Happy International Women’s Day. It’s another day to celebrate womanhood. Being a woman is special, being a woman is power, but being a woman also means the balance of bitter-sweet experiences from internalized societal bigotry.

Only a woman can tell you what being a woman means. The concept of ‘being a woman,’ though sometimes, of general connotation, is mostly a personal tale from personal experiences and personal perspectives.

We are who we are because of the certain elements of our formation. The grind in itself is a part of the definition. The Nigerian society is fraught many factors that seek to limit, pressure, control and judge the woman.

On this year’s edition of the International Women’s Day, the theme is, “Think Equal, Build Smart and Innovate for Change,” you cannot forge ahead without a core understanding of who you are.

Thus, on #IWD2019, Pulse brings you the perspective of a 12 women, who answer the very key question, ‘What does it mean to be a woman in Nigeria?’

Tife Soloye, 25

Occupation: Master’s student at the LSE, but also a Media and Communications professional. Tife is also an an avid feminist and activist both online and offline.

Tife Soloye tells Pulse about the meaning of being a woman in Nigeria. (Instagram/Tife Soloye)

What does it mean to be a woman in Nigeria?

Sadly, this question always makes me sigh whenever I get asked. Being a woman is Nigeria means constantly proving yourself to society; to men who more often than not feel the need to ensure that weakness is synonymous to your character/personality.

Being a woman in Nigeria is being completely aware of the fact that the structures and institutions will not protect you or keep you safe. Worse, structures and institutions still will validate the ‘it’s a man’s world’ rhetoric right to your face with no regard for your humanity.

Being a woman in Nigeria also means between torn doing what you want, wearing what you like and weighing the potentiality of being a victim in a space where violations of your body will be validated because you were ‘indecently’ dressed or you ‘went to his house therefore you were asking for it’.

It is constantly unlearning the morbid rhetoric that you are only validated for what your relationship status is, or how well you can keep a home or ‘throw it down in the kitchen.’

I must add though, that being a woman in Nigeria also means finding and curating a community of women who will do better than these institutions and fight for you; ensure that you are safe.

What does it mean to be a feminist in Nigeria?

Feminism has accrued for itself - especially in Nigeria – many different negative meanings and this translates into how I usually am treated or spoken to when I say I am. It automatically translates to society as a woman void of ‘home training’; one who hates men, does not want to get married and so forth.

Initially, I used to always want to explain it away; now I don’t really care because I have come to understand that it is not necessarily my job to educate fully grown, intelligent, privileged adults on why there is a need to ensure that women are treated fairly and with respect. It can be daunting, but if we fall back, reduce our voices, cower in the face of adversity, how will change come?

Tife Soloye talks about the perils of 'It's a man's world' rhetoric. (Instagram/Tife Soloye)

I think women need to own their achievements more. There is this character trait of always downplaying our achievements or our ‘intellectual range’ as I like to call it. I agree that it is social conditioning, stems from the ‘woman must be seen not heard’ etc but we need to unlearn it and generally demand better.

I also believe that collaborations go a very long way in acquiring new skills and building communities that celebrate us each day; teach us how to be better people to ourselves and to one another and to the community at large.

Mainstream recognition of women’s exploits can have subconscious effects on appreciation of women in the next generation. How can we achieve that? (Women on Naira notes, women in power and so forth)

I think these efforts highlight the change, albeit slow, taking place in society. Achieving this will take collaborative efforts of every prominent member of society. The truth is, if there are no great women and allies of equality within the system, nothing will change. Structural change in itself is a slow, painstaking event, so having individuals who understand the need for this recognition and validation must be present in seats of power.

Dr. Ladi Kwali is the first woman on a Naira note.

ALSO READ: We need a woman on a Naira note

Tell a personal story that you feel exemplifies being a woman in Nigeria?

I have many stories, if I’m being honest but the one that seems to always pop up in my head is the march I went on in Lagos last year. It was a march intended to create awareness around rape culture and to educate that area in Lagos on consent.

