Africa, Headlines

CULTURE-NIGERIA: Male Child Remains a Family Pride and Honour

Chinyere Elele

LAGOS, May 29 2002 (IPS) - The birth of male children is still the source of pride and honour in Nigeria, while that of female children is seen as failure.

This perhaps explains the reason for the large number of children born by most families in a quest to have male children.

Contrary to the desires of most families, National Population and Census Board data shows that more female children are being born than male children each year in Nigeria. Of Nigeria’s population of about 120 million, 53 percent are female and 47 percent are male, according to the Nigerian Population and Censors Board.

This desire for a male child has resulted in husbands pressuring their wives to have more children, in some cases putting the health of the women in danger.

When this fails to produce the desired results, men will resort to polygamy in the hope that the other women will give them the son they need.

An average Nigerian does anything to have a male child, who will carry on the family name in this patriachal society. Some female children also retain their family name, even in marriage, to preserve their father’s name.

Faced with such social perceptions towards male and female questions, more people in Nigeria are trying to find answers to the question whether male children benefit the family more than the girl child.

This search for answers have extended to seeking understanding and meaning from religion too.

“In Islam, a very high value and respect is placed on a girl child. Prophet Mohammed made men to understand that when a man brings up two daughters very well, and they are married off as virgins, God will reward him with paradise,” says Abdulhakeem Abdulwahab, the Imam of the Gowon Estate Central Mosque in Lagos.

In spreading Islam, if a person converts a woman, God will reward him as if he converted a whole nation. All these, which are not provided for men, he says, indicate that a man had no basis to detest female children.

“There is no basis also for comparing the quality of male with female as only God knew why he gave more physical strength, endurance, etc. to men. The role of women in society is as crucial as that of men and they complement each other,” says AbdulWahab.

“My concern is that most people take quotations from the holy books (The Bible and Quran) that suit their desire, but with more counselling from Churches, Mosques and religious leaders, violence and discrimination against the female would stop,” he says.

Patrick Bamidele, founder of Pentecostal Church in Lagos, regrets that “African tradition and culture maintains that after the demise of a man, a male child have to carry on the father’s name or lineage.”

“God created both male and female equal and did not say that a man must carry the family lineage. According to the bible when a man dies, the properties should be bequeathed to the children, (male or female) and if not, relatives or any person so desired.”

Bamidele adds that where he comes from, Kogi State, in Nigeria’s middle belt, women are not sent to school because of the belief that nothing good would come out of them. “In my university days when there was a difficult course, I never believed that any woman could pass it.

“I remember a particular course where the lecturer announced that out of 35 students, only 15 passed. I was quick to conclude that the 15 must be male, or at worse only one or two female could pass it. But to my dismay ten girls passed the course.

“It is ignorant and selfishness that make the society at large to relegate women to the margins,” he says, noting that for instance, man’s law dictates what a woman should wear but not what a man should wear.

“The cultural problem of discrimination against female children is a reflection of degenerating societal values and religious duties which causes violence against women,” AbdulMajid Lawal, a former Commissioner for Youth and Culture, observes.

“The pressure for economic survival has made people to become desperate,” he says.

Some parents expect their children to play a major role in the family up-keep. Up to 65 percent of the Nigeria’s population live below the poverty line, according to the Nigerian Economic Summit held in the country’s administrative capital, Abuja, recently.

The minimum wage in Nigeria — which is reeling under an inflation rate of 25 percent and an external debt of 28 billion U.S. dollars — is N7500 (around 62 U.S. dollars), an amount that is barely enough to feed an average family of four.

“When men can no longer afford to meet family needs, they take out the pains on their wives. It is true that in Nigeria, male children are valued more, but it is an undisputable fact that female children play prominent role in society,” says Lawal.

“Culture or traditional beliefs are passed from generation to generation. If this millennium generation begins to lay equal emphasis on male and female children unlike their ancestors, with time, things would change,” he stresses.

Others like Biodun Bolahan, a businessperson and father of three girls, says, “I am not missing out for not having a male child. And I am grateful to God, for some of my age mates are childless. My concern is to bring my girls up morally upright and give them sound education.”

Chioma Anyanwu, a health worker, who has all boys, says he sometimes feels like having a girl child to look up to when she is old. The saying that “train a man you train an individual; train a woman, you train a nation,” has a meaning, she says.

Anyanwu cites the Miss World of 2001, Nigerian Agbani Darego, as a good example of fame and good fortune that could come from a female child to a family.

“Born in a family of nine girls and no boy, the father could not, probably wish for a better child to carry his name, because, today the whole world has come to recognise the Daregos,” she says.

Anyanwu says the time has come for Africa to stop discriminating against female children because both sexes could raise the family name, depending on their upbringings.

“Both modern and Customary courts, must ensure justice in the application of family laws especially those that deal with inheritance to ensure that both male and female children are treated fairly,” says Ismail.

“The government should implement laws prohibiting discrimination against female children,” he stresses.

Even so, a few women have attained notable positions in Nigeria. They include former vice-chancellor of University of Benin, Alele Williams, and director general of the Nigeria Stock Exchange, Ndi Okereke-Onyiuke, the first woman to hold this position in Nigeria.

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