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Understanding a sister's struggle-Nigeria

Again: understanding a sister's struggle -
the plight of Nigerian women under Islamic law
by Gaye D. C., Lagos, Nigeria
"And if there is no proof of virginity, she must be stoned to death.
For she had done a sinful thing: having sex outside wedlock" (Deuteronomy, 22: 20)


Since the introduction of Sharia law in the northern states of Nigeria the plight of Nigerian women has come to the attention of the world. In particular young women have been condemned to being stoned to death after being charged of the "crime" of adultery. This is a particularly barbaric aspect of class society and will only really be eradicated together with the system that spawns it, when the workers of Nigeria overthrow capitalism. Below we are publishing a comment on this situation by a Nigerian Marxist.


Events in the lives of two women in Nigeria once more focus our attention on the position of women in class society. Safiya Huseini's face tells a life story - a woman oppressed by her religion, her womanhood, her society. For daring to challenge the dictates of a patriarchal society she was condemned to death. Amina Lawal is herself a no less "perfect" specimen of a Muslim woman. Neither was her crime any different from that of Safiya's. They both had sex outside wedlock. But, while Safiya has escaped punishment Amina's fate still hangs in the balance.

Both women have more in common than a shared crime - and they share this with millions of women, particularly under the rule of Islamic law. To be sure the position of women in "Christian" society is not a paradise and much still has to be done to achieve genuine emancipation, but compared to her Muslim counterpart she has conquered more rights.

For Safiya and Amina, and certainly for countless others, their girlhood under Islamic traditions was a prison. From the day they were born, they were trapped. They were never treated as equal human beings, as persons with pride and dignity.

The Muslim girl is never allowed to draw a free breath. Her mind, her desires are locked inside a prison. She must not sing or laugh when a male is nearby, not even her own brothers. She is not allowed to touch a boy - even slightly. She must not argue or disobey - even when she is right. She can only do what men permit her to do. 'Obey, work, submit'. She must not smile at a boy, play with a boy, speak to a boy.

The honour of the family depended on her keeping herself a virgin, the honour of her womanhood depended on her having her virginity on the wedding night: she was made to understand this. On the contrary, adultery as a concept does not exist for the men who are permitted as many wives as they desire. Not so for a Muslim woman. She was molded into a blob who was not supposed to have feelings or a mind of her own. From girlhood to womanhood she was controlled and enslaved. Even her body was not hers to use for pleasure: it existed to defend a man's honour, her father's. And when she was sold into marriage it belonged to her husband - to use as he desires. She had no say in the matter - nothing but a receptacle, a bird in a cage.

This was the path that both women walked to their criminal status. Given in marriage - in their teens to men whom they never knew, never loved and who were old enough to be their fathers - they were divorced with the simple pronouncement "I divorce you", repeated three times. Night after night, taken against their will - and discarded at will.

Sexuality and Civilization

Class society displays a tendency to repress sexuality - to behave towards sexuality as a class does towards another it oppresses. And fear of revolt increases repression.

As we consider the calendar of events we confront a seeming paradox. In the same society where a woman stands condemned for engaging in sex outside wedlock there were plans for the Miss World pageant to be staged.

Actually there is no contradiction in this once we have an understanding of the social function of the pageant: the girl who emerges winner symbolizes the values and aspirations of a social system - hawking and endless trivia on TV, in magazines, on Billboards, etc.

There are sexual taboos surrounding this young girl, the latest Miss World as well. This young girl with carefully prescribed anatomical features and "personality", makes a statement about Safiya and Amina - who are themselves equally victims of sexual taboos. They all mirror the ethos of commodity production in which genuine individualism conflicts with mass production and its standardization. It goes back to the myths of the Immaculate Conception and Original Sin. Both women are victims of a social system that crowd and cower men and women into fixed patterns of behaviour. The Miss World Beauty Pageant is an illustration of such despotic power.


It was the original production of a surplus that created patriarchal society, i.e. class society. Before this time whatever gender differentiation that existed was not associated with male or female domination. However, the production of a surplus led to private appropriation, classes, exploitation, patriarchy, etc.

Out of this arose male domination through the so-called 'head of the family', with patrilineal and patrilocal marriages with crucial distinctions between wife, mistress, prostitute: and legal systems that legitimizes patriarchal control of men over their wives and children - backed by the organized violence of the state.

Only when aspects of this control break through our religion and cultural rationalizations, as in the twin cases of Safiya and Amina, do the media suddenly start looking for answers. However, they conveniently ignore the fact that the same social system that legitimizes subjugation of one class by another also legitimizes men's need to control women's sexuality.

The justice system of the bourgeoisie is wracked with a brutal class spirit. The victims of this obnoxious practice are all working class women, who suffer not just class oppression but also gender oppression. This fact is underlined by the circumstances of the crime. Where are the co-respondents? Both were discharged for the guilty women's inability to produce four witnesses of impeccable character. What this actually means is that the testimony of a woman - a peasant one at that - does not equal that of a man.

For us Marxists the women's question is a social question. Women must have the freedom to control their own bodies, minds, desires, and self-image. Only genuine Socialism will give women their freedom by overthrowing the rule of Capital. The struggle for the emancipation of women is an inevitable aspect of the Nigerian Revolution and we, as Marxists, must take it up.

January, 2003

See also:

Understanding a sister's struggle: "In the name of tradition" by Gaye D. C., in Lagos
The Working Woman: a "Second Class" Worker by Gaye Cheeqitita, June, 1999
Miss World pageant highlights terrible conditions of masses in Nigeria
by Fred Weston (December 2, 2002)
[Back to In Defence of Marxism] [Back to Africa] [Back to Nigeria]

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Call a fucking spade a spade 11.Jan.2003 20:47


"This is a particularly barbaric aspect of class society and will only really be eradicated together with the system that spawns it, when the workers of Nigeria overthrow capitalism."

