My name is Talatu Salihu, a social empowerment officer with Women for Women International in Nigeria and a pioneer staff of the Jos, Nigeria office.
In Nigeria, a girl child faces discrimination right from birth. When she is born, celebration in the family is low key but the birth of a male child is welcomed with excitement and excessive celebration. Women are regarded as not equal to men simply because of their gender. The society believes that educating a girl child is a waste of resources because when educated, she will disrespect her husband, become arrogant and “hard to discipline”. It is widely assumed that the rightful place for a girl-child is her husband’s house as it is the only thing that will take her to paradise, no matter the situation she is facing.
Growing up, I had the ambition of being educated to be economically and socially independent because of the violence I witnessed women facing, which often led to their untimely death. My parents believed in early marriage for the girl child and they did not support my education after primary school and wanted to marry me off at the age of 15, but I refused. My mother and I experienced severe pressure from my uncles and other relatives to give in to their demands and marry me. She became worried, burdened and frustrated. I became depressed too as it hurt me to see her worried about my life.
I was committed to completing my secondary school education before considering marriage and to achieve this I had to hawk local cow milk cheese after school hours to pay for my school fees. I successfully completed my school and then got married to a lawyer, on whom I depended for everything.
After giving birth to a beautiful daughter. He changed his attitude towards me, and one day told me that he will marry a second wife if I gave birth to another girl or divorce me. I became withdrawn and depressed at the sudden downward spiral of my life. Unfortunately, my husband died, and I had to move in again to live with my parents. I was advised to remarry and my relatives said even if I go ahead to complete my higher education I will never find a job, so I should not waste my time in the university.
With determination and hard work against all odds, I successfully graduated from the University of Jos in 2002, where I obtained a degree in Economics Education. I started my career with Women for Women International in Nigeria two weeks after my graduation. I was overjoyed, relieved and privileged to train and serve the most marginalized women from different ethnic, cultural and religious background coming together to learn and share ideas with one another, support one another in terms of joy and sorrow.
I am very happy to have achieved my goal! I am liberated from harmful cultural practices, I am economically and socially independent, my daughter is getting her second degree from the University of Jos and I am very supportive to women and girls who want to be educated and acquire skills to be economically self-sufficient. I collected my daughter’s inheritance including landed properties left behind by her late father from his family. I am an inspiration to other girls and women facing similar challenges to mine and I want to let them know that if I could do it, they can also.