As I walked alongside about 200+ Nigerian women and men, different verbal slurs were hurled at me for as asides wearing jeans and a blouse, I had a placard which read ‘Short skirt is not consent’.

There was a weird mix of ‘why won’t they rape you, see what you are wearing’ and ‘we be men, sometimes this thing no dey get control’. Worse still was elderly women telling me rape is the fault of the woman as she should be dressed a particular way to ‘avoid’ that. The victim and slut shaming were preposterous and frankly not exactly surprising. It simply made me realise that we have a very long way to go in respecting and keeping women safe in Nigeria.

Cynthia Nneamaka Ndeche

Occupation: Country Project Manager for Sanitary Aid Initiative.

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Ndeche wonders why we don't ask what being a man in Nigeria feels like. (Twitetr/Cyntheeya)

What does it mean to be a woman in Nigeria?

It's weird how men don’t get asked, "What does being a man mean to you?"

However, first, to me, being a woman means, being human and not being limited because of my gender. It means accepting the different variations of womanhood which may not necessarily conform to one’s expectations of what a woman should be.

Being a woman in Nigeria is extreme sport; it entails fighting extra hard to rise above traditional norms and societal expectations that seek to limit and suppress your rights and agenda as a human being.

There's a certain kind of liberation which comes with the realization that you're a unique person — complexities and all. You are not defined by centuries of warped beliefs. There’s a simple joy knowing that it is okay to let your life carve a new path for the next generation of women while creating safe spaces for them to exist and thrive.

It's knowing you shouldn't let anyone define what you wear, the course you study, where you go, how you reason, how much you earn, how you worship, who to love and so on. It's having your own agenda, breaking glass ceilings, questioning your limits and generally knowing that you are living life on your own terms and not being the SI Unit for suffering while catering to men.

It means knowing you're enough.

How can women live the theme of #IWD2019 - Think Equal, Build Smart, Innovate for Change?

Investing our time and resources in removing barriers that limit women in the technological space, building lasting systems for other women and girls while advancing gender equality.

Tell a personal story that you feel exemplifies being a woman in Nigeria?

My sister and I were passing through Yaba Market to board a bus home. On the way, a man grabbed my sister's arm and refused to let go. I hit his hand and tried to place her in front of me. Before I could do so, he hit her ass while laughing and making crude comments.

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Cynthia tells Pulse about how her sister got harassed at Yaba Market. (Twitter/Cyntheeya)

This earned him a few whacks on the face from the umbrella I normally carry to protect myself and a couple of jabs to the chest. Whilst I held his shirt and demanded he apologize, it was clear how the men around were more concerned with making me understand how his actions were a sign of appreciation for my sister's beauty and that it's a compliment. It's having to live in fear, protect yourself and other women from misogynistic, entitled men.

Karo Omu

Occupation: Founder of Sanitary Aid Initiative and the Foundation for the Eradication of Child Labour.

Karo Omu tells Pulse about what she thinks being a woman connotes. (Karo Omu)

What does it mean to be a woman in Nigeria?

Being a woman in Nigeria is multi-faceted. It exposes you to inequality at different levels, from girls missing out on education by virtue of their gender to objectification.

ALSO READ: Pulse speaks with Karo Omu, Founder of The Sanitary Aid Initiative

How can women live the theme of #IWD2019 - Think Equal, Build Smart, Innovate for Change?

Through constant efforts by everyone to ensure gender equality. The more girls see women in positions of control and achievements, the more they know that they too can. Also, we need to continue to pool resources and time at every level teaching children that they are equal despite gender, exposing them to equal opportunities.

ALSO READ: 10 women that inspired us in 2018

Uche Umolu

Occupation: Founder of The Consent Workshop and Digital Business Manager finishing off her Bachelor Degree in Commerce.

Uche Umolu, founder of 'The Consent Workshop. (Uche Omolu)

What does it mean to be a woman in Nigeria?

Being a woman in Nigeria is having your strength tested every single day of your life starting from the day you were born. A battle against the norm. Unlearning norms that have been with you all your life. It also means creating enemies daily because you know that your gender assignment should not get to shape your future

How can women live the theme of #IWD2019 - Think Equal, Build Smart, Innovate for Change?

