Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Monday, March 21, 2016

What women in urban, northern Nigeria face

Those of us without first-hand experience probably wonder at women's inactivity in politics, business, and society in places like the northern Nigerian states. The life of Balaraba Ramat Yakubu, while extraordinary, might give us outsiders some clues.

From illiterate child bride to famous Nigerian novelist
She was taken out of primary school at the age of 12 to marry a man in his 40s whom she had never met before…

Today, that illiterate girl… has become one of northern Nigeria's most well-known writers and the first female Hausa-language author to be translated into English…

Yakubu used this traumatic experience [of her first marriage] in her novel Wa Zai Auri Jahila? (Who Would Marry an Ignorant Woman?), published in 1990… [as] a statement against child marriage as well as a plea for girls' education…

Her popularity did not come overnight. After she published her first novel… religious leaders would preach against her, and she would receive threatening letters denouncing her…

As a female Hausa writer, Yakubu is seen as one of the pioneers of the "soyayya" genre. These romance novels (soyayya means love) written by northern Nigerian women, have become very popular among female readers in that part of the country. At every market in Kano, stalls sell these books and female customers - from veiled schoolgirls to grandmothers - can be seen browsing through the books…

Nowadays, soyayya stories are even broadcast on radio, giving the female authors an almost star-like status in communities where women traditionally don't play significant public roles.

Balaraba Ramat Yakubu
Her own struggle to regain control over her life and claim her voice as a woman has made Yakubu an outspoken advocate of women's rights. She sees northern women claiming more and more public territory. At one time, she was the only female writer in Kano; now, the local association for women authors… counts more than 200 members.

And she can name many more examples like that. "These days, we have women in politics, business and the military. We even have female pilots. To the West, it might not seem like much. But to women here, it is progress."

With the enrollment of girls in schools and universities on the rise, she is optimistic that the position of women will improve. The next generation of women will continue the struggle more effectively, she thinks…

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