Tackling Gender Bias for Equity and Sustainability on African Campuses

(A conversation with Priscilla Taiwo, current student at a university in Nigeria)

Priscilla: We often hear complaints about how “feminist” girls and women are becoming.

Zibah: Yes, I heard them quite a lot when I was conducting research on the welfare of female students in African universities. I think some of the comments are from people who may feel threatened or just may not understand what it means.

Priscilla: The complaints could be true when a woman wants her rights met in just and equal measure, without being deprived just because she is “womb-man”.

Zibah: A womb-man… hmmm! Regardless, “feminism” is still so much of a taboo word. I must admit that I too struggled with the concept for a long time, until I took the time to read and learn more about it. Plus, I had to really question and address a lot of some of my own biases* and ignorance.

*Bias [meaning] = inclination or prejudice for or against one person or group, especially in a way considered to be unfair (Oxford Dictionary)

Priscilla: So, for centuries, women’s purposes hardly passed the role of bringing children into the world and being a master of kitchen affairs. They were responsible for raising children as well, and there was no channel to truly express themselves.

Zibah: What you just said reminds me of one of my favourite quotes –

“Women were basically seen as producers… whether as daughters, wives, or mothers. It is said when a woman outgrows the question, ‘whose daughter is she?’ people then ask, ‘whose wife is she?'”

Ifi Amadiume – Author, Male Daughters, Female Husbands

Priscilla: So true. And yes, we might agree that many women have taken their pursuit too far by making it a competition while breeding hate between the genders. But what we seek is a chance to give the best of our potentials to the world.

If only women and men can learn to thrive together in the same space, without feeling like one is out to get the other.

Zibah: Oh yes, and you may find that this competition is happening subtly or under-the-radar, that it is difficult to pinpoint. Sometimes it is so ingrained in schools, workplaces or communities. You hear people saying “This is how we’ve always done it here” and no-one thinks or dares to question it. And the gender bias or discrimination** continues.

**Discrimination [meaning] = the unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people, especially on the grounds of race, age, sex, or disability (Oxford Dictionary)

Priscilla: Exactly! This is why we are now advocating to eliminate gender biases from our campuses. Just as our male classmates are interested in campus politics, so are we. But most of us are not given the opportunity to shine and we are shoved aside just because we are… yes, female! The highest position that one can get is as “vice” or “assistant”. So, really what we seek is an open environment where we can learn and thrive without feeling like “second best”.

Also, girls sometimes do not support their own gender and this is one of the biggest barriers to our growth on campus.

Zibah: Hmmm! This is a sad reality that has to change.

Gender-based Violence

Priscilla: Then we talk about physical and emotional abuse that affects female students so much, yet it goes on. Although such gender-based violence has been addressed severally in the news, has there really been a solution? What voice do female students have when it comes to selling their bodies to lecturers for marks? Many girls do not really believe that they own their sexuality and have a right to protect it.

Zibah: Hence, the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is about re-imagining and working towards a world free of bias, discrimination and gender-based violence.

Priscilla: One more thing… how about the training of CONFIDENT young women who, after our university studies, can take the ‘real’ world by storm? We can give so much more than we are given credit for. And the potentials of our generation of women must be birthed and nurtured.

This is nothing against men, it is what we should all embrace. The world would be a better place when we all contribute our quota.

So, if you are a female student in any tertiary institution in Africa, this is a call to rise up, be more and do more! Don’t just stay there and continue to complain. This IWD event is BY us and FOR us. It will be moderated by Mary Modupe Adetiba (NFSAN President) and the guest speakers are Queen Chikwendu, Tochukwu Onichabor and Mary Ojwang (Founder, WOSWA Kenya).

Click HERE to book your free place and join the conversation online on Saturday 5th March at 9am GMT / 10am WAT / 12noon EAT. Come and lend your voice as we tackle gender bias for equity and sustainability on African campuses.

If you are not a student but you know anyone that attends a tertiary institution in Africa, PLEASE pass this on and encourage them to attend. It’s time to #BreakTheBias

The support of the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is gratefully acknowledged.

The featured image shows a black girl wearing a hijab and striking the IWD 2022 theme pose with her arms crossed in front of her; together with the words hash-tagged “Break The Bias”. Source: https://www.internationalwomensday.com/theme