I discovered the most curious thing when I sponsored a post on Facebook. When I checked the numbers, I found out more men saw the post than women. I thought the margin ridiculous, and so I reported my findings to my friend Okike.
Okike, characteristically the know-it-all, told me it’s because female illiteracy is high. A quick visit to the rural areas, he said, and I would discover many of the illiterate and semi-literate men have learned to use smartphones, while the women simply haven’t.
I took my time to verify this. Fortunately – or unfortunately – for me, I work in a village. I found out Okike wasn’t far from the truth.
Yeah, it’s just Facebook a lot of people may say, but the hard truth is that the more illiterate the women are, the more regressive our society is.
Let’s focus on the electoral system and the effect this huge group of women have on it. According to CIA World Factbook, 49.7% (2015 est.) Nigerian adult women are literate. This means 50.3% of women in Nigeria are illiterate. By their definition, this huge percentage of women cannot read or write. I am in no way implying that illiteracy somehow translates to a lack of common sense. I am focused, instead, on the general effect of illiteracy on political participation. That been said, let us look at some of these effects on the electoral system and the Nigerian society as a whole.
First of all, they are the ones most likely to vote. While the more educated and business savvy ones are in their offices or places of business, this group of women go out to vote. Politicians know this and focus on them. They are the ones who accept foodstuff in exchange for their votes. This is because in most cases, illiteracy translates to poverty. They don’t even know what the campaign promises are. They are happy to accept some ‘daily bread’ to feed their children. I am sure no well educated or self-sufficient person would vote for a candidate just because of a few cups of rice, unless in a case of extreme gluttony.
Another thing is, if more women were literate, the cases of underage voting wouldn’t be so much of a plague in this country. Pictures of underage voters with permanent voters cards recently surfaced online, sparking outrage across the country. We were reactive in our approach, calling for the heads of INEC officials while neglecting a crucial remedy to the issue: the women who care for and nurture these children.
If a mother says, No, you are not up to eighteen and cannot get registered, I am sure that child would stay at home, leaving those who are old enough to get registered. Many of them don’t even know the exact date they had their children. I’ve seen this first hand working in my Dad’s hospital in the village. They come in and you ask them how old their child is, and they begin to estimate. If they knew it was a crime to register minors and that they could get prosecuted for it, many of them would not let their children or wards near any registration center.
Also, the more illiterate a woman is, the higher the chances her children will be same. Giving women a chance at education will increase their earning power and give their children a brighter future. I know a lot of women have given their children the best education without even seeing the four walls of a school, but in my opinion, they are not as many as those who do not. As a child born to some of these women, who are not exposed to the importance of education, you are at the danger of getting recruited to do the dirty job the children of more educated or exposed people won’t do. These wards, not knowing the pedigree of whoever is giving them money, go to any length to make sure he/she wins a particular seat. They resort to violence, all for nothing compared to what their mates earn. Borrowing a line from Odenigbo in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s ‘Half Of A Yellow Sun’: “Education is a priority! How can we resist exploitation if we don’t have the tools to resist exploitation?” Education is a major key (DJ Khalid’s voice).
Illiteracy is the major cause of poverty in the land, and the poorer you are, the more likely you will be used by the rich to get what they want. They know this and keep using it.
As the elections are drawing near, we should keep in mind that to train a woman is to train a nation. We cannot keep ignoring the fact that female illiteracy is at the forefront of the problems we have as a nation. Merely tweeting facts about these politicians do not mean anything, because they know their votes are not really with the social media savvy, but with the women in the rural areas, who are uneducated and very poor. The ones who need a loaf of bread so desperately to unknowingly trade the futures of their children for it. Our future as a nation lie in their hands and until we come out to lift our women up and show them the light, our future will continue to be in jeopardy with all of our education and exposure.
We must go out and let women know the long-term effect of letting politicians buy their votes for peanuts, the effect of registering underage children, of allowing their kids to be used for political gain. We must let them know the importance of education, be it formal or informal. Let them know that there are people who were born in the same circumstances who have managed to escape and build a life for themselves. We must let these women know they can be better than they are, and all that is needed is to believe they can be.
Together, we can fight female illiteracy, by making sure the next generation makes better choices. We can ensure every girl child is given an equal right to education by making a conscious effort to remove barriers to girl child education. This will go a long way in saving our electoral system and our beautiful nation Nigeria.
Photo Credit: © Hongqi Zhang (aka Michael Zhang) | Dreamstime.com