I love this theme because it exemplifies what I do. I utilized my business background to innovate a solution for change, and any woman can do the same. ‘Think equal’ means owning your power and right to achieve beyond your dreams, regardless of your gender. Don’t wait for any law or group of people to clarify your place in this world as a way, start by knowing that you do have a place and work from there.

ALSO READ: Why do we need a sex offenders' registry in Nigeria?

On ‘Build smart,’ I think women are conditioned to be selfless and the most successful people in the world made selfish decisions. Think about yourself first, your future and build around that. The rest always fall into place after that.

How do we stop bigotry against the girl-child?

Systemically and culturally.

Uche Omolu thinks we can fight the problems confronting wowanhood through self-empowerment. (Uche Omolu)

It must be done simultaneously. For example, the government can fix the education rates of the girl-child in Nigeria by offering free education to young girls. But what is the point if somewhere in Nigeria, a girl is not allowed to attend that free education because her 30 year old husband-to-be has paid her bride price. Let’s not deceive ourselves by doing only one or the other. This the only way

Tell a personal story that you feel exemplifies being a woman in Nigeria?

There’s too many to tell. The one that is hard to forget, however, is getting harassed by market traders over shorts I wore to the market - I was 9. My mum sent me to quickly get one item and I went home feeling so violated.

The entitlement to female bodies in Nigeria is so alarming. Entitlement to touch, dictate and control what you wear. It’s so deep-rooted that universities in Nigeria actually implement rules clearly stating what grown women are allowed to wear.

My story also exemplifies the sexualization of young girls from adolescence in Nigeria. I was not the first, nor will I be the last to experience such a vile behaviour. We’ve read and heard the stories of 1 year old getting defiled by 20 year old cousins or little girls being told by uncles to do “adult play time”.

We need to unlearn this harmful behaviours and this is why organizations like The Consent Workshop exist in Nigeria.

Sakpere Oghenetega Victoria, 23

Occupation: Fashion writer and baker; also currently a masters student.

Sakpere thinks self-belief and an understanding of the concept of living will aid the woman. (Sakpere Tega)

What does it mean to be a woman in Nigeria?

Well, I'm not sure about the most appropriate way to answer this. If we are to look at it from a cultural and historical context, I might say: a line of subservience, "being second-place" and putting others before herself. Basically, planning her life around marriage, raising a family and the likes; living under the shadow of men and not daring to stand out.

But today, I cannot ignore the changes and liberation that has come forth for women. Being a woman in Nigeria is now starting to be "considerate of my needs and addressing them, but I'm not oblivious to the needs of others.”

It's now about breaking boundaries and grounds never stepped in before; knowing there's nothing we cannot reach for, if we so wish. We have lots of role models from Nigeria and outside helping us see things in that light.

How can women live the theme of #IWD2019 - Think Equal, Build Smart, Innovate for Change?

Here's how I think women can live this theme, "Think Equal, Build Smart, Innovate for change": Owing to the awareness feminism has given, success isn't gender-based nor is it hereditary. It's an ambition and anyone can reach out for it.

So, women, live out your dreams, goals and aspirations. Reach out for whatever it is you want. Build smart by staying updated knowledge-wise. Read books on finance, business and so forth. In a nutshell, whatever it is you want to do, take smart steps into seeing them happen. Keep on innovating for change.

Sakpere thinks self-belief and an understanding of the concept of living will aid the woman. (Sakpere Tega)

We can enjoy opportunities today, because of past sacrifices of others. Therefore, keep unseating every societal imbalance there is and innovate for change; for ourselves first and the ones coming after us.

Tell a personal story that you feel exemplifies being a woman in Nigeria?

My parents are the type to push everything around marriage. They don't expect that I should learn things, make my mistakes and learn from them because I'm human and I have a life to live to my benefit first.

But because I'm a woman and going to a man's house someday, which shouldn't be so. Also, conversations around comfort are interpreted as laziness. (For instance, me talking about getting a maid because I'd rather want to manage the 9-5 stress). But change is here, and it's here to stay.

