The hijab in Nigeria, the woman’s body and the feminist private/public discourse

Seminar date: 
21 February 2008

Speaker(s): Hauwa Mahdi

Hauwa Mahdi is a researcher on gender and women and was awarded her PhD at Gothenburg University, Sweden in 2006. From 1980 to 1990 she worked at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria and has been teaching African history at the Centre for African Studies in Gothenburg since 2000. She is currently a researcher at the Centre of Global Gender Studies in Gothenburg and coordinator of GADNET, a Swedish gender researchers' network. Her recent publications include: 'Sharia in Nigeria: A Reflection on the Debates', in: M. Cavallin Aijmer, G. Malmstedt, A. von Scheéle & M. Weikert (eds), Arbete, Kultur och Politik: en vänbok till Lennart K. Persson (Gothenburg, 2007) and Gender and Citizenship: Hausa Women's Political Identity from the Caliphate to the Protectorate (Gothenburg, 2006).

Discussant: Lidwien Kapteijns, Professor of History at Wellesley College, USA, and fellow at NIAS Wassenaar

This paper is built around three interconnected themes: the hijab symbolizing the Islamic dimension, the body signifying gender hierarchy, and the private/public discourses that form the juncture of the politics of access to spaces. The aim is to locate the hijab in the variegated Muslim feminist understanding and see how it is viewed in Nigeria in the politics of the woman's body in the public space. Hauwa Mahdi will begin by providing a short explanation of the important terms in the analysis. The concept of the public space will then be discussed in opposition to the private, and in relation to other African Muslim cultures and the place of the hijab in the politics of spaces. Some historical background will then be given to show the turning point in the position of women in politics in Nigeria. The arguments of Muslim feminists will be woven into a discursive analysis of Muslim women and politics in Nigeria as the discussion shifts from the present to the past of Islam in the country. The two goals are, firstly, to highlight the local context and its link to the creation of a global monotypic Islam and the role of women in the public space, and, secondly, to present the innate contradictions and dilemmas encountered when applying the monotypic perception of Islam by Nigerian Muslims. Here, the hijab is used to symbolize the monotypic process.

    Read the paper