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Nigeria’s Poisonous Patriarchy

Many in Nigeria believe that familial and even societal honor depends on women’s complicity, purity, and silence. Such norms severely constrain women's opportunities and leave them highly vulnerable to violence.

IBADAN, NIGERIA – Nearly every country has some way to go to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls by 2030, in line with United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 5. But for a country like Nigeria – where toxic masculinity pervades politics, the economy, and society – the challenge is particularly formidable.

Toxic masculinity describes adherence to norms of “manly” behavior, such as suppressing emotions (other than, say, anger) and asserting dominance over others. Such norms hurt the men who are socialized to conform to them, by preventing them from exploring the full spectrum of human emotion, behavior, and identity. But it is women who suffer the most: their subordinate, submissive role severely constrains their opportunities and leaves them highly vulnerable to violence.

It is no revelation that when people who never learn to deal with their emotions are endowed with disproportionate cultural, legal, and often physical power, they are likely to take their frustrations and fears out on the less powerful. For example, not long ago, a woman in Gboko, Benue state, North-central Nigeria was killed by her drunken husband, who flew into a rage after deciding that her previous late arrival from work and recent relocation from his house to her sister’s house confirmed his suspicions that she had been unfaithful. Since becoming unemployed, the husband’s sense of self-worth – based crucially on his “manly” role as the breadwinner and head of the household – had been damaged. So, when he felt that his wife was threatening his “honor,” he did what men are “supposed” to do: he “taught her a lesson” by beating her mercilessly for hours, as he did publicly three years ago.

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