the society. Truly I understand, it’s a natural phase every woman must go through. BBC aims to increase awareness especially at workplaces so that a woman for example, can take “leave”, or take some time off to deal with it same way as pregnancy. On the same BBC, I watched Louis Theroux “Mothers on the Edge”. It’s about new mothers who became depressed or have mental illnesses as a result of giving birth. All women issues.
Frankly, I am angry. I am angry because ever since having a child of my own, I completely understand that women go through a lot issues that men have no idea about. That’s why 26 of them can sit in Alabama USA to legislate on what they don’t go through. I am angry at women because instead of amplifying our issues, focusing on creating awareness and raising support from society, we are busy chasing shadows and battling against men. We want to be so called “equal” thereby eradicating our uniqueness in the process.
I have come to deduce that the current formal work system and even the school system were not set up for women. It was set up for men by men and when women joined in, our unique complexities were not taken into consideration. That’s why having children could stop a woman from continuing her formal workplace career, when a girl gets pregnant, she drops out of school, a woman going through menopause is ashamed to ask for help or leave from her office. The system completely eradicates a woman’s uniqueness. In Nigeria, maternity leave is for a laughable 4 months! Just four months and she should be back to work like nothing happened to her. Of course the people who created the system have no idea what happened to her, so why should they care?
I remember when I got my first job in Nigeria, my boss, a man, said “oh God, they brought a woman, I don’t want a woman, they have too many issues, today is period pain, tomorrow is hormonal issues, next thing she gets pregnant. This work is tough and I don’t need someone who will be prone to taking leave.” A woman in that situation, in order to prove herself, will have to soak up all her issues just to show that she is capable BUT she will be suffering deep inside. In the BBC programme, a senior police officer going through menopause, her health deteriorated so badly that she couldn’t concentrate on her work but she was also afraid to speak up hence she be termed weak. That’s why I deduced that the system was not originally created for women. When I had my baby, I spoke to a lot of women concerning how they nurture their child, subsequent pregnancies and going on with their careers. The answer was always the same, “we dey manage am nah, na so life be”. Or they get a support system which is usually expensive. What about those who can’t afford that support system, of course they fall behind, inequality exacerbates!
As someone who is passionate about having an inclusive society, I am angry. I am angry at the women who have gone ahead of me. You should have raised awareness when entering the work place. You shouldn’t have focused on seeking equality or sameness with men. You should have focused on seeking support from the system. I am also angry that we are still not seeking that support instead we are chasing shadows. We want to say “what a man can do, a woman can do even better” but while seeking to accomplish that, we eradicate our uniqueness and those who don’t have the same support system like you do, lag behind, and you know what happens to them? They then depend on the man, the same thing you claim you were fighting against. That’s why I sincerely think that those Nigerian women who fight for feminism are elitist! They are the elites who have so much support by being highly educated, having great family background etc. so they can afford to have this great career while having the support system to take care of whatever issues they have. Then the women who can’t are regarded as weak forgetting that they didn’t have the same foundation like you.
What gives me hope is the average Nigerian woman. The Nigerian woman has figured out that the formal work place environment does not work for her and she has created entrepreneurship. There are more female entrepreneurs in Nigeria than anywhere else in the world. She has figured out that being in that kind of workplace and creating healthy and well balanced children hardly work together. I think we have a lot to offer the world if only we believe in ourselves. That’s why as a typical Nigerian woman who understands the situation, I know feminism can never ever be the answer to the issues that women face especially in third world countries. Either we demand for a support system from the society (freedom to take leave when having women related issues, work assurance when having babies, benefits) which will then lift us up to be on the same level playing ground as men or we create our own systems that work for us, that suit our uniqueness, that do not seek to eradicate our femininity.
Ides Ofune is currently a PhD Student at the University of Leeds. Her research focuses on civil society and accountability in improving the quality of education. She is the founder of Desert Bloom Initiative and editor of Desert Bloom Advisory. Ides is very passionate about education and creating an inclusive society. She speaks French and English fluently. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org