The Nigeria Feminist Forum and its partners totally reject and condemn in strong terms the comments made by Nigeria’s President Mohammad Buhari on Friday 14 October 2016 in response to his wife’s interview on Hausa Service of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). Mrs. Aisha Buhari, during the interview publicly expressed discontent with Mr. President for not living up to expectations. In response to certain statements made by Aisha, President Buhari was quoted by the Associated Press (AP) as saying during a joint press conference with German Chancellor Ms. Angela Merkel, that “his wife should be taking care of his kitchen, living room and the other room” —meaning his bedroom. In his own words, President Buhari said, “I don’t know which party my wife belongs to, but she belongs to my kitchen and my living room and the other room”.
Mr. President’s comment connotes a nostalgic and repugnant invocation of historical patriarchal oppression and subjugation of Nigerian women, which has over the past alienated and denied Nigerian women access and a level playing ground to compete equally with their male counterparts both in public and personal spaces. Need we remind Mr. President about the role and contributions of women in our nation building vis-à-vis the socio-cultural, economic and political development of our beloved Nigeria?
We, Nigerian women, alongside our male counterparts have throughout the history of the development of this country resisted and will continue to resist every attempt made to diminish our contributions to the development of this nation. We will continue to fight against the entrenchment of patriarchal, socio-cultural and religious misogynistic structures that oppress and demean the status of women in our society. This demeaning statement violates right to dignity of every woman, recognised in Section 34 of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution.
It is notable that Mr. President’s condescending comment relegating his wife’s role exclusively to his ’’kitchen and the other room’’ was made during a state visit to Germany, a first world nation with advanced democracy, headed by a woman (Ms. Angela Merkel). Ms. Merkel serves as a clear example that women can attain the highest leadership position anywhere in the world if given the right support and opportunity. Ms. Merkel would not have become the German Chancellor if she as a woman was solely relegated to the kitchen or the other room. Ms. Merkel, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Michelle Bachelet, Thersa May, Doris Leuthard and other women in similar positions demonstrate that women just like men, are capable of making important decisions in the boardrooms and conference rooms.
Mr. President, Sir, we Nigerian women hereby categorically state that we are no less important than our male citizens. We matter equally. It is inexcusable and utterly condemnable to refer to the First Lady of Nigeria and indeed any other woman as belonging to the ’’kitchen’’. It may interest you to know that Nigerian women make up 42.2% of the labour force (World Bank, 2014). Nigerian women contribute close to 70% of agricultural workforce (African Development Bank, 2015).
Millions of Nigerian women are entrepreneurs, doctors, engineers, teachers, lawyers, farmers, traders, among others. Nigerian women, including your wife Aisha, constitute 50% of the country’s population and comments such as yours can never diminish or undermine our status and contribution to national development and growth. Mr President, Sir, your role as a statesman and leader of a polarized country such as ours connotes that you must never been seen either in public or private to support ideas and positions that stifle 50% of the citizens of the country you head.
We equally admonish your follow up comments/confirmation of your earlier position to a journalist that your wife’s sole duty is to ‘take care of you’ is equally unacceptable. We believe that you are not physically disabled or incapacitated to warrant 24 hours personal care and if that is the case, may we suggest you seek qualified paid professional care.
Mr. President, it is needless to remind you that Aisha, your wife, is a highly educated, influential and focused woman, from a family of politicians. We recall her contributions and indeed the contribution of other Nigerian women to the success of the 2015 elections, which ushered in your government. Mrs. Aisha Buhari successfully rallied the support of the mass of Nigerian women who make up approximately 50% of the total number of voters that voted to put your government in power. Need we remind you that women actively participated in political rallies, campaigns, voters’ registration and actual voting exercises? We have not forgotten about the promises you made to women during your election campaign speeches; we are eagerly waiting for you to fulfil them starting from appointing women equally in your cabinet.
The NFF and its partners are saddened and worried to note that the present political dispensation has the lowest representation of women in public office. Women make up roughly 8% of the overall membership of the legislature and only 7% of ministers currently serving in your cabinet are women. This is against the 31% in the immediate past administration. We wonder if this dismal representation of women in decision-making in your government has a direct link to your personal opinion of women and their role in the society. The dismal role of women in decision-making positions in this present administration is extremely discomforting. Nigerian women were even further assaulted by the rejection of the Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill (GEOP) by members of Nigeria’s Senate on Tuesday, 15 March 2016. The GEOP Bill seeks to guarantee the rights of women to access equal opportunities in employment and education. It also seeks to guarantee equal rights to inheritance for both male and female children.
We note that in other progressive democracies in Africa, in countries like Rwanda, women make up 63.8% in the Lower house of Assembly and 38.5% in the Senate. In South Africa women represent 41.9% and 35.2% respectively. In Burundi women represent 36.4% in the Lower Assembly and 41.9% representation in Senate. Even Zimbabwe has 31.5% and 37.5% respectively. In the Nigerian parliament as presently constituted, women represent a dismal 5.6% in the Lower Assembly and 6.5% in the Senate. Very far from the agitated 35%, Affirmative Action provided for, in the National Gender Policy 2006.
The NFF and its partners will like to use this medium to commend the courage, sincerity, and audacity of Mrs. Aisha Buhari to speak up, upon sensing that the government is clearly deviating from delivering the electioneering promises it made to Nigerians. Never in our history as a nation have we had a woman in that position use her power to express an opinion that threatens even her personal comfort.
We hereby use this medium to call on President Mohammad Buhari to immediately:
- Offer an unreserved public apology to his wife and indeed every Nigerian woman and girl for the disparaging and demeaning misogynistic comment made about confining the role of women in the society solely to the domestics.
- Take concrete actions to demonstrate his government’s commitment to actualizing 35% Affirmative Action in all government institutions, structures and decision-making positions.
- Demonstrate a clear roadmap of implementing the Sustainable Development Goal especially Goal 5 on Gender Equality.
- Fulfil every electioneering promise made to Nigerian women and take steps to secure the lives of women and girls especially those in conflict situations.
- Show public support for women’s rights and gender equality.
We also call on the leadership of Nigerian legislature not to relent in its commitment to ensure the immediate passage of the re-introduced Gender and Equal Opportunities bill presently before the Senate.
Nigerian Feminist Forum, Secretariat.
Co-signed by: Women Africa (WA), Women Entrepreneurs Association of Nigera (WEAN), Centre for Mmadu on Human Rights (C4M), Alliances for Africa (AfA), Legal Defence and Assistance Project (LEDAP), Women Crisis Centre (WCC) Lesley Agams, Equity Advocates (EQ) Echoes of Women In Africa (ECHOES), Arise Nigerian Women Foundation (ANWF), Gender and Development Action (GADA), Media Concern Initiative for Women and Children (MCIWC), Women’s Right and Health Project (WRAHP),Vision Spring Initiatives (VSI), Voice of Eve International (VOI).
*The Nigerian Feminist Forum (NFF) is a biennial public policy forum that brings together feminists from the six geo-political zones, government officials, and other strategic partners to deliberate on issues of key concern to the development of and emancipation of women in Nigeria. We can be reached via email at;[email protected], [email protected] and via twitter: @nff2008