A Feminist Perspective on the Dilemma of the Girl Child in African Culture


Being born and growing up as a girl in a developing society like Nigeria is almost like a curse due to the contempt and ignominious treatment, most girls receive from the family, the school and the society at large. The cumulative effects of these discriminatory, exploitative and unjust treatments have had profound negative impacts on the psychological and social life of the girl child. In fact, the patriarchal nature of most African societies has worsened the situation and as well reduced the essence of feminine gender to domestic dimension alone. It is therefore imperative to philosophically examine the real ontological basis of the feminine gender and its place in the scheme of things. Of course, feminism as a movement champions the cause of women and girls and the various issues that affect womanhood. The feminist position on the dignity of the girl child is  significant, in this regard.

It is worth noting that the term ‘feminism’ has many different uses and its meanings are often contested.[1] For example, some writers use the term ‘feminism’ to refer to a historically specific political movement in the US and Europe; other writers use it to refer to the belief that there are injustices against women, though there is no consensus on the exact list of these injustices.[2]Albeit, feminism is both an intellectual commitment and a political movement that seeks justice for women and the end of sexism in all forms. Motivated by the quest for social justice, feminist inquiry provides a wide range of perspectives on social, cultural, economic, and political phenomena.[3]


That said, the discrimination against the girl-child has remained a perennial unresolved issue in the society and a major concern in the field of philosophy. In every civilized society and especially in the African context, children are regarded as the pride of the parents and the greatest value the society possess. Because of these reasons, children are mostly cherished and consciously protected from all forms of hazards and abuse. However, female children have not been so lucky to be cherished, protected and loved in our society due to certain traditional practices, stereotyping, cultural and religious beliefs which put them at the risk of abuse and neglect.

Against this background, this research posits that for a girl child to become a proper and useful adult, she needs both informal and qualitative formal educations and, more importantly, a favourable and humane society to exploit her innate potentials. This will enable her to develop her mind, intellects and skills to be able to contribute meaningfully back to her society. Thus, our recourse to the radical feminists approach in addressing the dilemma of girl child in African culture is a rational step to redeem the dignity of women.



The problem that gave rise to this study is the age long religious and cultural beliefs in African society which impede the girl-child from living a purposeful life. These beliefs have had very serious implications on how many families especially in rural areas perceive female children. Suffice to say that most of these beliefs are grounded on misconceptions and prejudice. Also, the girl-child problem around the world has many dimensions but the root of all kinds of discriminations and bias against the girl-child lies in the customs, traditions and typical mindset of the society which considers the girl-child and women as inferior beings. In fact, women and girls have been treated in the most inhuman ways from the inception of human civilization. This legacy of injustice against the girl child that is more pronounced in most African cultures shall be philosophically addressed in this research.


This long essay is an attempt to critically evaluate the dilemma of girl child within the purview of African societies. It seeks to identify the major problems bedeviling girl-child. The past experience of my friend in the northern part of Nigeria prompted me to research on this topic and to suggest ways of addressing the menace. The objectives of this research her

  • To examine the factors that facilitate the unfair treatment girl-child and women receive generally in the society.
  • To evaluate those indigenous cultural beliefs and traditional practices that fuels the abuse of women.
  • To address holistically the challenges the girl-child face in our immediate Nigeria society.
  • To demonstrate how the feminist view constitute the basis for the campaign of girl-child right.


 This study aims at providing answers to the following questions:

(i). To what extent do girl-children enjoy fundamental human rights?

(ii). To what extent do the indigenous African cultures degrade the dignity of the girl-children dignity?

(iii). What are the pragmatic measures in feminism that can address the challenges of the girl child in African society?



This research shall use the analytic and critical methodology to evaluate the feminist perspectives in addressing the dilemma of the girl child in African culture. Since this research is library based; materials like textbooks, monographs, journals and the internet shall be consulted.



