A few words about my talk at this year’s SOAS Igbo Conference.

I often have to force myself to go to bed at night because it is at this time that my brain seems to want to be awake. This time, it is preoccupied with clarifications.

At the end of my talk titled ‘Different but Equal’ yesterday evening, a very nice professor from UNILAG approached me with her concerns. For one, she thought I was being general when I said that our culture is preoccupied with marriage, especially that of females and that women were often complicit in the mild coercion of other women in this vein.

“I never pushed any of my daughters to get married,” she said.

Later during a panel discussing Adichie’s ‘We Should All Be Feminists’ speech, she took the opportunity to reiterate her point, adding that she was ‘shocked at some of the things which people are saying here today’.

I take her point. I did say during my talk that it was a certain kind  of Igbo person, woman or man that I was referring to. Being in that lecture hall, at that conference, many of us already declared our interest in equality of the sexes. I was among my people. Perhaps, that did not come across clearly.

My own mother is very much like this professor. I was in my twenties when I married, armed with two degrees and a post-graduate diploma and my mother when I told her I was engaged said “But why do you need to marry now? What about your PhD?” or words to that effect.

However, this is my mother. This is the kind of person she is; a woman who believes that all women should aim to achieve their full potential before marriage – if they desire to get married, of course. And she is this way because her parents were the same. But this is not everyone’s reality, not in this generation or in our mothers’. This has certainly not been my reality with our Nigerian society in general and to assume that everyone is like my mother or like the aforementioned professor, would be very narrow-minded indeed.

Just because the truth makes us uncomfortable, does not make it any less true.

Secondly, I mentioned I had not – prior to my recent Nigeria trip – been home in six years. A friend, in jest, told me I should be ashamed of myself. Ha ha. I had my reasons, including a cancelled trip in 2012 due to ‘extenuating circumstances’ (ha ha again. There’s a show on telly right now). I would not have thought more of it if the lovely, worried, professor did not pick that up during her comment at panel as proof that I was out of touch with the times. “You need to ask us what we at home are doing,” she said.

Again, agreed. I hate to think that I implied that there was nothing being done by women at home with regards to feminism, womanism or whatever other ‘ism’ out there is being used to describe the movement for equality among the sexes.

But this is not the 1970s or 80s. Being away from home these days, no longer entails waiting weeks or months for a letter or sitting by the phone at an appointed time for a 3-minute phone call down a crackly line. no. Now, when we are not at home, we take home with us; a look on social media will reveal to you the general thought processes of people regarding anything you want to know. Social media is good like that. It cuts across all groups; gender, age and literacy. My entire family – bar one sister and I – still live and work in Nigeria. One is never more than a Whatsapp message away from what is happening. Anyone still in doubt of the power and effectiveness of social media in and amongst Nigerians, need only consider its impact on this year’s presidential elections.

Then of course, there are friends and family who travel to and from Nigeria frequently, of which my husband is one. This year alone, he’s been to Nigeria three times. It is pretty difficult to be as far removed as once was, from simply not being ‘on the ground’ in Nigeria. Not unless one is plagued by technophobia or is some sort of Luddite.

The number one topic at any gathering of the diaspora here? Nigeria.

Finally, I would hate if my talk came across as an attack on men and manhood. That was not my intention. I will reiterate: there are certain men who would give their right arm to uphold the status quo. You know them. They are the ‘This is not the done thing’ men or the ‘It is against our culture’ men or the men who try to use religion to justify their perceived superiority. Then, there are the ignorant ones, who have never really thought about it. They’ve never had to put themselves in the shoes of women because it just has not occurred to them at all. Out of this group you might eventually get resistance, understanding and change or just plain indifference.

Then there are the men, who are already getting it right. Those men were all at Igbo Conference yesterday and will be today. To those men, I say ‘Deeme’, you are on the right track.

I hope I have resolved any misunderstandings. Now my good people, you have the knife and the yam; you may cut it into whatever size is easy for you to digest.

Regards,

CE.

2 thoughts on “A few words about my talk at this year’s SOAS Igbo Conference.

  1. The UNILAG professor may have felt that the strides being made in Nigeria to deal with sexism are not being fully recognised, But it is difficult to live in Nigeria and not know that a need for marriage in order for validation in the life of the woman is largely pervasive. But to each their own. I hope there is a video from the talk eventually. I would like to see it

    1. Very likely. I thought her points were interesting – it’s certainly made me aware of how one might come across. She was lovely though so I’m buying her book.

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