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Women In Nation Building, A Feminist Study Of Naomi Alderman The Power And The Descendants Jainab Alkali


This study was carried out on women in nation building, a feminist study of Naomi Alderman the power and the descendants Jainab Alkali. In 1835, Auguste Conte, in his treatise on The Positive Philosophy, stated that “the essence of God’s wisdom in creating Eve (woman) was not to undermine Adam (man) but to establish a balancing force between the creator and the created. It is, therefore, a truism that a woman is, by the very fact of her creation, a partner of man. It is unfortunate that the men folk have seen it fit to relegate women to an ignominious position. However, in an effort to redeem the situation, women have awakened themselves to the self-realization that they can, in the essence of their being rise up to any occasion just as their male counterparts can. Thus women in Nigeria have risen up to the protection of their rights and the advancement of their desires. Today, women in Nigeria are engaged in all endeavours of life; there are women in the academics, women in the professions and women in artisanship. Women in Nigeria, just like women in other parts of the world are re-defining their functions and, by extension, re-moulding their status. In these modern days, there are women presidents, prime minister, engineers, pilots etc. indeed, the Nigerian women have made significant advances in redefining their image.








1.1 Background of the study

1.2 Statement of Problem

1.3 Objectives of the study

1.4 Significance of Study

1.5 Scope of the Study

1.6 Methodology

1.7 Brief biography of Zaynab Alkali

1.8 Plot summary of The Descendants

1.9 Brief biography of Naomi Alderman

1.10 Plot summary of The Power


2.0      Introduction

2.1      Discourse on Womanhood

2.2      Traditional Image of the Nigerian woman

2.3      Critical Works on The Descendants

2.4     Critical works on The Power


3.1     The re-defined image of the Nigerian woman

3.2     Re-defining the image of Nigerian women in Zaynab Alkali’s  The


3.3     Re-defining the image of women in Naomi Alderman’s The Power


4.0     Summary of findings

4.1     Conclusion

4.2     Work cited





Womanhood (feminity) is not just an expression but a reality; a woman is created by Almighty Allah just as a man is; she is subject to the commands of Allah and his Prophets in the same ways as a man is.

Almighty Allah declared to Adam that:

“O Adam, dwell, you and your (wife) in paradise and eat there from … (Surah 2 al Baqarah).”

It means, therefore, that women have originally been made as (mates) for men as opposed to slaves or chattels. A woman is a help mate to the man for her position is not that of an underling in the family but a participating member upon whose shoulder rests equal responsibilities as the man bears.

In years gone by, some ancient civilizations used to be of the misconceptions that women were vessels to be used and dumped at will; that a woman’s place was defined solely by her ability to keep the house, bear children and bend to her husband.



A woman is unfortunately defined in context rather than in natural personality; a woman, unlike her male counterparts, is not assigned her in alienable right as a natural person when she is being spoken about. It is common to hear men (and even some women) speak about women as an “item” rather than a personality. This is done in the grave misconception that a women has no individual right to occupy a

meaningful pride of place in society.

In the traditional African society and e ven in some western countries of the world, a woman is seen to be a chattel and a housekeeper rather than an equal. In fact, women used to be seen as properties and indeed, in some communities, women could (and still can) be inherited just like other pieces of furniture and other belongings; it is known that in some communities sons used to inherit their late fathers’ youngest wives while brothers could inherit their late brothers’ wives

(Kisseica, 1981)

Even up to these modern times when sophisticated modes of

civilization causing waves of significant and laudable changes in society, some African men are still of the mistaken belief that a woman is theirs to use in whatever manner and to dump when their usefulness has exhausted.

The most disturbing issue in this matter of the obscurity of the image of women ideas the fact that the women themselves used to subscribe to the misconception that Almighty Allah created women not as helpmates to men but as the property of men. In the years gone by men could just go out and ‘acquire’ women when they felt like it and such women would passively succumb to the acquisition.

Often, in many communities in Nigeria double standards are set at the expense of women. There are certain beliefs and practices held by communities which the men folk can breach but a woman dares not even think of it. In such communities, a woman is severely punished if she dares to greet a man on the street even if he is her relation; childlessness in marriage is considered to be the sole curse of the wife who may be call as a witch, or any such worse name; the man is completely absolved of any blame when his wife fails to bear a child even though the man may

be at fault.

There were certain jobs and tasks which were seen to be as the exclusive prerogative of the men folk; in as important a social endeavor as education, the female gender has been marginatlised so much so that today the ratio of men to women in the filed of education is as colossal as 10:3 – you would find then (10) educated men before you would find three (3) educated women.