       Radical feminism theory shall be used in this research to address the challenges of a girl-child in Africa. At the heart of radical feminism is the belief that men are largely responsible for, and benefit from, the exploitation of women as well as girl-children.[4] The analysis of patriarchy is a central concern. Patriarchy is viewed as a universal phenomenon that existed across time and cultures. Radical feminists often concentrate on the family as one of the primary sources of women’s oppression in the society. They contend that there are some patriarchal structures which restrict girl-children as well as women’s social opportunities.[5] So, we shall pattern our approach in line with the radical feminist position in order to address the dilemma of the girl child in African culture.


There are some key-terms that feature greatly in this essay and there meanings should be understood as follows:

Culture: culture is a way of life of a group of people, the behaviours, beliefs, values, and symbols that they accept, generally without thinking about them , and that are passed along by communication and imitation from one generation to the next.

Values:  value is a person’s principles or standards of what is important in life.  It also denotes the degree of importance of something or action, with the aim of determining what actions are best to do or what way is best to live, or to describe the significance of different actions.

Abuse:  abuse is an improper treatment of person that is often characterize with cruelty, violence and oppression. It can also be seen as the repetitive pattern of behaviours to maintain power and control over an intimate partner. These behaviours physically harm, arouse fears, prevent a partner from doing what they wish or force them to behave in ways they do not want.

Discrimination: discrimination in human social affairs is treatment or consideration of, or making a distinction in favour or against, a person or thing based on the group, class, or category to which that person or thing belong to rather than  on individual merit.

Feminism: feminism is mostly associated with the belief that women should be allowed the same rights, power, and opportunities as men and be treated in the same way, or the set of activities intended to achieve this state. Otherwise stated, feminism is concerned about gaining equal rights and opportunities for women, and allowing women to have control over their lives. and bodies at a time when women are sexualized and objectified in so many cultures.[6] Feminism is also about empowering women and young girls.[7]


The scope of this work encompasses the discourse of feminism and its significance to the treatment of the girl-child. However, our discourse and analysis is situated within African cultural paradigm.


This research is significant in the following ways:

  1. It addresses the various domestic challenges facing girl-child.
  2. The case-study of girl-children mal-treatment that we shall examine in this study will expose the readers to the dangers of abuse, especially domestic violence which is somewhat rampant in Nigeria society.
  3. The research gives credence to the campaign against child abuse generally.
  4. It emphasizes that all humans have dignity irrespective of their gender status, and as such must be treated with utmost respect.

The above significances should not becloud critical reasoning, despite the thoughtful consideration of the feminist approach in this study, the plausibility of feminist prescriptions on the ideal treatment of girl–child within the African society is still contentious. Be that as it may, the results of our analysis and the objective presentation of the recommendations at the end of this research could be employed as a useful theoretical explanatory model to quicken the advocacy for a fair treatment of the girl child in contemporary times.







1.1 Introduction

1.2 Statement of Problem

1.3 Purpose of Research

1.4 Research Questions

1.5 Methodology

1.6 Theoretical Framework

1.7 Contribution to Knowledge



 1.0 Introduction

1.1 Traditional Igbo Culture (Omenala)

1.2 Moral Conception of Traditional Igbo

1.3 Summary



Notion of Feminist Ethics

Feminism and Prostitution

Feminism and Abortion

2.4 Feminism and Pornography


3.0 Introduction

3.1 Kant’s on Human Dignity

3.2 Feminist conception of the dignity of the girl-child

3.3 Peculiar Challenges of Girl Child in Africa

3.4  Feminism and the Dilemma of the girl child in African Culture


4.0 Introduction

4.1 Feminism and the Question of relevance to girl-child treatment

4.2 Critique/Appraisal/Evaluation

4.3 Recommendations



[1] Walker, Margaret Urban. Moral Understandings: A Feminist Study in Ethics, (New York: Routledge. 1998), p.3


[2] Ibid

[3] Baumgardner, Jennifer and Amy Richards, Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism, and the Future, (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.2000), p. 10


[4] Tuana, Nancy and Rosemarie Tong, eds., Feminism and Philosophy, (Boulder, CO: Westview Press. 1995), p.2

[5] Ibid. p.3

[6] M.U Walker, Moral Understandings: A Feminist Study in Ethics, (New York: Routledge, 1998) p.5

[7] Ibid.

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