I was standing in Target’s ethnic hair aisle when my phone rang. It was one of my oldest friends, and her phone call ended my peaceful search for a new leave-in conditioner. One of our childhood friends just lost her husband, her home, two of her three children, and her dignity.
“Her in-laws said she killed him,” she said. “They kicked her out of their home, and she doesn’t have a job or a source of income. She is stranded, homeless and without support, and we need to help her. They also took her children from her, but left the baby, because he is still breastfeeding,” she continued, and my nose flared and stung.
“Oh, how gracious of them,” I yelled into the phone just as my head began to ring and then my ears. The ringing drowned out everything but my friend’s frantic voice.
A few hours later, I ended the call and my last statement was, “Men don’t usually experience this kind of indignity when they lose their wives. It is always the woman. Women, particularly in African communities, are burdened not only with grieving a loved one, but also with the depravity of their in-laws. It begs the question of why women in African communities are almost always accused of murder when their husbands die, and men are almost never, if ever, accused of that. Why do the men in Africa get the humanity of grieving the death of their spouses and many women don’t?“
WHAT DOES WOMEN EMPOWERMENT MEAN TO ME?
The process of becoming stronger and more confident, especially in controlling one's life and claiming one's rights.
My friend story is a reminder that discrimination against women — gender-based violence, economic discrimination and harmful traditional practices — is still widespread and persistent. Her predicament is one many African [Nigerian] women have to navigate when they lose their husbands. It is a reminder that we need to birth gender equal societies, one in which women and men enjoy the same opportunities and rights. A society where women have equal access to education, and equal opportunities for financial autonomy whether gained through work or entrepreneurial pursuit. Power and influence need to shared equally, and women should be encourage to develop personal ambitions. Simply put, we should have more autonomy in managing our own lives, and in participating in all areas and sectors of life and society.
My friend’s journey also reminds me that depending on who you talk to and what part of the world they reside, women empowerment can lean into different things, hence the beauty and need for intersectionality. This is a journey, and at each intersection, we encounter new demons. However, at whatever junction we find ourselves, this movement should envelop every aspect of life from economics, politics, and reproductive justice to race, sexuality, education and beyond. My friend is fighting a world created and shaped by patriarchy. Her fight is not currently for equal pay or for her right to choose or even against the audacity of mansplaining; this is the gritty, excruciating and raw battle for her children, her home, her pride and their survival. And she deserves a win simply for being human. Empowering women is a bane to poverty, and it creates stronger economies and improves quality of life for all. These benefits enhance families, communities and future generation. However, I tend to shrink from advocating for feminism, women empowerment and gender equality on the platform of its benefits, because I believe women should live in dignity and with freedom solely because they are human beings. My friend should not be respected by her in-laws simply because it gives another applause to the benefits of women empowerment, she should be respected, because she is human. Our collective humanity calls for it. Women's empowerment is vital to the realization of human rights for all, and women have full entitlement to live as humans. I, as a woman, have the full entitlement to live as human.
HOW DO I FEEL EMPOWERED AS A WOMAN?
I am empowered when I speak up for myself and on behalf of others, because words have consequences and so does silence. I am empowered when I’m standing solidly whether alone or together. Thus, my journey as a feminist has required me to put everything I know and believe about feminism, femininity, faith, intersectionality and relationships on the table for examination. It demands that I pinpoint my blind spots for my sake and for the sake of other women. This journey questions, explores, stretches, examines, refines and defines. It is the process of unlearning and learning what I stand for, what I believe, and the frictions that lies in that belief system. It is still a journey. It is my journey and my evolution. I define my personal empowerment as using my voice, engaging with other voices, economic empowerment, status quo disruption, self-awareness, intersectionality and solidarity.