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4 Barriers that Keep Nigerian Women From Achieving their Full Potential & How to Break them Down



In the average Nigerian home, male children are raised quite differently from females. The boys are given privileges that girls are deprived of. Girls are expected to conform to certain norms or live up to certain standards, that boys are not.

From birth, the female child is already placed to accept that she is indeed a different sex and to an extent inferior. The society further conditions her to believe to that she must act or a be a certain way. She is expected to accept certain mediocrities, to be  successful. Thus, leading her to a limited understanding of her possibilities and capacities – particularly her physical and intellectual abilities.

This also interferes with her ability to the make choices that lead to independence and personal fulfilment.  Even more, she is forced to endure certain mistreatments that become barriers on her path to attaining her unique self and achieving her full potential.

Studies have since shown that when you believe and invest in girls, the whole world benefits. And although Nigeria is making positive progress in not only realising women’s rights but also investing in them, there are still barriers in society (unique to women) which are making this endeavour more challenging.

Stereotypical ideas of femininity
This is the biggest barrier females in Nigeria face. Despite the many legal, cultural and intellectual challenges that have called it into question, gender stereotyping remains entrenched in Nigerian society. Our society has a set of ideas about how we expect men and women to dress, behave, and present themselves and women are forced to define themselves in relation to this gender stereotypes, thus their self-concept is shaped by these stereotypical ideas of femininity.

These ideas usually come in four ways:
Personality traits  where women are expected to be polite, accommodating, emotional and nurturing, as opposed to being self-confident and aggressive;
Domestic behaviours where women are expected to get married, take care of the children, cook, and clean the home, rather than handle finances or do the home repairs;
Occupations where they are encouraged to study soft courses like teaching and nursing, as opposed to pursuing STEM related courses or taking on jobs as pilots, engineers, e.t.c;
Physical appearance where women are expected to be thin, petite and graceful, as opposed to being tall and muscular.

These stereotypical ideas serve as huge barriers, as they instil in these women, ideas of who they truly are and deny them of the chance to fully express themselves and their potentials. Most women in Nigeria feel that they’re not allowed to be independent, smart or assertive. These ideas create unequal or unfair treatments to women who choose to defy the society’s assumption about what it is to be a woman. Breaking down gender stereotypes will allow women in Nigeria to be their best selves, thus achieve their full potentials.

Patriarchal barricades
The Nigerian society is a male-dominated one. The Nigerian family features a power system which advocates a pecking order that depends on generation, age and gender. The elders are normally superior to the younger generation, and men are absolutely superior to women. Traditions, religions and norms tread on these lines of patriarchy. They deem women incapable of handling power and responsibility whether political, economic or social. Patriarchal values imbibed within society have been projected and reinforced through the years through male-dominated institutions which have internalized the idea that the woman was inferior.
Society continuously refuses to believe that a woman can take charge of affairs and is capable of making decisions that are binding to everyone. Thus, being a woman becomes an impediment to achieving certain goods, at every level and in very different social and professional contexts. Such patriarchal mindset makes it hard for women to pursue their rights, chase their authentic dreams or fulfil their potential.

Standards of white femininity
Nigerians were colonized by the British; it is understandable that the effect of colonization is still so evident in the way the country’s system functions. And while major benefits can be accrued to this colonization, one of its persistent cons is the limiting standard it has set for the Nigerian girl/woman.

Nigerian girls, in particular, have long endured the struggle to conform to a standard of white femininity full of clichés and sexist paradigms. They grow up inserted into a culture that teaches them to admire the Barbie dolls with soft long hair and other thin, white/ pale skin characters that wind up in happy endings of prosperity. These young women then believe that they are “different” and thus suffer from not feeling beautiful.

They are then forced to perm their hair, bleach their skin, go through sugery to have the perfect nose, and speak in a certain way or act “posh”, so as to fit the European standards of beauty. Conforming to these far-fetched expectations based on comparison to white femininity is such a strong requirement, so much that the ones who dare to maintain kinky/curly hair, a broad nose and dark skin have to deal with a mentality of scarcity and fear, e.g., thinking they are not good enough.

Competence-likability trade-off
Usually, this stems from gender stereotypes. Competence-likability trade-off highlights the seeming choice between being respected and being liked. If a woman acts differently from how her gender is assumed to behave, then they she is not likeable because she has not conformed to the norm.

