From Rudimentary To Sophistication: An African Woman’s Evolution

“Would you keep quiet? Is that how you speak to your husband?  Did not your mother teach you to be submissive and to be in subjection?”, reprimanded the elder.

“Sir, I was not disrespectful, I just felt I should tell him my own side…”, she tried to respond.  “I said keep quiet!” He interrupted before she could finish her statement. “You even have the guts to reply me! Keep shut Agatha and do not you ever speak when a man is speaking!”

 Predictably, the ruling ended in her husband’s favour.  He was smirking and prancing as he left the arena of judgment.  It was decided that the woman was an uncouth, untrained and ill-mannered wife.  She had no right to eat dinner before the husband, and to reserve for herself the bigger portions of meat.

The aftermath of a molested African woman.

She was not the first mother to nurse a child in the community. Other women had been breastfeeding while dutifully reserving sumptuous meals for their husbands.  She was simply spoiled.

The verdict: the husband was to take for himself a younger maiden as wife. That would teach her a lesson and serve as a deterrent to other wives who were beginning to feel they could question their husbands’ supremacy.

You are perhaps thinking this is a scene from forty years ago in a rural African community.  A setting where the girl child was only raised to cook and clean, while the boy child was sent off to school to acquire education or learn a craft, who then became a man and when the time was right, was recommended a well-groomed girl who would strictly perform her domestic duties and bear children.

But this scenario was not peculiar to rural communities. In that era, the cities too were not accepting any woman who went above and beyond the rudimentary qualities of cooking, cleaning and bearing children.

However, as societies progressed, women eventually began to acquire some education. Fathers no longer thought it a waste of investment to educate the girl child who would soon lose her last name for her husband’s. It became fair enough to send her to school to be able to communicate properly in English.  Notwithstanding, there was the stereotype in terms of what occupation a woman could engage in.

Teaching and nursing were the most preferred occupations, with some allowance for certain administrative roles in the civil service.  Reason being those jobs gave women enough time to carry on with domestic duties and raise children, while finding some form of career fulfilment.  

Professions like engineering were out of reach – they were strictly for the men folks. Not to mention how “bizarre” it was for a woman who would be having menstrual cramps during a serious project on site to be on the field, dressed up in coveralls, head gears and wielding metal tools. Who would employ her anyway?  

Management positions were never to be dreamed of. A woman should never aspire to head the men in an organization. Imagine the kind of wife she would be to her husband. That is, if she was lucky enough to find herself a man.

She went for a job interview…

No man wanted a woman who owned a car or a house or headed a company.  Such women were termed arrogant and impossible to control. A woman’s intellect, academic prowess or industriousness had nothing to do with being a good wife, as being a good wife was the final and only acceptable ambition for women.

For too long, women were raised to not aspire to great positions, to endure physical and psychological torture, to not question societal wrongs and most importantly, to be silent.

A properly raised woman was the one who kept mum, even in the face of outright opposition, accusation or molestation. Those who were fortunate to secure white-collar jobs were expected to accept whatever came with the roles – sexual harassments inclusive. Women were not known to go to court or seek redress because they barely stood a chance or received a fair hearing, let alone a favourable judgment.

Now coming to present day, as a woman, I am happy to be alive in a generation where things have greatly evolved.

Liberia’s former president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

We may not be where we ought to be, but we have come a long way positively. We have had the first female president in Africa – Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, and a recently elected female president of Ethiopia – Sahle-Work Zewde.

We now have a lot of women in parliaments of different countries. We have women as ministers – both within and outside a nation, foreign advisers, and a host of other competitive portfolios.

Women are heading both indigenous and multinational corporations as well as African-wide bodies. We have women in every profession and many have been more outstanding than their male counterparts. Some are self employed in thriving line of businesses; others serve humanity by driving Non Profit Organisations, which have taken them to great heights.

Beyond academic and career feats, women are speaking up and getting more attention.  

22-year-old engineering student – Alaa Salah of Sudan, made history in the month of April, when she led the revolution that culminated into the ousting of the Sudanese sitting dictator – Omar al-Bashir.  In her legendary white robe, she was dubbed “Lady Liberty” of Sudan.

The Facebook group with the highest number of members in Nigeria currently is a female group called “Female in Nigeria (FIN)”, with over 2 million members. With the help of the group, women have been able to address several issues in Nigeria, bring justice where deserved, move government to take action on cases they consider relevant to the good of women, and most importantly, instil in women the confidence to speak out where and when necessary.

While it is indeed a wonderful privilege to be a woman, one may want to ask how women got to where they are today.

Did society suddenly realise that the time was right for women to be successful?  Of course not.  It was decades of resilience, determination, hard work, being shut up and yet refusing to be silent.

Ethiopia’s president, Sahle-Work Zewde.

Our mothers sacrificed their own dreams to make sure ours get fulfilled.   Some women went as far as making vows even on their dying beds, to pray for their female children from the great beyond, to ensure that they would never have to go through the pains and victimization that they went through.

Conclusively, I dare say that African women do not look back at their laborious journey and transition with regrets. Rather, we wear our badges of honour, proud of our accomplishments, that we have not only been able to break the norm but have rightly earned our respects.

Engraved in our hearts, is the fervor to put more efforts wherever we find ourselves, determining to supersede expectations, to continue to rewrite history by firstly erasing stereotypes. We are breaking down barriers in every sphere, our weapons being our unquenchable appetite for excellence and our doggedness despite being the weaker vessels.

We are grateful for the long years of deprivation, as we build on these experiences and grow into our modern-day sophistication.

Princess Golley is a licensed Human Resource Administrator and a practicing administrator with over 6 years of experience. She wrote in from Canada.

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