Dr. Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi: Breaking the Chains of Patriarchy Through Feminism
By Toyin Falola
The patriarchal paradigm of the society marginalizes and even dehumanizes women, particularly in Africa. Culture, religion, and tradition all have a role in this. Society continues to place women under men. In places where equality cannot be achieved, women have sought to contend with the notion of equity. However, men are not the only problem towards feminine marginalization in the patriarchal society; women are also one of the same challenges to their fellow women.
Regarding this, Osonye Tess Onwueme, a Nigerian playwright, poet, and scholar of gender studies and discourse, expresses in her book Go Tell it to Women that “Women are the obstinate oppressors of themselves.” Validating this, Professor Peyi-Soyinka, during the interview with the First Lady of Ekiti State, Erelu Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi, hints at how women criticize one another in Nigerian politics when mistakes and instances of corruption are brought to light. She made a convincing argument about how women treat one another harshly in cases of misconduct while the men pat themselves on the back. This statement provides an overview of the notion that feminine marginalization is not only determined by the masculine gender. Society has found a way to turn women against one another.
In contemplating how to overcome patriarchy in the Nigerian society, it is important to recognize the subtleties of feminine apathy. The interview referred to Dr. Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi’s book titled, Where is Your Wrapper?, in which she illustrated that for women to overcome patriarchy, every woman must hold tight their wrapper and use it to protect other women like them. This wrapper signifies compassion, kindness, empathy, and support for the fellow woman. According to the First Lady, the book was written from her experience at an African Women Leadership conference at Makerere, Uganda. Narrating the story, she said:
There was a story one day about an incident that occurred in one of the local marketplaces. Unexpectedly, one of the women at the market gave birth. There appeared to be no time to bring her to a nearby hospital or clinic, so the women in the area acted quickly. Some of them frantically searched for sinks, hot water, towels, and razors. A couple of people grabbed her hand and encouraged her to keep going. The majority of the women in the area took out their wrappers and held them up in front of the woman, forming a protective ring around her and protecting her from prying eyes. This scenario occasionally occurs in different markets around Africa, and the response is almost always the same – women bring out their wrappers to protect one of their own.
Dr. Adeleye-Fayemi’s illustration becomes a wake-up call to women to do what they can in their environment to alleviate the conditions of other women, to extend compassion and sympathy, to elevate and not denigrate other women, to protect one another and to triumph against patriarchal conditions through mutual solidarity and strength.
With this, it is evident that overcoming patriarchy has been part of the feminine struggle from the beginning of time. Culture and religion have been set to marginalize women and make them believe their influence is limited to their households. This has been the misconception about their roles and functions as women from time immemorial. Even though feminism is a recent development and traceable to the early 20th century when the first wave of feminism sprouted, gender inequality in itself is as old as mankind. The Abrahamic religions justify this, and in the Christian religion, Genesis 2:18 denotes the creation of women as a “helpmeet.” A semantic analysis of this depicts that women were created as a support system for men. Having realized this, there has been a continuous struggle to correct the horror of patriarchy and women’s domination. About this, the First Lady recommends that women should be steadfast in lending their voices to agitations calling for a level playing field for themselves and the girl-child who has been born into the system.
In further discussions during the Toyin Falola Interviews on how to overcome patriarchy, Chimamanda Adiche’s book, We should all be Feminists, was examined. Adichie makes a clarion call to both women and men to stand up and speak to patriarchal societies. Quoting her: “We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. Girls, we tell them, they can have ambition, but not too much. You should strive for success, but not excessive success. You’d be threatening the man if you did. I’m expected to want to marry because I’m a woman. I’m expected to make all of my life decisions with marriage as the most crucial factor in mind.” In other words, marriage has become a trap sociologically constructed by society, and how much a woman is revered in society is attributed to her marital status.
Reference was made to other First Ladies who support the patriarchal governments and collaborate with them by using their office to promote their husband’s policies and to entrench gender inequality in programs that do not transform society for women. Dr. Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi is a contrast to this narrative. Her voice is embedded in Adiche’s advice calling out women to stand against every form of patriarchal suppression and domination. She called out for the anger in every feminist as this would provide an avenue to fight harder the horrors of the society backed up by cultures and traditions aimed towards taming the average girl-child. However, she emphasized the need to be careful not to engage in misandry, intense hatred for men.