For example: assertive women are called “bitches” and “whores” and tagged “off-limits”. The society through its norms creates a sort of obsession in women for the image they portray. It shows women to downplay femininity, or to soften a hard-charging style, or to try to strike a perfect balance between the two. They end up spending so much of their time and energy on managing these perceptions, setting themselves up for self-defeat as it lessens the emotional and motivational resources available for larger purposes. These women focus on how others perceive them, and in doing so, become less clear about their goals, less open to learning from failure, and less capable of self-regulation.

Can you think of other barriers and how they can be tackled?

Photo Credit: Dreamstime


  1. divinelove

    April 2, 2018 at 2:26 pm

    This is a piece but I Don’t agree with some of ur assertions

  2. tunmi

    April 2, 2018 at 7:32 pm

    an ugly truth – it’s the women. It’s us.

  3. Chynwa

    April 2, 2018 at 7:42 pm

    Feels like it was culed from Lean In…

  4. Chichi

    April 2, 2018 at 8:42 pm

    Hmm I don’t disagree with everything but I definitely don’t agree with everything. Mainly the conforming to white femininity. I mean yes there are many woman who want to be stick thin to fit into certain styles but remember not all Nigerians are born with curves and as we are living in very globalised times, mostly everyone currently wants to be curvy as that’s the current trend set by the Kardashians funnily enough. As for the ‘speaking posh’ that is very tricky even Nigerians can be posh that isn’t a right just for white woman, and to want to speak better is never a bad thing in any part of the world. And speaking posh doesn’t equate to being posh in your living. But the lightening of skin is and has always been a Nigerian problem and many woman justify it by saying Indians do it too and white people tan, at the end of the day the reality is there is now a snobbery about it, like spending thousands of money to make you light skinned makes you better than the people mixing cheap creams to achieve the same things. For me the bottom line is that Nigerian woman like most woman do not support one another and so they will rather hate on you than see that you are doing well breaking these so called barriers that our society holds us to.

  5. Temi

    April 2, 2018 at 10:41 pm

    Yaaaasssss and they will be the same women waxing lyrical about girl power and feminism.

  6. Nicole

    April 3, 2018 at 8:57 am

    As much as I like the the title of this article, the following is problematic

    -The erroneous conceptualisation of Black Women’s femininity as a spin-off of a white woman’s own
    -The subliminal message of colourism and featurism

    Dear Black Women, you are the first cause, the spiritual and the divine, the first woman, so femininity starts with you. There are a myriad of reasons why a lot of effort is put into undermining your femininity, even to the extent of brainwashing you into de-valuing it, yourself. The main reason is because, the collective of black culture unlike other cultures, historically has not and cannot provide a structure to celebrate it (at least not within the span on of 2 centuries). Therefore, it is easier to undermine and de-value it, than to take responsibility especially for Black Men.

    One of the biggest tactics is breaking up our sense of sisterhood by pitting us against each other, which underlies the manifest reason for colourism and featurism or a combination of both. Whilst I would argue that women reserve the right to do what makes them happy and feel beautiful. The black community, particularly the black male created these to indirectly uplift themselves at the expense of their female counterpart, in a world where they collectively have no substantial power. It is also a way of coping with their insecurities. Notice that the men practising these the most are usually dark skinned, with pronounced west-african features.

    Another tactic is pitting you against other races of women, by contextualising your femininity as a spin-off of a white or any non-black woman’s femininity, which this article (although informative) has subliminally done. These other women have a collective of benevolent patriarchs to rely on. So again, it is a tactic to escape responsibility and protect the Black Man’s image. I am not saying that Black men dont deserve to have their image protected, but not at the expense of their female counterparts and the image of their own mothers. That is not leadership or patriarchy.

  7. Inspired!!!

    April 3, 2018 at 1:03 pm

    Another barrier is lack of support from other females who have managed to break the ceiling in whatever area of life.

    From that young woman being stripped at the market place and being jeered by other women, to those who are considered not fit for a career or a business. Women frustrating her even before she starts. To women in the domestic space being maltreated by her employer, mother in law, and sister in law.
    You would be surprised that it is men who one way or the other helped out the few women we see making waves in society.

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