Mount Alvernia High School, Newton, Massachusetts

Jesmyn Ward

Briana Richardson 

The Progression of Women’s Rights in Postcolonial Nigeria

Jesmyn Ward: Violence and Endurance in Contemporary African-American Communities

The progression of women’s rights in Nigeria was interrupted by western colonial powers who practiced patriarchal traditions and rejected indigenous roles for women. Combined with the remnants of colonization, gender-based violence and discrimination, inter-religious conflicts, and health crises have plagued Nigeria and blocked attempts to enforce constitutional mandates which were designed to alleviate the suffering of women. The colonial period planted the seeds for the marginalisation of women of all ethnicities throughout Nigeria. Women who once enjoyed the basic freedoms and contributions of an equal tribal state were then shut out by the ideals and concepts of the colonial period. Modern-day Nigeria continues to suffer from the instability of colonial rule. The division between the Christian North and Muslim South has allowed gender-based violence and the isolation of women to steadily climb. Ongoing sexual violence against women in Nigeria continues to undermine women’s progression in the economic and social sphere. In practice, the Nigerian government has adopted many charters and policies in attempts to protect women, yet women are still subjugated to inferior positions.

Just like the struggle of womanhood that many Nigerian women face, Esch, the protagonist of Jesmyn Ward’s novel Salvage the Bones, struggles with her own journey through womanhood. Salvage the Bones is a Southern Gothic novel that follows the life of a poor African-American family in Louisiana in the ten days leading up to Hurricane Katrina. Growing up, Esch lacks a steady support system despite living with her father and four brothers because her mother has passed away and her father is an alcoholic. Esch lacks female role models, and in exploring her identity and sexuality, she succumbs to sexual abuse and violence. When Esch becomes pregnant, she hides her pregnancy, struggling with what her future will hold. When Hurricane Katrina hits, Esch confesses to her family that she is pregnant and her father abandons her. Esch survives the storm with the help of her brother, Skeetah and is eventually welcomed back into her family. Salvage the Bones demonstrates the pattern in Ward’s works of resilience of the black community to move forward in the wake of disasters.

Major Works Consulted:

Afshar, Haleh. Women, State, and Ideology: Studies from Africa and Asia. Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1987.
Uchendu, Patrick Kenechukwu. The Role of Nigerian Women in Politics: Past and Present. Enugu, Nigeria: Fourth Dimension, 1993.
Ward, Jesmyn. Men We Reaped: A Memoir. New York: Bloomsbury, 2013.
---. Salvage The Bones. New York: Bloomsbury, 2011.
Photo Credit: Vuolo, Mike. "Jesmyn Ward Discusses Men We Reaped, Her Gripping Memoir." Slate Magazine. N.p., 19 Dec. 2014. Web. 03 Apr. 2017.