Class society, my big fat fucking hairy ass. How about insane fundamentalism?

Repeat after me: Fundamentalism, of any stripe, is bullshit and should not be tolerated. Furthermore, it should not be talked around by nonsensical analyses that use words like "worker" and "class" (ooh). It should be called for what it is and confronted head on.

Rich hits the nail on the head.. is it permitted to actually criticize Islam? Because fundamentalist Islam is clearly the cause of the problem here.


Hypocrisy 12.Jan.2003 07:58

AmazonWarriorWoman arieldawn@3web.net

She is to be stoned for having sex out of wedlock.....
funny how nobody ever mentions the male....since he
had sex out of wedlock also, he should be stoned as well!

Religions of Peace? 12.Jan.2003 08:20

AmazonWarriorWoman arieldawn@3web.net

I see the word "fundamentalism" tossed around concerning
judaism, christianity, and islam.
These three religions have only been here 5,000, 2,000,
and 1,500 years respectively, and are ALL based on theft,
colonialism, social conditioning and control, fear, wars,
etc. It is all just a "game" to them.
Thus, "fundamentalism" is nothing more than a lame excuse
to further justify these nihilistic religions.
They all need to be totally repudiated!

fundamentalism 12.Jan.2003 09:52


It seems important to keep this in biblical context-- here is the whole chapter 22.

Of course, this insanity didn't originate with the Muslims; the Jews invented it, and both the Christians and the Muslims borrowed from it heavily.

And don't believe for a minute that Christian fundamentalist atrocities ended with the Inquisition!!

Bush et al. have many surprises in store for us!

Go to the "Skeptics Annotated Bible"-- there is much mischief in our Good Book, and when the authorities want to bring it back, they will


Deuteronomy, Chapter 22

Thou shalt not see thy brother's ox or his sheep go astray, and hide thyself from them: thou shalt in any case bring them again unto thy brother.

And if thy brother be not nigh unto thee, or if thou know him not, then thou shalt bring it unto thine own house, and it shall be with thee until thy brother seek after it, and thou shalt restore it to him again.

In like manner shalt thou do with his ass; and so shalt thou do with his raiment; and with all lost thing of thy brother's, which he hath lost, and thou hast found, shalt thou do likewise: thou mayest not hide thyself.

Thou shalt not see thy brother's ass or his ox fall down by the way, and hide thyself from them: thou shalt surely help him to lift them up again.

The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman's garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God.

If a bird's nest chance to be before thee in the way in any tree, or on the ground, whether they be young ones, or eggs, and the dam sitting upon the young, or upon the eggs, thou shalt not take the dam with the young:

But thou shalt in any wise let the dam go, and take the young to thee; that it may be well with thee, and that thou mayest prolong thy days.

When thou buildest a new house, then thou shalt make a battlement for thy roof, that thou bring not blood upon thine house, if any man fall from thence.

Thou shalt not sow thy vineyard with divers seeds: lest the fruit of thy seed which thou hast sown, and the fruit of thy vineyard, be defiled.

Thou shalt not plow with an ox and an ass together.

Thou shalt not wear a garment of divers sorts, as of woollen and linen together.

Thou shalt make thee fringes upon the four quarters of thy vesture, wherewith thou coverest thyself.

If any man take a wife, and go in unto her, and hate her,

And give occasions of speech against her, and bring up an evil name upon her, and say, I took this woman, and when I came to her, I found her not a maid:

Then shall the father of the damsel, and her mother, take and bring forth the tokens of the damsel's virginity unto the elders of the city in the gate:

And the damsel's father shall say unto the elders, I gave my daughter unto this man to wife, and he hateth her;

And, lo, he hath given occasions of speech against her, saying, I found not thy daughter a maid; and yet these are the tokens of my daughter's virginity. And they shall spread the cloth before the elders of the city.

And the elders of that city shall take that man and chastise him;

And they shall amerce him in an hundred shekels of silver, and give them unto the father of the damsel, because he hath brought up an evil name upon a virgin of Israel: and she shall be his wife; he may not put her away all his days.

But if this thing be true, and the tokens of virginity be not found for the damsel:

Then they shall bring out the damsel to the door of her father's house, and the men of her city shall stone her with stones that she die: because she hath wrought folly in Israel, to play the whore in her father's house: so shalt thou put evil away from among you.

If a man be found lying with a woman married to an husband, then they shall both of them die, both the man that lay with the woman, and the woman: so shalt thou put away evil from Israel.

If a damsel that is a virgin be betrothed unto an husband, and a man find her in the city, and lie with her;

Then ye shall bring them both out unto the gate of that city, and ye shall stone them with stones that they die; the damsel, because she cried not, being in the city; and the man, because he hath humbled his neighbour's wife: so thou shalt put away evil from among you.

But if a man find a betrothed damsel in the field, and the man force her, and lie with her: then the man only that lay with her shall die.

But unto the damsel thou shalt do nothing; there is in the damsel no sin worthy of death: for as when a man riseth against his neighbour, and slayeth him, even so is this matter:

For he found her in the field, and the betrothed damsel cried, and there was none to save her.

If a man find a damsel that is a virgin, which is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her, and they be found;

Then the man that lay with her shall give unto the damsel's father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife; because he hath humbled her, he may not put her away all his days.

A man shall not take his father's wife, nor discover his father's skirt.
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say 12.Jan.2003 23:00


"And the elders of that city shall take that man and chastise him"

this happened to me once!