I find it disingenuous for some male and female northern Nigerian leaders to try to belittle and even ignore the growing national disaffection with the socially regressive practice of child marriage. For Yerima to even proffer that it may be the solution to Nigeria’s social problems is gross.
As a woman, a lawyer and an social activist I am tired and increasingly resentful that issues arising largely from treatment of the Muslim girl child and woman are dominating the national gender discourse. And it is mostly southern non Muslim women that are leading the advocacy ignoring or sidelining the issues that face the southern and non Muslim girl child and woman.
Child marriage, high maternal and infant mortality, VVF, general access to health care and education, social and economic marginalization, are mostly (not exclusively but mostly) problems for Muslim predominately northern women.
We talk of getting the girl child to school and ignore that in southern states the issue is retention, quality of education and appropriate career counseling and support, we talk of letting women work while in the south the issue is really about access to capital to grow female led businesses, conditions at the work place and child care for working mother etc etc etc.
Yerima says he can marry his daughter at 6 if he chooses, because he does not recognize her personhood. She is a girl he can ‘ give her out’ like his chattel. He says early marriage would end prostitution and fornication exhibiting a total lack of understanding about the social causes of both but choosing to make it a morality and a religious issue instead
While I empathize and support my Muslim sisters I would like to remind my non-Muslim mostly southern sisters that our women constituency has a unique set of problems that need advocacy. We have been overwhelmed by an agenda that ignores our needs for growth.
I do not think the cause of Nigerian women is best served by marching in place waiting for our sisters to catch up. We can and should give them a hand while also continuously moving forward, consolidating and increasing the gains we have made.
That said I recognize the fear of many of my sisters that their daughters could become prey to these religious pedophiles. Mariam Uwais has written eloquently and at length on the issue actually before the senate, pointing out the errors the campaign assumed and the possibilities for Islam in Nigeria to take a more progressive view.
Some have said and it may be true that it is only Yerima’s involvement that made this issue go viral. He is after all the poster child for and against child marriage in Nigeria. What the outpouring of sentiment has shown is that there are a whole lot of Nigerians against child marriage.
The Child Not Bride campaigns should quickly adjust and restrategize accordingly to fight the real fear of women and criminalize child marriage so that’s its never an issues in our country again. This is not a time to give up, it is time press forward.