People in Nigeria are still going to great lengths to secure a male heir
In a shared hospital room occupied by three women who all put to bed within minutes of each other, two women battle intense sadness and feelings of loss and failure. Two of the women just gave birth to their 4th and 5TH female children. This was in the year 1990 and ultrasound scans and other diagnostic technology was not common in Nigeria. People either got pleasantly surprised or thrown into despair depending on their expectations of the child gender. The third woman just gave birth to her 1st male child and was looked happy, unlike her roommates.
Mary was one of the women in that room. Now a grandmother herself she recalls how difficult it was for women who didn’t give birth to male children and also lacked the support of their spouses. ‘ I almost cried myself to death the night I gave birth to my 5th daughter, I even fell sick afterwards and struggled to love my daughters. I now know that it is not my fault that kept birthing girls and I am not incomplete without a male child’. 30 years after and not much has changed.
A Cultural History of the Female in Nigeria
It is believed that over the years, gender segregation has been tolerated and assimilated by people and have become part of our people’s customs and traditions. Taking a look at the historical perception of a woman examining three major ethnic groups in Nigeria ;
In Igbo Culture
‘The Igbos believe that gods, deities and ancestral spirits have control over the living and as such worship or reverence them. In religious matters, men play more significant roles than women. They perform rituals, make dedications, consult oracles, make sacrifices and pour libations while women devotees are involved in menial tasks of painting, decorating and beautifying the walls of the shrines’.Eunice U.Ibekwe Gender Identity: A Force in Igbo Traditional Musical Practices
According to Ekwueme, L. in his research “Gender Distribution in the National Festival of Arts and Culture Event”. Nigerian Musicology Journal 1.1 (2005)Gender functions have been so arranged and segregated that men arrogate superior functions to themselves and inferior functions to women.
In Thing Fall Apart a book by Chinua Achebe, Even the crops were gendered. Coco-yams, beans, and cassava were “women’s crops” (Achebe 23). Yam, the “king of crops”, was “a man’s crop” (Achebe 23). In Umofia, all that is desirable and admired is associated with manliness. Anything that is demeaning or scornful is considered to be womanly. Essay on Gender Roles in Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe
In Igbo land, women do not inherit but can be inherited when their husband dies, sometimes by a man much older than them or younger than their children. Also, a man that dies without a son will have his property inherited by his brothers or uncles and his wife and daughters most likely thrown out of their own home even to this day.
In Yoruba Culture
Of the three major ethnic groups in Nigeria, the Yoruba culture is still regarded as far more mild and accommodating of female children. According to O.O. Familusi, Ph.D , the Yoruba nation like many other African societies is essentially patriarchal; hence men are understood to be more privileged than women. Such a society is described as that which is characterized by male superordination and female subordination. Immediately a child is born, the question that will be posed will centre on sex, not minding of the health of the mother. If the baby is a female, the mother will be scolded and treated as a lazy, good for nothing woman. On the other hand, if the child is a male, praise will be showered on the mother, not considering the fact that Biology has shown that it is the father who determines the sex of an offspring.
In Yoruba culture no matter how young a male is, he is still more important than a female, while females still inherit in Yoruba land it is not usually equal to what a male gets, no matter how young he is. A proverb that expresses women being disadvantaged is Ai lokurin nile lobinrin njogun ada — the absence of male affords a female the opportunity of inheriting a cutlass. Cutlass as a farm implement is traditionally used by men. It symbolises the power and essence of survival. Therefore, for a woman to assume the mantle of leadership, the head of the household must be irresponsible, lazy, or dead. When this is not the case, women are understood to be substitutes. This is similar to tio ba nidi obirin ki ije kumolu– Woman cannot be named Kumolu for any reason. This name is given to men especially those who are potential leaders of their families. This confers much respect and dignity on them. It follows that where there are men, women are not reckoned with. The Journal of Pan African Studies,
In northern Nigeria, the major religion is Islam and Islam allows girls inherit, however, this region is equally bedevilled with the issue of a strong preference for boys, boys are seen are better income earners and more valued. Thus, the common phrase reflecting general attitude toward the birth of a girl-child is: ba a yi komai ba, mace ta haifi mace, meaning that ‘nothing is gained by a female giving birth to a female’
Girls are reared to be domestic caregivers and housewives and education is regarded as irrelevant as marriages are arranged between them and much older men for the financial benefit of their families. Only 31% of Northern girls are enrolled in primary school, this is less than half of the 77% of boys in primary school.
In many cultures in Nigeria, boys are still prized over girls and many couples are going to great lengths to ensure they secure a male child.
Gender Selection Charts
Originated from the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911 AD), the Chinese Gender Chart or Birth Chart is widely used to predict baby’s sex. It is based on two elements: the mother-to-be’s lunar conception month and Chinese lunar age when the baby is conceived. If you are pregnant, with the help of the gender prediction calculation tool below, you could easily find out if you are carrying a boy or girl. If you plan to conceive a baby, it could guide you the best time to get pregnant for preferred gender. Lola Adu, an Interior Decorator told me that while a boy child did not determine the security of her marriage, she wanted a boy after having two girls. She said she turned to the Chinese Gender Selection Chart. ‘ The Chart worked, I gave birth to a baby boy now my family is complete’ she says.
IVF Gender Selection
According to a blog post by the Bridge Clinic Non-medical or elective gender, the selection is the determination of the sex of the child for purely social reasons devoid of any obvious medical indications. The most common reason for non-medical gender selection is family balancing when one gender may already be represented in the family unit and the other gender would be preferred. This procedure would cost between $20,000 -$30,000 depending on the service provider. Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD)with IVF, has come to be the preferred procedure worldwide because of its higher degree of certainty. Debby is pregnant with her fifth child, a boy who was conceived via PGD ‘ my husband is an only child, the task of continuing the family name retest on him, this was our only option, we couldn’t afford the risk of having another girl by getting pregnant naturally’.
Gender Identification Testing Some families are not letting fate decide the sex of their children, they do not want any surprises and have turned to gender identification very early pregnancy in pregnancy. Gene Planet, a leading European biotech company provides non- invasive prenatal testing using a sample the mother (pregnant woman) blood. This test is basically to test for chromosomal abnormalities from as early as 7–10 weeks. Most importantly for their Nigerian customers, it detects the sex of the fetus accurately and early. The Nifty test cost between $600 and $1000.
Michael Dada, a UK based Nigerian businessman and the CEO of Gene Planet Nigeria says ‘ I decided to set up Gene Planet Nigeria because there is a market for the product, many Nigerian women travelled to Europe for this test. Bringing it to Nigeria saves them the hassle, they only submit 10mls of blood through our partner hospitals and get their results in a week. He, however, added that ‘ 80% of families wanted to know the gender of the baby because hospital ultrasounds are not 100% reliable and are conducted around 18weeks.
While girls are not neglected in many homes, the boy is still mostly preferred. To move forward beliefs must be changed about the value of girl children. We now know that rapid economic development is dependent upon the elimination of gender bias. Nigeria is a deeply patriarchal society and this has left women still trying to negotiate their relevance in nation-building and even though in recent years we have seen more female participation n politics, technology, business and leadership we still have a long way to go when it comes to achieving equality of the sexes even in our own homes.