“The Female Gender is more Vulnerable to Social Constructs” INTERVIEW WITH A’AISHA ABDULKAREEM
By Phateema Salihu (Literature Voices)
(A’aisha Abdulkareem, officially known as Aisha Umar Muhammad, holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and a Master of Arts in Literature in English from the Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto Nigeria. She is currently a PhD student in the University of Ilorin. She lectures in the Department of European Languages, Federal University Birnin Kebbi, Kebbi State Nigeria. She specializes in gender literature with focus on Northern Nigerian Women Fiction. Her short story, ‘Binle’s Emerald’ came third place in the 2018 African Writers’ Award. She is currently working on a collection of short stories, as well as a collection of poems and a textbook on Creative Writing. She is a member of several professional and non-professional bodies like African Literature Association (ALA), Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), Literary Scholars Association (LSA), English Scholars Association of Nigeria (ESAN), Arewa Women Writers, Association for the Study of Literature and Environment (ASLE). She is the Sokoto State Coordinator of Hilltop Creative Arts Centre, Sokoto. ‘Yar Fari, her first novel, is published by Kraftbooks.)
Phateema: Let us start by knowing you, first.
Aisha: I am Aisha Umar; A’aisha Abdulkareem is my pen name. I am a lecturer of African Gender Literature with the Department of European Languages, Federal University Birnin Kebbi, Nigeria.
Phateema: You specialize in gender literature with a focus on Northern Nigerian women, do you care to share how that’s like?
Aisha: The northern Nigerian female is particularly disadvantaged, due to the patriarchal nature of the society. Gender is a focus on the gender disparity, similarity, and mainstreaming of the male and female gender in the society, as they co-exist. In northern Nigeria, literature is used to replay reality about female predicament, my studies over the years have exposed me to the dynamics of the female question in Northern Nigeria
Phateema: You are the Sokoto State Coordinator of Hill-Top Creative Arts Foundation, what do you do at your Sokoto branch? What are the successes so far?
Aisha: The Sokoto Hill Top Creative Arts Centre is an offshoot of Hilltop Creative Arts’ Foundation Minna. It came into existence some years back. We were able to mentor young talented artists in their respective areas of expertise. We have a complete manuscript, searching for sponsorship for publication. Our major challenge is the lack of interest by the state government in the centre as our requests for sponsorship do not get responses.
Phateema: Yar’fari is your first novel and you once shared that the manuscript was completed since 2011. What took you this long to publish it and why did you pick it for publication among your other manuscripts?
Aisha: Writing is beyond just putting pen on paper and publishing. On the completion of the manuscripts in 2011, it had to go through series of editing. When eventually it was ready, I went through the most turbulent period of my life. When I found my feet again, I revisited the manuscript, considering all the options of title and publication funding at my disposal. As for why I chose this manuscript from among the others, there is no particular reason, except that its editing progress was faster than the others.
Phateema: Being in the area of gender and sexuality, you seem to focus more on the femininity. Is this a deliberate act to accelerate conversations on women in Northern Nigeria? Why?
Aisha: Yes, the reason is because, the female is more vulnerable to social construct and therefore needs extensive research that could proffer solutions to the female predicament in Northern Nigeria and beyond. Besides, I am a woman. Who best can tell a woman’s story better than a woman?
Phateema: On womanism, feminism and all other ‘isms’, what do you think is the problem that these movements tend to fight for? Are we doing it wrongly or correctly in Africa? Sometimes, you feel it is a war on culture and men
Aisha: Feminism is a western construct that fights for gender equity and better condition of living for women. Womanism on the other hand, is first targeted at the discrimination against black women by Western Feminism. It was first mentioned by Alice Walker. In the African context, African Womanism or African Feminism is quite different in content, context and approach because the problems of African women are hinged on traditional restrictions. So, African Feminism/Womanism focuses on better living conditions for the female; freedom from traditional shackles, access to education and other life’s privileges without necessarily antagonising tradition and cultures. The various strands of African Feminism all proposes ways to negotiate with and around men (Nego-Feminism), achieve social transformation that includes women (Stiwanism), appreciate the woman as a Female and acknowledge her relevance in the society (Femalism), help the female to develop and actualize herself in appreciation of her role as a mother (Motherism), develop a healthy relationship of co-existence and not treat the female as a lesser human being, whether as a daughter, sister, wife or mother (African Womanism), etc. The major concern of them all is the quest for better life opportunities and living conditions for women. In Africa, value reorientation of this concept is what we need to get it right. Any average African man and even woman believe that feminists or womanists are enemies of men and are asking to put on men’s trousers. But no, it is not exactly so. This is why the African concept of feminism came on board to suitably accommodate the peculiarities of the continent. In my research, I divided Feminists into two main types; the professional feminist and the circumstantial or accidental feminist (this is a topic for another day). It is not a war on culture and men, but a struggle for female self-actualization.
Phateema: Still on the area of gender and sexuality, what do you make of the surge in the debate on feminism around the world? Why is it such an important movement, today?
Aisha: This question is already partly answered. The female is the mother through whom we are born. She runs the home, supports the man with the psychological balance to face life. She is the first teacher of the kids and said to be ‘the custodian of culture. Yet, she is more vulnerable to social ills like rape, molestation, illiteracy, unwanted pregnancy, domestic violence, etc. than the male. Don’t you think that her wellbeing is important?
Phateema: Chimamanda pointed out that there’s feminism and there is feminism-lite, do you share your perspective on these?
