‘Na woman dey drive’. If you’ve ever journeyed on the road in Nigeria, then you must have heard someone say that before. It may not be verbatim, but at least you’ve heard a variation of the statement. You dey drive like woman. Why you dey drive like woman? Why you dey drive anyhow, na woman you be? It’s usually thrown at people who are driving too carefully or seem to be driving timidly on the wild highway. Some other time, the phrase is thrown at people who seem to not know how to drive.

On Wednesday, I was going out for an appointment, from Ikeja to Lekki. I wasn’t late, but I wasn’t early either so the driver was stuck somewhere between hurried and laid back. We had to make a quick stop somewhere to get something before zooming off to the island, but we got to a point where there was this annoying vehicle in front of us, the person was driving like a learner but there was no learner sign on the car. That was when the driver fired the shot. Na woman dey drive. He hadn’t seen who the driver was, but he was sure it was a woman driving. “Don’t say things like that!” I retorted. His response: “Shey we go see now.” Eventually, he overtook the car and when we looked to see who was driving, I was disappointed, while he had a smirk on his face.

From my experience, though, the worst drivers happen to be men. The most reckless drivers, the least compliant drivers–the ones that flaunt traffic rules, run red lights and drive against traffic on one-way roads–are men. Lagos danfo drivers. Yet, when there’s a person driving carefully, trying not to hit or get hit, you almost always hear someone blame it on the person being a ‘woman’. And the funny thing is, such situations are evenly distributed between both sexes, but it’s usually women that get the blame. It doesn’t matter whether the person driving is a woman or a man.

You should care about statements like ‘na woman dey drive’ because they are symptoms of deeper societal problems of patriarchy and sexism, problems that have been reinforced through social conditioning and several cognitive biases.

Patriarchy and sexism in Nigeria

A patriarchal system is one that places men above women in all areas of human endeavour: at home, at work, in politics, and, in the context of this article, on the road. Ngozi Ezenwa-Ohaeto, an English Language scholar at Nnamdi Azikiwe University, writes that “In Nigeria, patriarchy has remained a way of life. [So much so that] children are nurtured and socialized in their various homes (nuclear and extended) with regard to their sexes, not based on the fact that they are humans that deserve equal treatment and opportunities.”

Right from our childhood years, we have been brought up within a system that places men above women in the society. The man is seen as superior and holding more authority (and sometimes credibility) than the woman. It’s why a man can hit a woman’s car during a traffic tussle on the road and when she comes out to complain and demand that he pay for the damages, he tells her that he won’t speak to her because she is a woman, that he will only talk to her husband.

There are many other ways patriarchy is evident in this country. Godiya Allanana Makama of Nasarawa State University wrote this in the European Scientific Journal: “The patriarchal society sets the parameters for women’s structurally unequal position in families and markets by condoning gender-differential terms in inheritance rights and legal adulthood, by tacitly condoning domestic and sexual violence and sanctioning differential wages for equal or comparable work.” Perhaps you’ve never heard a rape victim narrate her story of how she was raped, reported the incidence to the police and they ended up blaming her for getting raped while doing nothing to bring the rapist to justice. Or maybe you’ve never been told that there are parents that beat their female children for getting raped or sexually assaulted. On the career front, it’s common in Nigeria for you to find women that are paid less than men in organisations while occupying the same positions simply because they are women. It’s also very likely that you will come across a woman who has been denied her due promotion in the office because she is a woman and said position is ‘reserved for men’. But maybe you already know all these things.

A friend of mine told me something his mother used to say to him when he was a child: “If you do well in life, people will say that your parents brought you up well. But, if you fail, they will blame me, your mother. They will say I did not do my job.” At that time, he told me, the statement sounded inspirational; his mother meant what she said and he too pledged to live by it. But now, he says, he knows better. Why does it have to be the mother that will take the blame for the child’s failure? Where’s the father in all of it? These are the questions we need to ask ourselves.

So, now, patriarchy has been so deeply entrenched in our society and it reflects in the way we do business, talk to each other (between the sexes) and interact on the road. You see someone driving too slowly, you chalk it down to their being a ‘woman’. It doesn’t matter if that person is actually a woman or not, but because of the general perception (strengthened by patriarchy) that women are fragile and are neither fit for the hustle nor do they have the grit required to manoeuvre on the highway, ‘na woman dey drive’. Because patriarchy is systemic, some women have internalized that idea that women are bad drivers and so don’t bother learning how to drive or, when they do learn how to drive, they don’t do it often enough to gain mastery of it, and so the few times they do get on the road, they are nervous, and when people are nervous, in this context, they tend to drive very carefully, and in so doing they run the risk of being screamed at and called a ‘woman’ if they make the slightest mistake on the road. It’s a vicious cycle.

Do you see how this is a problem now? It’s so deep in our system that even enlightened, educated people that you’d expect to know better fall into this trap. When your educated friend can make such a statement as, Na woman dey drive, in passing, without even thinking twice, one thing is obvious: the journey is still long. And perhaps you’ve been guilty of this, the next time you’re tempted to say something condescending to a woman because of her gender, remind yourself you’re better than that.

Elsewhere on Ventures

Triangle arrow