Nigeria and Senegal are two countries that have both developed very fast during the past three centuries. Throughout these centuries, the views of gender equality in the two countries have drastically changed. It would be a lie to say the things have not become slightly fairer yet some inequalities remain untouched. While inequalities go both ways, women in Senegal and Nigeria suffer a lot because education, family, and economics are three sectors in which men are perceived as superior, thus turning gender equality into a mere myth.
The evolution of gender equality in education
In most developing countries, education is one of their biggest concerns because the general population is young, but gender equality is often forgotten when discussing the urge to put all African children into good schools. Senegal and Nigeria are two countries in which this is no different and has not been for the past few centuries.
Senegalese enrollment rates in decent schools are increasing for both girls and boys but that has not always been the case. In the 19th century, Senegal was not yet out of colonialism. During that period, Senegal was a French colony, therefore many French families lived in Senegal, more precisely its then capital Saint-Louis. Many reforms were put into action between 1815 and 1816 in order to increase enrollment rates in the country but most of the children attending school were French or mulatto children. During that period there were exactly 19778 enrollments to public and private school but not even one-third of these were girls. This is because boys were expected to perform bureaucratic services while girls were expected to grow up as pious wives and mothers. Because of this, boys were sent to school while most girls were kept home to be educated by their mothers. Due to this, most teachers were male and it was nearly impossible to find a female instructor. According to different online sources, the net enrolment rate was 9% for girls and 35% for boys, the repetition rate was 93% for girls and 54% for boys but also only about 10% of women knew how to properly read and write whereas 32% of men could do so. These numbers prove that education was not properly done in this century but most of all that the education of boys seemed to be so important that girls were left with little to no education. This inequality in education crisis has gone on in Senegal for nearly 200 years as this happened throughout both the 19th and 20th century. But at the end of the 20th century, people started to realize that there was a serious problem.
It has been 18 years since the beginning of the 21st century and Senegalese people have been working very hard on the development of education in the developing country. According to the UNICEF, 74% of the Senegalese boys can both read and write while 56% of girls have the same ability, the enrolment ratio for girls has now become higher than the one for boys with 81% for females and 76% for male, however the net attendance ratio for boys is higher with 35% for boys and 32% for girls. These numbers show that great efforts and improvements have been made but the objective is still absolute equality. The inequality in the education of young Senegalese girls can be explained by the high rate of child marriages making the parents of these girls remove them from school too early or just never put them in school. The association Save the Children claims that 31% of girls under the age of 18 and 8% under the age of 15 are forced into marriages with grown men. That is both illegal, immoral and one of the principle reasons why all girls do not get to attend school in Senegal. Poor families are still very affected as girls from these families are still forced to drop out of school so that the boys of the family can continue their education but more fortunate families do not encounter such problems. Work is still being done and the results are slowly getting closer but the objective of absolute equality is still a few years away, maybe even decades away.
As a fellow West African country, Nigeria is in a similar, if not in the same situation as Senegal and has been for quite a while. In 19th century Nigeria, before the arrival of the British colonizers, education was very different depending on the ethnical group or the religion of the children. The country was divided by religion into two parts. In the Islamic north, children learned the Quran and how to practice their religion. In the south dominated by Christians, children learned skills that they would use in their everyday traditional life. As they grew older, boys learned skills that would permit them to find low paying jobs around the country while girls were obliged to stay home and learn to cook and clean. This shows that even before Nigerians were introduced to modern schools, girls and boys were not educated equally. Boys were educated in a way that would give the opportunities in life to get some money and provide for their families. Girls were educated in a way that forced them to stay home and never got the chance to reveal their true potential.
Modern, Western-type education was introduced by British colonizers approximately in the 1840s. People started to leave their traditional lifestyles behind and moving to bigger cities. Children started attending schools in small numbers and slowly those numbers increased but the students were essentially boys. As a matter of fact, girls still stayed home to do domestic work and very few girls had the chance to learn to read and write. This occurred throughout the end of the 19th century and almost the entire 20th century. The Joys of Motherhood by Buchi Emecheta demonstrate this perfectly as Nnu Ego has many children, both boys, and girls, but only her boys have access to correct schooling. This was the situation in which most girls were stuck in for nearly two centuries. As a result, there were very few female teachers in Nigeria. Towards the middle of the 20th century, out of 2057 teachers, only 499 were women in primary schools and in the entire country, only 19.7% of teachers were women. This shows that very few women had the chance to learn enough in order to teach.
Today, Nigeria has grown as a country but education still shows a bias favoring boys. Today only 20% of Nigeria’s women are literate and have attended school, in classes the average is one girl for every three boys but the gender gap has narrowed from 12 to 10 points. Nigeria’s education is on the right track to becoming entirely equal.
The evolution of gender equality in family
African countries put family before anything and it is quite peculiar that women aren’t seen as equal to men in Senegal and Nigeria, two countries that value family very much.
