Written by @francafly
About three months ago a video of Stella Damasus, a renowned Nigerian actress went viral on almost every social media network. The self-made video captured the light skinned actress vehemently condemning the fact that the Nigerian Senate were going to be deliberating on legalizing child marriages in the country.
I read about the content of the video on several online publications but it was not until recently, I decided to watch the video for myself. Anyone who has known me for sometime will realize that a feminist issue like this is of grave interest to me.
I first watched the video a month ago and since then I cannot count the number of times I watch that same video in a day. It is very normal for any passionate feminist to have goose pimples after seeing that intriguing video.
Elaborating categorically on all the issues raised in the video will be a little redundant, because I think the various print and online publications did that well enough with the vivid descriptions they gave of the contents of the video.
However, there is one issue that Stella hinted that left me pondering over certain realizations. She mentioned something about the first lady of Nigeria; Patience Jonathan. In the video, Stella Damasus asked of the whereabouts of the first lady and asked what she was doing about the topic at hand. She also entreated her in her own words to “get up and put a stop to this madness!”
Now one thing that I keep asking myself about that aspect of the video is what the role of a first lady in a country is, or rather should be. Stella said, “You derive pleasure in issues that do not concern you”. What are the issues that should concern a first lady? I immediately began to research into the duties and responsibilities of a first lady.
Through my research, I realized that no law or constitution specifies any laid down responsibilities for the spouse of a president; and this is universal. However, there are some first ladies who have distinguished themselves against the odds to make a mark for themselves.
One name that came up in almost every feature I read was Eleanor Roosevelt. She was the wife of the depression era and World War II president Franklin Roosevelt. And according to history, she was “a ground breaking first lady”.
She took advantage of her position to advocate greater rights for women, workers and racial minorities. She is also reported to have maintained a position in public life after her husband’s term of office was over and even after his death.
Even if you didn’t know much about Hillary Clinton (wife of former president Bill Clinton), you should have heard of her when she assumed post as the 67th United States Secretary of State from 2009-2013. Just like Eleanor Roosevelt, she continued to serve in public office even after her husband’s tenure was over.
Laura Bush, whose husband’s government was met with a series of military issues even before the first year of his tenure could end, championed the causes of education and literacy and created an annual National Book Festival to provide funding for America’s libraries.
Then we come to the reigning first lady of America, Michelle Obama. In 2011 she launched the “Joining Forces” campaign. A nationwide initiative that mobilizes all sectors of society to give service members and their families the opportunities and support they have earned, and to raise awareness of military families’ unique needs as pertains to employment, education and wellness.
She recently launched the “Let’s Move!” campaign which seeks to raise awareness of childhood obesity in America. The “Let’s Move!” campaign is giving parents the support they need, to provide healthier food in schools, help their kids to be more physically active, and make healthy, affordable food available in every part of America.
I don’t mean to bore you with so much history but I am driving at a point here. Any time I tried researching on first ladies who have made a mark in history, it is only the first ladies of America that appear. The whole list of the 44 first ladies that the US has seen as well as their contributions to nation building is available online.
This interest about the duties of first ladies came after Stella Damasus drew my attention to the fact that the role of the first lady in our part of the world has more often than not been reduced to ceremonial functions which is mostly used to showcase their fashion sense and donations of ridiculously huge sums of money to score political points. As such, a whole year can pass without any news on the first lady.
I am just in my early twenties and my few years as a citizen of this country has seen at least four first ladies: Her Excellencies Konadu Agyemang Rawlings, Theresa Kuffuor, Naadu Mills and currently Lordina Mahama. However, the first lady I really remember most and has laid a very huge mark on my mind is Mrs. Rawlings; and not just because her husband served the longest term.
I was just a kid when Mrs. Rawlings and her husband were in office, and I may not remember vividly all the events that took place under their tenure but one thing I remember Is the 31st December Women’s movement. I remember how this movement empowered women all over the country, I remember how children of the under privileged benefited from the many schools they set up.
The office of the first lady might not be well defined in any constitution but I remember how she gave it a role and a responsibility. She was passionate about the independence of women, she stood up for the children and the less privileged. She was my very first lady and still remains the only one I know!
The ones who came after her might have also worked in a way. But the question is what is it that they did? There must be something to show their works but I see none. I am trying very hard to attribute certain initiatives and projects to them but I simply cannot figure it out.
It is always the husbands who are in the news for one thing or the other. We don’t hear about them, we don’t even see them. The office of the first lady is an intriguing position that has no specific job description yet has enormous potential of championing causes and effecting change. We want to see our mothers work towards this effect. They can do a lot to impact on this rather male dominating atmosphere that Africa faces; by fighting for the rights of women, children and the oppressed in the society.
Stella Damasus was heavily criticized by a sizeable few and condemned by many on the video she fearlessly did. However, I want to believe the issue would have been different if she at least had the support of Nigeria’s First lady. Or if Patience Jonathan had been preoccupied with other equally important pressing issues, I don’t think Stella Damasus would have attacked her in the manner that she did.
Although I am not attracted to politicians or people with political ambitions in, If I were the first lady of any country, I would take a cue from my “sister first ladies” in the USA and make sure that I leave more than just a mark in people’s lives and in the national history!
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