I know about female poverty. I believe that more women are poorer than men and I believe that women are poorer for a lot of reasons which include lack of education, early marriage, and abusive marriages. But I didn’t take a deep look at the ways women suffer from poverty in Nigeria until last week. Nigeria has been recognized as the poverty capital of the world, hence it is an undeniable fact that Nigerians are mostly poor but I believe Nigerian women are poorer, especially married Nigerian women. You could see a single woman trying her best to scale through poverty and provide for her needs but the moment she gets married, she sinks and gets stuck in a cycle of lack.
By now, you already know that the whole ‘men are providers’ thing they told us from childhood is a big lie, right? Understanding why many women became poor after marriage was not hard at all and in this article, I’ll list a few reasons for what I believe to be the causes for poverty amongst married women in Nigeria.
1. Unequal child and home care.
If you have ever been to or lived in Nigeria, you’ll know that Nigerian men are mostly bottom-barrel. No thanks to Abrahamic religions and misogynistic cultures that make sure boys are raised to become almost useless to their wives and children. In many homes, husbands do nothing but bring in money. Keep in mind that a lot are deadbeats and do not contribute anything, even financially, to the family. These men do not do house chores, and even when they do, they make sure it’s done like once a year, you know, so that their wives can bow down and say thank you for washing the kids’ clothes today, then announce to other people about how kind their husbands are, “he washed the kids’ clothes last year.” “Oh, mine is so romantic he told me to rest when I was sick 8 months ago and he cooked for the kids”. The truth is there is no bar and no expectation for Nigerian men in marriages and parenting. Wives do the whole job. Even while working, women in Nigeria often have to quit their jobs and start small businesses just so that they can have enough time to handle child and husband care, while also having a source of income to provide because no matter how the men provide, they also want you to provide but they never or rarely do house chores and child care. And often, these women do all of these while pregnant.
2. Spending extra money on help and salespeople.
While writing this article, I came across a post by Inemesit Deborah Nelson on Facebook that explains my points.
“I’ve noticed without fail that women who own and run community pharmacies usually hire an extra hand because of family. They’re always always like ‘I just need someone to be here in the morning because you know I have to get my kids ready for school in the morning and drop them off. Before I am done with cleaning the house, it’s already noon, then I have to pick them up and bring them with me to work later in the afternoon.’ Those that morning shifts favor will be like ‘My kids usually come back from school by 3 pm so I just need someone to be here at the pharmacy from that time while I go home to cook and stay with my kids and my husband’. I have done covers and worked temporarily and for a longer time in a handful of pharmacies with both men and women bosses. From my experience, if a man hires you, he has another job he is doing and wants someone to be there in his absence. Male Bosses in the industry hire you because they’re chasing other sources of income but still don’t want to miss out on the income that could be generated from a community pharmacy, if not, they will be there day and night. Pharmacy owners who are women hire help because they have a family to go back home to and look after. Truly, a man’s life is not altered after marriage. If for anything, it becomes easier, but women? I don’t even know. Women sacrifice so much. Unless they don’t have kids, as a woman, no matter how supportive their partners may be, I’ve always noticed that the bulk of the work especially with the children seems to always be on their shoulders”.
Reading through Deborah’s post, I was sad. It was so obvious how women remain in a cycle of struggle and financial lack. These women have to hire someone to run their business while they go home to cook, clean, pick up kids from school, feed them, wash the clothes, and babysit a grown man they call husband. But the men never have to do this, they never have to spend money on getting a salesperson unless they have another job or means of incoming that they need to work on. Men hire salespeople so they can get more money and become richer. Women hire salespeople so they can take care of the home, the kids, and the husband, thereby reducing their chances of being financially stable and dragging them deeper into poverty.
3. Husbands stop their wives from working to earn money.
If you live in Nigeria then you know at least one woman who stopped working after she got married because her husband doesn’t want her to work and earn money. He wants her to be a stay-at-home wife, yet he never pays her for her work at home. Many men are very threatened and insecure and cannot handle women who make money, so they clamp down on women and frustrate them until she quits their job and stays at home. This launches women straight into poverty as they have to depend on peanuts from their husbands for basic needs they have to fulfill.
4. Husbands exploit their wives to make money.
When men hire salespersons, they pay them monthly or weekly, depending on the agreement. But what happens when men have their wives running their business for many years? She gets nothing. There was a story of a rich man whose wife was running his business with him for many years. She sold, took stock, and she pretty much worked her ass off in the name of ‘family business’. Her husband’s business grew, but she was still being paid nothing, She also didn’t sign any legal bindings as she believed it was a ‘family business’. When the marriage failed, her husband sent her out of their marital home and gave her nothing. Not a payment for all her years of work. Not access to funds so that she can set up her own business. She left empty and was thrown into poverty. This is the story of just one out of many women who have experienced this. Unfortunately, other women continue to walk this path claiming they love and trust their husbands.
5. Husbands collect and spend their wives’ earnings.
I know a woman whose husband collects her whole salary. She works, and she gets paid monthly but after every payday, she has to submit her entire salary to her husband, the man would then give her little money for her upkeep and transportation to work for the next month. There are very many other women like this. It is the result of the misogynistic society we live in. A society that forces women into subservience and submission even at the cost of their financial goals and dreams. Very many women would rather submit their earnings to their husbands than divorce them. Our community shames women for standing up to horrible husbands and for getting a divorce. We use religion to tie down women and brainwash them into being dummies and robots who do nothing but obey their husbands. In this country, we see every day how marriage often becomes the beginning of downfall for most women, they lose income, and sometimes lose their health and lives.
Nigerian women deserve better.
Chidera Ochuagu is a writer and feminist activist. She shares her thoughts on social justice, feminism, and her personal life through her work. Her weekly writings, published on her Medium page, are not only insightful, they resonate with her readers, making her a relatable and inspiring figure. Her work has appeared on Isele Magazine and she is currently pursuing a degree at the National Open University of Nigeria.