Ngozi Onwumere, Seun Adigun, and Akuoma Omeoga hope to raise enough money and qualify for the Pyeongchang 2018 Olympic Games. (Photo/ Obi Grant via GoFundMe)

The Best, And Worst, Places To Be A Woman In Africa, And What That Has To Do With Geography

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IT’S that time of the year when holiday movies are brought out and dusted off, ready to be watched (again) with family and friends.

One of the classics is Cool Runnings, a comedy film on Jamaica’s unlikely bobsled team, very loosely based on the real-life team that competed at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Canada.

Now, three Nigerian women are looking to make history by qualifying for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

If they qualify, Seun Adigun, Ngozi Onwumere, and Akuoma Omeoga would be Nigeria’s, and Africa’s first bobsled team at any Winter Olympics – and they are already expecting all the Cool Runnings references.

“Honestly, coming up with this team had very little to do with the actual movie and everything to do with the legacy it created,” Adigun told BuzzFeed news. “It’s about trying to bring about a level of pride for everybody and expand on positive awareness for the country and the continent.”

The team is raising $150,000 via a gofundme campaign to pay for the equipment and training they need to compete.

The trio’s feats are more remarkable in the context of the Africa Gender Equality Index, compiled by the African Development Bank (AfDB), where Nigeria’s position is very much in the middle of the pile, when compared to the rest of the continent.

The index comprises three measures: economic opportunities for women; human development such as education and health; and laws and institutions that protect women and girls.

In the rankings, many of Africa’s big economies, such as Nigeria, Angola and Egypt, are lacklustre places to be a woman. But small (and also, small low-income) countries perform well on the Index – Rwanda, Malawi, Mauritius and Namibia all feature in the top five.


The exception is South Africa, which is a big, wealthy country and also at the top of the rankings – women and girls in South Africa have their rights enshrined by law in one of the world’s most progressive constitutions, and access to education and health is bolstered by a welfare state that gives grants to vulnerable families.

According to the index, the worst places to be a woman in Africa are Somalia, Sudan, Mali, Libya and Guinea, in that order. One of the things that these countries have in common is their geography. It seems that harsh life of the desert and arid Sahel exerts its greatest price on the womenfolk, sharply circumscribing the roles and status of men and women.

According to anthropologist David Gilmore, the severity of masculinity in a culture — and the chasm between gender roles — is proportional to how treacherous the environment in which that particular society exists is.

Cultures that are constantly warring over territory, who have limited resources and have to battle the elements or nature have hardcore conceptions of masculinity, and rightly so. Men are more biologically suited to be warriors and providers, so deeper gender roles become established, Gilmore argues.

On the other hand, in cultures that are isolated, have plenty of resources, and not threatened, masculinity is comparatively more passive and relaxed – for example, in places like Tahiti and the Philippines. There’s a lack of economic need for diverse gender roles, so society allows much more overlap in the roles of the sexes.

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