Marylinda Alinnor, 28

Occupation: Creative director capitalDIVA signatures Ltd.

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Alinnor says that the woman should know that she is enough. (Twitter/capitalDIVA)

What does it mean to be a woman in Nigeria?

Being a woman in Nigeria means being a warrior. We first have to believe that we are ENOUGH. When we truly believe this, we can do just as much as anyone else.

I run a leather goods business, we produce handmade leather fashion items, when I go to the market to buy materials I need for production, there's always that one person or two or more who would make remarks on me doing a man's job.

Some honestly, say it in admiration while others feel threatened by it. Just constantly reminds me that our environment still find it weird to see women who are out there breaking the norms and wanting to be more just like their male counterparts

Nwabunie Arah, 21

Occupation: Faith, Life and Style Blogger.

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Arah says women are being maligned. (Twitter/Shefancysthat)

What does it mean to be a woman in Nigeria?

To be a woman in Nigeria is to be celebrated for physical beauty and appearance, but to be ignored with certain other issues surrounding your livelihood. To be shot down at every turn but to work harder than the strength of the doors being slammed in your face. Many Nigerian women are hard workers and they are beautiful and they can be both.

How can women live the theme of #IWD2019 - Think Equal, Build Smart, Innovate for Change?

Women can live this theme by not only speaking the change they desire but acting it out. By supporting as many women as they can and asking everyday to themselves, what woman needs me today? Starting with ourselves of course.

Susan

Occupation: Research Analyst/Economist

Susan tells Pulse the story of how a man used 'woman' as an abusive word. (Susan Abumere)

What does it mean to be a woman in Nigeria?

I’d like to think that being a woman in Nigeria is the same as being a woman anywhere else in the world. Although there are certain challenges women face, like not trusting the system to fight for you and protect your interests when necessary.

For instance, Nigerian women are still being trafficked in other countries like Mali, but cannot be rescued, girls are still being denied access to education and being forced into child marriages, minimal trust in law enforcement to actually enforce laws that make you safe and protected amongst others.

There is also constantly having to engage in conversations with men (and some women) to explain things you consider to be basic knowledge - like equal opportunities or consent, but it sounds like you’re speaking mandarin and you wonder if you’re even considered as a human being, before a daughter/wife/mother

Nevertheless, being a Nigerian woman is beautiful, being a woman is to be celebrated by your peers for being resilient, nurturing, smart, courageous and “strong”. To be able to see and act beyond the present, making impact in lives of people around us. Getting up each day to act across different roles and capacities and still being a boss at it too.

How can women live the theme of #IWD2019 - Think Equal, Build Smart, Innovate for Change?

The theme of this year’s IWD calls for innovative solutions to social problems, breaking barriers and disrupting the status quo. In my opinion, living this theme is about scaling up efforts, recognizing the advantage of our ability to understand social problems intimately, where governments and other organizations look at them from the outside.

Women need to be part of the broader system and to become more aware of the different layers behind local problems in order to become more influential and make a successful impact. Supporting institutions should also focus on recognizing potential, supporting ideas and creating economic opportunity for women.

Let’s continue to strive to think outside the box and create an ecosystem that supports and sustain these ideas to cause real, long-lasting change.

Susan details her opinion on womanhood. (Susan Abumere)

Tell a personal story that you feel exemplifies being a woman in Nigeria?

I was in a formal gathering once where a woman was acting foolish and a few people were complaining about her behavior and one Man said, ‘She’s a woman’. He offered it as an explanation for being foolish.

Otuosorochi Umeigbo, 24

Occupation: Student of mass communication

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Umeigbo thinks being a woman means strength. (Twitter/LUmeigbo)

What does it mean to be a woman in Nigeria?

Being a woman in Nigeria means to be twice as strong.

How can women live the theme of #IWD2019 - Think Equal, Build Smart, Innovate for Change?

