Nonfiction | Turning Points

Labari Na 1: A short story of a Male Hausa Feminist.

A bird can only fly its best when both wings are in good shape.

When I started writing my final year project titled “An investigation into the factors responsible for low female enrollment in Technical Education in Kano metropolis” in 2010 at the age of 22, the words feminism, feminist, sexism or patriarchy weren’t present in my dictionary. All I know is that I am not happy with several situations in our community, like the way female members of our societies are neglected, their dreams ignored and their poor representation in our technical schools. And I needed my undergraduate project to address issues girls face in our society with regards to technical education. Even though I was raised in a society where it was okay to look down on women, because even in school when I was a kid, we came out of our classrooms during breaks before girls, as a sign of being superior to them and we even come out shouting it. At that age, I somehow thought seeing and treating a girl that way was the right thing to do (as kids we always saw them as not good enough).

I never knew feminism existed inside of me, but I was also never a fan of injustice no matter how little it was and who it was directed to. My first encounter with the word feminist was through Auwal Sani Shehu (Lecturer, ATB University), my unofficial project advisor during my undergraduate research project. Someone who was always there to listen to me babble about how unhappy I was with the situation of girls in our community in relation to my research topic and what I think we should do to make it better. Every time he calls me a feminist, I just smiled and I didn’t even bother checking the meaning considering the fact that he would never label me with a negative adjective. But I gave it a meaning of my own, which was “a person with a very positive attitude who cares and want to do something about the situation of girls in his community”. With this meaning in my mind, anytime I’m referred to as a feminist either by Auwalu Sani Shehu or anybody, it just reminds me of the work that is ahead of us in making our societies balance ones because I believe marginalization is one of the reasons why we are still struggling to fly as a country. A bird can only fly its best when both wings are in good shape.

My feminist journey didn’t stop after my undergraduate research/degree. Rather, it gained momentum, because I started noticing a shift in the way I think. I started seeing a lot of things that are wrong in the way women and girls are treated which I initially thought were just fine since people I know and relate very well to in many ways are major proponents. I believe it easier for the feminist fire inside me to keep burning due to the level of sexism one witnesses on a daily basis, institutional sexism that’s offered every support it needs to thrive. My new found shift in the way I think contributed to the channeling of my energy in my own little way towards coming up with viable solutions to these issues surrounding marginalization of women. One of these ways was my final year project after my graduate studies at business school, when I wrote a project titled “Factors Affecting the Performance of Women Entrepreneurs in SMEs in Kano: A Case study of WOFAN”. When most of my classmates where writing on how to make businesses more profitable or better by addressing all sort of issues, my own attention and my project was trying to find answers to problems women businesses/entrepreneurs face.

Writing one, two or three papers/project/thesis wasn’t enough, from where I stand, I realized I wasn’t seeing the impact we needed. Because when my 20 years old helpless niece told me about how her husband bundled her one night and dumped her outside the house where she spent the night with 100s of mosquitoes, I felt angry, empty and all I did was continuous mumbling. To make matters worse, she told me it was she who was required to apologize and according to her relatives, that she’s lucky she still has a husband. When you are surrounded by situations like that, it makes you ask yourself whether you’re doing anything at all. But even with incidents like that, my passion for providing viable solutions to our societal problems never shook.

My biggest breakthrough came after I took MIT’s Dr. Otto Scharmer’s course U-Lab: Transforming Business, Society and Self. And If there’s one thing I came out of this course with is going to be, being able to see and listen better, and being able to shift from a complainer to a problem solver. Abilities that were vital in coming up with my prototype at the end of the course, a prototype that revolves around providing a platform for the empowerment of women and girls. I would say my U-Lab journey was vital in helping me identify who I am and what my work is, hence helping me identify even better the feminism inside me and at the same time making me a better advocate. My passion for seeing girls succeed was what the U-Lab team at Presencing Institute and Massachusetts Institute of Technology looked at in my prototype when I was offered an invitation to attend the first U-Lab prototype camp at MIT’s campus in Cambridge, MA. Where I had the opportunity to talk about my prototype to a community of change makers.

My biggest dream right now is to have in this part of the world a Feminist Resource and Social Center, where likeminded individuals would come together to have intellectually driven and socially influenced discussions on feminism. A place where women can be as innovative as they want be, without any limitations whatsoever. A place where cutting edge gender equality advocacy practices would be devised. This resource center is going to house information for the general public about women from this part of the world and beyond. Because a place like this doesn’t exist in this part of the world, it is going to be a huge asset for Nigerian feminism, Africa feminism and gender equality activities. The contribution a center like that is going to make is the reason why I am in a relentless pursuit of this dream.

With the recent statement on gender equality made by Olori Wuraola a prominent woman in Nigeria, which led to Venture Africa’s Hadassah Egbedi in her article saying “With women like Olori Wuraola in the limelight, gender equality will remain nothing short of a myth in Nigeria”2. It made me hold on dearly to what bell hooks said in her book Feminism is For Everybody, which goes as follows “Feminism is anti-sexism. A male who has divested of male privilege, who has embraced feminist politics, is a worthy comrade in struggle, in no way a threat to feminism, whereas a female who remains wedded to sexist thinking and behavior infiltrating feminist movement is a dangerous threat”3 . And this quote from bell hooks’ book also made me believe that labeling me a feminist is a right thing to do, because coming from an ethnic group that thrives on patriarchy, divesting of male privilege and being anti sexist is something that doesn’t happen in my society. I’m proud of being able to be different and think differently in a conservative society where diversity is seen as a source of threat to an archaic thought.

If there’s one thing that the feminist spirit inside me has given me, I would say, it is the ability to stamp my foot and say NO to any form of marginalization or injustice levied on a particular person or group of people. And it really doesn’t matter what institution is backing or supporting this marginalization, because the institutions supporting this marginalization are way fewer than the people being marginalized. Therefore, when all of us come together and say NO, we are on a course to having a world where we are all free no matter our real or artificial differences.

1 –  Labari Na – Means “My Story” in Hausa language.

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3 – See: bell hooks, 2000, p.12