Senegal is a dominantly Muslim country, therefore, most things work according to religion, including family. The Islamic religion does slightly discriminate women and because of that most Senegalese families do, and have always done so. In the 19th century Senegal, women were seen as humans made to follow men. Wives were left home to clean, cook and take care of children while men could get a job that would benefit them economically. Women were not allowed to provide for their families, could only live by their husband’s earnings and most of the time were forced to marry men that they maybe even didn’t know. Families who didn’t respect this were seen and untrue to their religion.
Throughout the nineteenth and the beginning of the 20th centuries, things stayed that way and no one dared do anything. With the arrival of the French people, not only was Christianity introduced but also women were able to get a more modern role in family and society in general. Women slowly started to also provide for themselves and their families, they were no longer obliged to follow men all the time but most of all, the number of forced marriages reduced drastically.
Today, in the 21st century, the role of women is becoming more important as most Senegalese women are independent, have a job and do not need to rely on a man to live well but women are still generally seen as inferior to men. In 2001, the article 7 of Senegal’s constitution guarantees absolute equality for the sexes. The legal age of marriage is still quite low (15 years old for both sexes) but the percentage of girls married at such young age is going down. Senegalese women are slowly becoming equal to their fellow Senegalese men.
In Nigeria, things aren’t exactly the same as in Senegal. In the 19th century, Nigerian women were entirely dominated, they had no opinion to give in anything, they had to stay home and do domestic jobs and their husbands were always chosen by their fathers. Women who were unable to have children were seen as useless and occupied and even lower spot in society. Women were said to belong to their father before their marriage and once they are married, the belonged to their husband. This did not change at all between the 19th and the 20th century but changes started to happen towards the end of the 20th century. Buchi Emecheta demonstrates this in The Joys of Motherhood by making Nnu Ego somewhat of a subject to her husbands.
By the beginning of the 21st century, Nigeria had already been colonized and given its independence. Many things had changed including the equality of men and women in the family. Men have kept their role as dominant, providers to their families, decision makers, and rule setters but women are no longer as dominated and in a way enslaved by their husbands. Now, women in Nigeria are active workers and almost all have jobs. Fathers no longer decide who their daughter will or will not marry and girls now get to choose by themselves who their husband will be. Women who cannot have children are no longer such a disgrace to their families and are even able to live a very joyful life with adoption and other solutions like that. It is not rare to find women who aren’t married and prefer to live an independent life but most of all, Nigeria’s feminist community is growing and fighting against inequalities. Nigeria even has a National Gender Policy which focusses on women empowerment and the prohibition of discrimination on the grounds of sex and religion. The legal age of marriage has been reviewed and has been brought to 18 for both genders. Nigeria is working very hard for its women to feel entirely equal to men.
Gender equality in economics
The economy of a country is crucial and defines whether the country is developed or not. Senegal and Nigeria are two developing countries that have pretty good economies but people often forget to discuss gender equality when it comes to economics.
Senegal is known to have one of West Africa’s most stable economies but that has not always been the case. In the 19th century, there was no negotiating; women were strictly forbidden to participate in any economic activity. Women could not vote or present themselves for any type of election. The government was 100% made up of men and no women even thought of joining the countries administration.
This stayed the same until the middle of the 20th century when women started to get economically active. the government started to accept women, the right to vote was granted to females and the wives of our presidents were as active economically as their husbands. the country was ranked 115th in the economic gender equality index and very few women were economically active in 20th century Senegal.
Today, things have changed and more women are economically active. women still do not get the same salaries as men and no woman has yet ruled the country but many improvements have been seen in the economy of Senegal. 42% of parliamentary seats in Senegal are occupied by women and a parity law passed in 2010 aims to ensure political and economic gender equality at all levels.
In Nigeria, back in the 19th century, even women didn’t fight for gender equality in economics because it was simply viewed as impossible. Just like in Senegal, women could not participate in any type of economic activity, they could not vote and they could not be elected for anything. This went on the entire 19the century and a small part of the 20th century but changed drastically towards the 1950s.
In the 20th century, in economics, women were not as powerless and docile as people would think. With the independence of Nigeria, women gained the right to vote and to participate in most economic activities. Nigerian resources started to be controlled but women and even though they didn’t get the same pay as men did, they were more equal to men that they had ever been.
Today, in the 21st century, women are almost as equal as men are in the Nigerian economy. Men are still regarded as breadwinners and so are granted higher salaries than women but almost all Nigerian women who are legally old enough voted at every election, no woman has yet presided the country but the government counts many women and most national resources are held but women. Nigeria has one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies and pretty soon women will be fully equal to men.
As a conclusion, one can say that both Senegal and Nigeria are on the right tracks to gaining absolute equality of their women. The evolution of gender equality in education, family, and economics has been real between the 19th and the 21st century in both countries. The governments of these countries and the feminist communities are working hard and in maybe a decade or two, women will be equal to men in Senegal and Nigeria in every sector.
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