women in purdah

I was startled when I first saw her. She was shrouded in a black garment completely covered from head to toe, her feminine contours, the only evidence of her gender. Just looking at her made me feel like the flow of air through my nostrils had been cut off. It was as if she sucked up all the air around us with her presence in those few moments. Her small frame indicated that she must have been in my age bracket. She walked softly and spoke silently like she was afraid she could be found wanting by those around. Still I saw her grace and elegance. I wondered who she might have been, if a name was attached to the faceless figure, if she had a beautiful personality that could be divined from just one interaction, if she had hopes and dreams like everyone else, if she had a voice that could be distinguished in a crowd.

A man dressed in a starched white kaftan led her into the arena. He was smiling proudly, shielding her from prying eyes, as though the black cloth was not enough to cover her. He did all the talking. She was silent the whole time until an argument ensued. The NYSC officials insisted that first and foremost, they had to see the face of the woman they were registering and besides she had to do the registration herself. The husband was enraged. How could they dare insist that he open his personal package, his own property for them to see. He threatened fire and brimstone, vowing to deal with them. All this while, she was silent. She didn’t speak a word in her defense, she didn’t try to calm him down with gentle reassuring words. She just stood there staring into oblivion or so I think since I could see her eyes. A compromise was finally reached. The female NYSC official opted to take the young woman into a classroom to take off her covering so she could complete the registration. I wondered if the thoughts in my mind was echoed in the minds of all the other people that witnessed this. I wondered how she would wear kaki and vest to partake in the drills.

Oh how sweet liberty really is. I never appreciated liberty. I never thanked God for making me a Christian woman until that day. Little things we take for granted like walking about freely on the road, wearing what we like, going to social gatherings, talking to male friends, and even being visible are rare for that woman.

The practice of the purdah system is predominantly in the north. Women in purdah are not allowed to be seen by others except only her biological sons, brothers, father, uncle, and husband, or any other relation in position of trust. She can not even go to mosque to pray, and must wear veil if she must go outside the house. They live in seclusion in their homes and only go outside completely covered. Literarily, purdah means curtain or veil and refers to various modes of shielding women from others sight. These are women like you and I yet they have been deprived of their fundamental right of interacting with other members of the society access to education, and suffering sex discrimination. The population of female in the Northern zone comprises of thirty-three million, nine hundred and fifty-nine thousand, four hundred and forty-eight (33,959,448) out of the total female population of sixty eight million, two hundred and ninety-three thousand, six hundred and eighty-three (68,293,683). There are therefore more women in the north than southern Nigeria. The implication of this is that we have a greater number of uneducated women in the north than the south.

In this era, when women are making giant strides in politics, business, education, inventions, etc, some are yet to have access to basic education. Have we looked at the long term effects? Have we considered why there is a higher incidence of polio in the North? Imagine my annoyance when I read in the newspapers that Kano state governor sponsored 100 weddings after match-making the couples (http://www.punchng.com/metro/kano-sponsors-100-spouses-in-mass-wedding/) Is this part of the duty of the governor as specified in the fundamental objectives and directives of state policy in chapter 2 of the 1999 constitution. How has he helped in alleviating the problems of women in the state? Now is the time for us to remember our northern female counterparts and let’s cry out to God for their salvation since we can’t all become missionaries. Let us remember the women in obscurity who have no voice that will be heard by those that matter