Misogyny, the prejudice, and discrimination against women, manifests itself in various ways across different societies. Nigeria, with its cultural diversity, is not immune to this problem. One prevalent manifestation of misogyny in Nigeria is the derogatory term “ashawo,” originally used to refer to sex workers or prostitutes. However, over time, its usage has expanded to encompass women who challenge traditional gender roles or assert their independence and success.
In Nigeria, the term “ashawo” is often employed to degrade and belittle women who do not conform to societal expectations or threaten the fragile egos of men. It has become a means to dismiss and undermine the accomplishments of women, suggesting that their success can only be attributed to engaging in sexual acts. This mindset reinforces harmful stereotypes and perpetuates gender inequality.
The intersection of sex work and gender inequality further exacerbates the issue. Sex work is predominantly occupied by women, and the conflation of sex work with derogatory terms like “ashawo” contributes to the undervaluation of this type of labor. By attaching negative connotations to sex work, society overlooks the complex socioeconomic factors that drive individuals to engage in it.
Even highly accomplished and influential women in Nigeria have not been spared from the derogatory effects of the “ashawo” stereotype. Figures like Chimamanda Adichie, Oby Ezekwesili, and Okonjo Iweala, who have made significant contributions in their respective fields, have been unfairly labeled with this term on social media platforms like Nigerian Twitter.
Disagreeing with a woman’s opinion or feeling threatened by her success should not lead to the invalidation of her achievements or reduce her worth to sex work.
However, it is important to challenge and debunk the stereotype associated with the term “ashawo.” The gender pay gap and the increasing number of women in influential positions worldwide attest to the fallacy of assuming that all women have achieved success through sexual favors. Women have proven their competence, intelligence, and determination across various industries, breaking barriers and defying societal expectations.
An unintended consequence of the prevalence of the “ashawo” label is the empowerment it has inadvertently sparked among women. Many have come to realize that seeking validation from men is not necessary for their self-worth and success. By embracing their own independence and asserting their achievements, women challenge the notion that their accomplishments are dependent on male approval.
Women earn the derogatory “ashawo” label for a wide range of actions that challenge societal norms. From ignoring unwanted advances and traveling to exotic countries, to having opinions and embracing feminism, women who deviate from expected behaviors or surpass men’s achievements often face the derogatory label. Refusing to conform to beauty standards, rejecting objectification, and expressing their own sexuality are also grounds for such labeling. Additionally, women who express their desire to remain single, childless, or prioritize education are subjected to this derogatory term.
In fact, just existing as a woman is enough to earn this label.
Within the intricate tapestry of Nigeria’s societal fabric, the venomous roots of misogyny have woven a thread of discrimination and belittlement, epitomized by the derogatory term “ashawo.” Originally targeting sex workers, this insidious label has expanded its reach, ensnaring women who challenge norms, forging their own paths, and defying societal expectations.
However, let us pause to reflect on an undeniable truth: the worth of a woman extends far beyond her achievements or accolades. Every Nigerian woman, regardless of societal recognition, deserves acknowledgment, respect, and dignity. It is crucial to recognize that success comes in various forms—whether it be nurturing a family, contributing to a community, or pursuing personal passions.
Nigeria must harness its collective strength to inspire confidence in women, fostering an environment where their aspirations can flourish rather than be stifled. It is not enough to tear down the barriers that hinder women’s progress; we must also cultivate a culture that celebrates their resilience, intellect, and unique contributions.
To achieve this, we must foster mentorship, support networks, and inclusive educational opportunities. Nigerian women need role models who have navigated the labyrinth of challenges and emerged victorious. When we uplift and empower women, we ignite a transformative spark that illuminates the path to progress for generations to come.
The remarkable potential of Nigerian women cannot be overlooked or underestimated. By tapping into their capabilities, we unlock a wellspring of creativity, innovation, and resilience that propels our nation forward. As Melinda Gates once said, “When we invest in women and girls, we are investing in the people who invest in everyone else.”
In this new narrative, women need not fear being torn down or held back, for their worth is not defined solely by societal measures of success. We must reject the notion that a woman’s validation relies on accomplishments alone. Instead, let us embrace the truth that every woman is inherently deserving of acknowledgment, respect, and the opportunity to flourish.
As we champion the cause of gender equality, let us remember the words of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: “Culture does not make people. People make culture.” It is within our power to shape a culture that empowers women, celebrates their multifaceted contributions, and recognizes their inherent worth.
Joshua is a multidisciplinary creative and tech enthusiast who seeks to create meaningful experiences that make for a better and more equal world. He is a creative entrepreneur and human rights activist whose work navigates socio-cultural discourse and how it can be used as a vehicle for change.
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