Women can live the theme by realizing how much they add to the growth of the community and society at-large and also know it's not just about doing a job but doing it well and come up with game changing ideas for positive growth. They also have to realize that in fighting for equality, it's never a war with the male gender but a course to have equal opportunity and give the girl child to be great beyond every challenge.

I come from a place in the South-Eastern part of Nigeria where women are seen as second class citizens and I'm sad about that. Women are not involved in some benefits and conversation because of their sex and when you complain, you're reminded you're a woman who was married. In this 21st century, we should do better

Abebiola Shobowale, 28 

Occupation: Fashion Designer and Fabric Retailer

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Shobowale tells Pulse about how she got mistreated from an Nigerian hotel because she was a woman. (Twitter/QueenAbebs)

What does it mean to be a woman in Nigeria?

Being a woman in Nigeria means you’re oppressed, marginalized and referred to as the weaker sex; constantly being reminded daily that you belong and will end up in the kitchen.

How can women live the theme of #IWD2019 - Think Equal, Build Smart, Innovate for Change?

Nigerian women are already living this theme but the society is still in a state of denial.

ALSO READ: Single Nigeria women are still being refused entry into bars and clubs

Tell a personal story that you feel exemplifies being a woman in Nigeria?

I was on a date with some of my friends at Four Points (Hotels), we sat down and were still checking the menu, deliberating on what to order when a waiter walked up to us and said if we don’t order (something) worth at least N60k minimum (15k per person), we were not allowed there.

Isioma

Occupation: Digital Marketer

What does it mean to be a woman in Nigeria?

It's a lot of things but the one thing I've noticed most is, its not fun. It's not easy. It's not the nicest thing to be. There are days when its not anything you want to be. You have to constantly be strong. But sometimes it's really not what you need.

It doesn't help so much that being strong is portrayed to be a "good Nigerian woman" trait. Whew. Its hectic. You almost always have to settle. Right now I'm settling with a job where my male counterpart is getting paid more but I honestly know I'm better.

I've had a friend who insisted on working with only men. Writing this, I'm honestly trying to think of the one time recently I've felt really happy about being a Nigerian woman. The only thing I can say is that it does seem like a lot of people are catching on to how stressful it is, and just how much is expected of you.

Well, I don't know if they are for real anyway. Like I said, it seems. I might sound weird and bitter about it but its just the truth I've seen. There isn't really anything that fantastic tbh. Even my natural hair is so stressful to grow. I mean, I should just like, get that. No? I'm going on and on. I do hope it gets better soon.

Oyindamola Ajibike, 22

Occupation: Front end developer and photographer

Ajibike thinks being a woman is means a lot of things. (Twitter/MystiqueDammy)

What does it mean to be a woman in Nigeria?

Being a woman in Nigeria is being subjected to patriarchy right from walking as a toddler. Living your life according to how society wants you to behave, dress, walk and talk without questions.

On the long run, your education or achievements are related to marriage and childbearing without that you are consider a failure. Being a female in Nigeria is knowing you can achieve what you want but just enough as your successes can just be dismissed as being gotten using indecent means instead of hard work.

Being female in Nigeria is being subjected to abuse and being unable to defend yourself with no system in place to protect you in addition to the cultural inhibition. The Being a woman in Nigeria is work.

How can women live the theme of #IWD2019 - Think Equal, Build Smart, Innovate for Change?

The theme for #IWD2019 is apt. With moves being made for gender equality all over the world, women are finally starting to understand their own powers and capabilities. According to research, women generally are better entrepreneurs than men and it is about time we start thinking and innovating.

With our business sense, we'll be able to create brands that will be lasting and eventually affect our societies positively. Furthermore, equality is helping females access education and explore career options in area which were originally dominated by men. Although there is a lot of work to be done, with movements and campaigns being created, I believe more women can be empowered and further celebrated.

Tell a personal story that you feel exemplifies being a woman in Nigeria?

As a student in a Nigerian secondary school system, I was told I could not be the head of school prefect because girls are not supposed to be heads and a boy should rather be in charge. This funny enough is untrue and I ended up functioning more in the role of a vice. Also I cannot walk in the streets without looking over my shoulder because harassment can occur at anytime.