Dr. Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi called on the government to adopt affirmative action policies in ensuring women are well represented in politics. Affirmative action produces role models for other women as women become more visible in the public space. Seeing women in positions of authority can inspire others to pursue positions of leadership confidently. Affirmative action also encourages diversity and expands opportunities for other categories of marginalized people. It can reduce the likelihood of conflict by bringing members of society closer together politically, economically, and socially. According to her, when this representation happens, women would be able to propose and establish policies tailored towards women empowerment. Thus, creating space for women in political institutions through gender quotas and reserved seats is a must. This is another way for women to benefit from hard work in political mobilization and other public functions.
Over the years, there has been an increase in the number of women appointed to political posts worldwide. For Nigerian women, however, this is not the case. Reference was made to countries like Namibia, Uganda, Rwanda, and South Africa that have enhanced opportunities for their women to be actively involved in the politics of their society. In Rwanda, for example, women occupy more than half of the political posts. But in Nigeria, women are underrepresented in political and leadership positions. Women make up only seven of the 109 senators and 22 out of the 360 members of the House of Representatives. With this illustration and statistical question, the one billion naira question is, “Why do we have lesser women in leadership positions?” Responding to this, Dr. Adeleye-Fayemi highlighted several factors. She noted that some are linked to political party structures and systems. The expensive cost of politics, for example, precludes women from running for office. Women frequently lack the financial means to pay for the requisite expressions of interest and nomination papers that political parties require to run for seats on their agendas. She also mentioned how expensive political campaigns are.
Moreover, the lack of access to education means a lack of employment opportunities. Women are also less likely to pay to go through the process of obtaining leadership positions due to unpaid labor, unequal inheritance rights, and open discrimination. With this, she suggests the concept of godmothers like the male counterparts have the godfathers who sponsor political aspirants. Engaging this, Dr. Adeleye-Fayemi noted that women make up about half of the population; therefore, their participation will create a power balance between the sexes. This is a measure of how far society has progressed.
To overcome patriarchy in society, recommendations are made that feminists need to address oppression from the root. It is ridiculous that even in the 21st century, women are still forced to live the way the older generation lived. Wives are the first suspects in their husbands’ deaths, and widows are forced to practice the rites of widowhood. This narrative needs to change, Dr. Adeleye-Fayemi said, as this is one of the immediate steps towards ensuring a fairer society for the girl-child. In order to maintain a robust and lasting democracy in Nigeria and for women to be fully engaged and benefit from the advantages accruing to women in politics, their involvement in politics is essential. Female participation in policy formation is necessary to advocate the interests of other women and assume their proper position as intellectuals, rather than being confined to only domestic duties.
Providing a clearer glimpse about the fate of the girl-child, a young teenage girl, Idaniloju Sotunsa, was selected as one of the interviewers at the Toyin Falola Interviews. She asked about the worldview regarding gender imbalance for a young girl of her generation. The interviewee responded to the question by highlighting the various policies and measures set out by women leaders working towards a better future for the girl-child. In Ekiti, for instance, there is a law against gender-based violence, and its implementation is monitored by women’s rights organisations and civil society groups. It addresses the issues of survival and access to justice. There are treatment centres and shelters for violated women.
When overcoming patriarchy is discussed, maintaining a child’s education no matter the challenges faced was at the forefront of the discussion. The first lady recommends that even if a girl-child becomes pregnant while still in school, she should be given fair treatment as the male child to complete her studies. This submission was in response to a question by one of the interviewers, Mr. Olusegun Adeniyi, a Nigerian journalist. However, the First Lady, Erelu Bisi Fayemi, solicited and entreated schools, men and policymakers to show empathy to the girl-child as she did not impregnate herself. Thus, being told to drop out from school would be a punishment for the girl-child while the boy or man who impregnated her continues his life.
A significant portion of this edition of the Toyin Falola Interviews was devoted to the empowerment of the girl-child. They are the future of tomorrow, and to successfully tackle misogyny, they must not suffer the fate of their mothers, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers. The interview ended on the notion that men have to be actively involved in the fight to overcome patriarchy because they are the creator and guardians of the “rule of the father.”
(This is the third of three reports on the interview conducted with Dr. Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi on June 27, 2021). For its entire recording, see https://fb.watch/6oxK6nvXx7/)