2016 has been an interesting year in politics. While the United States’ a paragon of democracy in the Free World, is being threatened by an orange faced demagogue, the African continent had six Presidential elections scheduled this year. Nonetheless, the election that has caught the attention of the West isn’t the December election in stable Ghana, where the incumbent faces a serious challenge for reelection, nor is it the pivotal election in Somalia that could see the two decades of political fissures heal. The election that is on the tips of many people is the 2019 election in Nigeria.
Aisha Buhari, wife to Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari was quizzed on her husband’s reelection plan and responded by saying, “He is yet to tell me, but I have decided as his wife that if things continue like this up to 2019, I will not go out and campaign again and ask any woman to vote like I did before. I will never do it again.” Aisha is a learned woman with several degrees including a BA in Public Administration, a Master’s in International Affairs and Strategic Studies as well as several post graduate diplomas. This statement was not made loudly and was certainly not a gaffe, but a transparent testament of the frustration felt by a woman and children’s rights activist who has watched President Buhari fail to live up to his campaign promises.
President Buhari responded to the criticism of his leadership from a concerned constituent by neither addressing her concerns nor assuaging the fears of the Nigerian people, but by belittling his wife, saying “I don’t know which party my wife belongs to, but she belongs to my kitchen and my living room and the other room.” That Buhari said these deplorable statements while in the company of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the most powerful woman in the EU is not to be scoffed at. Her reaction, which was to glare at him incredulously and then offer a short laugh, is one any woman who has had to interact with a misogynist recognizes immediately.
I digress, we need to unpack President Buhari’s statement. First the President undermines his learned wife’s political astuteness. The very idea that the woman who played a paramount role in advising then President Jonathan to step down from office is not politically knowledgeable enough to offer criticism is laughable. Furthermore, as a citizen of a country, Aisha is entitled to an opinion of the government regardless of her expansive education and experience on the political scene. Conversely, the President’s statements could be read as him questioning his spouse’s loyalty. Instead of wondering how he could regain a very powerful political ally in his wife, he chose to paint her as a dissident, ignoring that the first source of betrayal was his failure to live up to campaign promises of a safer society for women and children.
The segment most quoted in the media is President Buhari saying his wife’s place is in the kitchen. This is a sexist view older than feudalism and is still predominant in many an African household. The patriarchal nature of our societies are such that though we may be incensed, but are not really surprised. How many women have had their intelligence, wit and talent not considered because of the archaic belief that their place is in the kitchen? 48.6% Nigerian women are literate, a figure that is likely even lower with Boko Haram rampaging the African country. For the President to propagate the idea that a woman’s place is the kitchen is to enforce the idea that women do not need to be educated and he needs to be reviled for that.
“…she belongs to my living room,” President Buhari goes on to say. The use of the singular possessive “my” is glaring; the living room, kitchen and “other room” that Buhari views as Aisha’s place are all his. It is a peek into their marriage which makes one consider how much of a partnership it is, or even how much autonomy Aisha has. The misogynistic tone of referring to the home, the most tangible symbol of marriage as his own is a clandestine way of shoehorning the belittling.
The lowest point of President Buhari’s statements were when he referred to the “other room,” a thinly veiled euphemism for the bedroom. Women are sexualized well before they reach the age of consent, and that sexualization continues untempered in this patriarchal dystopia. It is disheartening to say the least, that a woman can offer concise and clear criticism as a caring citizen of a country and be met by callous sexism.
Credit: Seluliwe Vilakati