Aisha: She is a more of a Western Feminist, who again lives outside Africa. She might not be too apt in the discourse of African Feminism, which is my area and concern. Whatever she means by ‘Feminism and Feminism lite’, she alone can explain.
Phateema: Are there other forms of feminism that are foreign to us? What do they each stand for?
Aisha: Western Feminism is only a larger umbrella that shelters other forms of feminisms outside Africa. It takes a whole lot to talk about them. One thing is clear about them all; it is a war against men and subjugation. These feminist strands encourage women to remain unmarried or be single mothers, if the need arises. But, for us African feminists/womanists, we advocate female wellbeing, education, career and self-actualization, while still being African women in all sense of it.
Phateema: Most of the books we read by Northern authors seem to be talking about basically same line of thought: issues like early and forced marriages; discrimination against the female gender; and other vices, do you think it’s a deliberate attempt by those authors to continue to do that?
Aisha: The responses in the questions are already given earlier. The urge to first tell our story, be heard and change the stereotype depiction of African women in literature and reality is the reason for what we write. I saw a caption on a professor’s Facebook page a while ago; “A woman who apologises even when she is not wrong is a wife.” I keep wondering about the mindset of African men who expect the woman to take responsibility for their wrong deeds, just because she is a ‘woman.’ This is just an instance of the female predicament that needs our voices and the writings cannot be too much.
Phateema: Are you working on anything currently or we have to wait a little more? Do you write poetry? Why do the female folks love to write stories than poetry?
Aisha: I am working on three manuscripts simultaneously. One is a collection of poems; another is a collection of short stories and the other, a text book on Creative Writing. Females love prose narratives because we are naturally story tellers. I write all genres of literature because I teach all.
Phateema: How do you think we can get more women to be educated and become self-reliant here in the North? I am talking of proactive or revolutionary measure, not the regular mundane preaching on TV of ‘Take your girls to school.’
Aisha: Mentorship is very important in the achievement of female education in Northern Nigeria. I mean those of us who are privileged should nurture at least one female, by motivating her, enlightening her and supporting her morally and materially. Let’s look around us today and put a smile on someone’s face; let’s be role models. Those of us who are mothers should play active roles in our daughters’ lives.
Phateema: Have you ever gotten discouraged or criticised in the line of achieving your educational and literary goals?
Aisha: Yes, in several ways, on several occasions. However, the determination to actualize myself, as well as the power of the Almighty, is my weapon. I am labelled a Feminist. Well, if advocating for the fair treatment of the female makes me a feminist, so be it.
Phateema: Do you support that young people look for mentors to coach or guide them in order to become better at their skills? This question is not necessarily for writing. The joblessness in town is alarming.
Aisha: Yes, I do, as you can see in the above response. Personally, I was mentored by Prof. Asabe Kabir Usman. For everything I am today, she is a catalyst that Allah has used to elevate me. However, mentorship comes with a lot of sacrifice, but the younger generation do not have the patience and discipline to weather the storm of being mentored.
Phateema: Can you share with us the list of your favourite writers? What is special about them?
Aisha: First, I love African Writers. My favourite writers? It’s difficult to say, because any story that has good story line, language and African setting sweeps me off my feet. I love Chinua Achebe’s works; they are the convention for African Literature. Prof. Adamu Kyuka Usman is another prolific writer I know. His novel, the Death of Eternity, is the best Ecocritical novel I have read. Olu Obafemi’s plays thrill me. Abubakar Gimba is the most passionate male African Feminist I know. Ifeoma Okoye is a good story teller and her passion for the female predicament in Africa is strong. Audee T. Giwa is another male African Feminist from Northern Nigeria that I have read. Mohammed Umar’s Amina is one novel I never get tired of reading. Niyi Osundare is a poet after my heart. I love the domestication in his poems. Esiaba Irobi’s poetry challenges my intellect and I love them. Jude Idada is an Inspirational writer, whose creative works on magical realism blow my mind. There are so many others too numerous to mention. African writers, both young and old Africa are blessed with writing.
Phateema: What is your take on the recent factionalisation of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA)? What should they do to resolve it?
Aisha: Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) is an organisation and conflict of this nature is not strange in any organisation. But we should find a level playing ground for a common landing for us to progress. ANA stakeholders and Board of Trustees should call the two factions to a meeting to resolve the issue because a house divided cannot prosper.
Phateema: There is a proliferation in literary platforms in Nigeria. What do you set to achieve by inaugurating a literary platform for scholars, recently? I am talking about Literary Scholars Association which just got registered.
Aisha: There is no active Professional Association for those of us who teach Literature in Nigeria. Being a member of a professional body has a stake in the academics. So, Literary Scholars Association is a step in the right direction. We have over 100 members already and we are moving. LSA’s Maiden Conference will hold in 2021, by God’s grace.
Phateema: Thanks for the time, ma.
Aisha: Thank you, Phateema.
Phateema Salihu is a poet and activist who has been described as a hurricane because of her passion and dedication to literature and art. She is a member of the Hill-Top Creative Arts Foundation and one of the rising literary voices emerging from Niger State. Her works have been published or are forthcoming in Praxis Magazine, Brittle Papers, Kalahari Review and so on. She is the moderator, Hill-Top Weekly Book Chat Review. She has published a collection of poems titled: SKETCHES. Facebook/Instagram: Phateema Salihu, email: firstname.lastname@example.org