In many ethnic groups in Nigeria, a woman is worth only what her husband and his family ascribes to her. Among the Kofyar people in Plateau state, a woman is supposed to be responsible for the whole household – she feeds, clothes and provides for the children. The only responsibility of the husband is to provide accommodation and children for the woman (Simmonds 1992)

It is an unimpeachable truth that until recently; a woman was derived any chance that would be her own woman-she was prohibited from asserting her right in any manner whatsoever; it was a taboo for a woman to express an opinion in the presence of men folk because she was thought to be without the faculty of reason. Indeed, the woman was perceived to be lacking in such hereditary factors like intelligence, physique and temperament which interact with social and cultural environment to produce a unique pattern of characteristic thoughts, feelings and actions that combine to constitute a distinct, individual personality (Kisserca, 1981)

Womanhood is symbolic of tenderness, love, kindness and compassion but, unfortunately, the men folk used to perceive these glorious qualities as weakness. The greater love that a woman showed to her fellow human beings, the weaker she is seen to be; the more compassionate that a woman bestowed on humanity, the more foolish she was thought to be. Thus, in spite of shared socio-cultural values, beliefs and practices with men, the woman used to be taken as only a shadow of the men folk (Simmonds 1992)

The culture and traditions of some ethnic communities in Northern

Nigeria have stringent restrictions where the women folk is concerned. In some communities, women are completely without individual identity. The woman is not allowed to inherit any item of her dead husband’s, she cannot go out to seek employment but has to rely on and manage whatever is given out to her by her husband and master (Tahzib, 1983)

Generally, family life and organization used to revolve almost entirely around the man; even though the woman as wife bears the children and keep the home, she was of no significance; she could not think for herself nor for her children but if anything went wrong with the children or in the home the woman would be at the receiving end of the rebuke, admonishment and even the physical remonstration over the situation. As a matter of fact the status of women in Nigeria used to be an ignoble and harrowing one which gave rise to an image of them that was so indistinct as to be obscure.

However, fortunately for nations all over the world, this ignoble and un redeeming image of women is now changing for the better. The men folk and their female counterpart have now awaken to the harsh reality that a woman is not a shadow but a real substance of bones, flesh and blood who possesses a brain of the same size and function as the man; that a woman is also a glorified creation of Almighty God and so she deserves to enjoy all the rights and privileges which a man does. It has now come to the realization of the whole world that a woman is equally capable of attaining feats which were in there to felt to be the exclusive ability of men. Indeed, men have now come to accept the truth that if they are to achieve desired success in their endeavors, they have to carry their female partners along. The fact is that the image of women in the world in general and Nigeria in particular is now being re-defined.

The acquisition of modern education by and employment of women in the formal sector have necessitated radical changes in the functions which women now play in their homes as well as in the larger society. There is now a vast difference between the image of the Nigerian woman 25 years ago and the image of the Nigerian woman in the 1990s and the new generation.

Today, the Nigerian woman is not the sit-right house-keeper and bearer of children; she is no longer the dependant who subsists on the meager offerings of her husband and master. The Nigerian woman is no longer the passive sufferer of insults and violence; she is now an inheritor rather than the inherited. The Nigerian woman has of recent redeemed her image; she has now begun to occupy her pride of place in society and gladly enough, the men folk has taken notice and accepted what is the women’s inalienable right.

By the very fact of the acquisition of western education by and formal employment of women, the economic state of the home has changed so much better that now families can now afford to eat and live more comfortably than it was before. Some misconceptions which used to be held by the larger society are now becoming extinct. The desire for a brood of children who used to be managed by the woman is no longer in fashion; since women also go out to work, fathers have found that they can no longer afford to have children with no one to look after them.

Modern trends which have been created by advances in science and technology have evolved what can best be described as a female headed households. A working mother now gets more recognition from her husband and children because more often than not she pays of contributes a significant amount of house-keeping money and the children’s school fees;. Thus the working mother is now more visible and by implication more acknowledged than the husband (Tahzib, 1993)

The Nigerian woman of these days is economically viable thus being accepted in businesses, trades and other economic endeavors and this makes her socially recognized. Women were also contracted in marriage only for the two purposes of house-keeping and childbirth; it is now no longer so.

Women such as Indira Ghandi, Margaret Thatcher, Benazir Bhutto and many others have played their roles in re-defining the image of women in the male dominated world by politics. In Nigeria we have such politiclal giants as Ngozi Okonjo – Iweala, Zainab Maina, Diezani Allison Madueke in politics; Zaynab Alkali, Grace Alele-Williams, Esther

Kwanashie in the academia; Ceceilia Ibru, Hauwa Ismail, Bolalade

Adesokan in commerce and industry. There are so many thousands of women out there in Nigeria who are gallantly taking on the task of redefining the image of women in Nigeria.



There is no gain saying the fact that women have been degraded to the position of inferior creatures to men. A woman’s voice is not given as much consideration as it should be; the personality of a woman is almost always taken for granted. In most situations, a woman is evaluated by her child-bearing status and/or her skills; she is not considered by being worthy of being assigned any communal or national responsibilities.

However, secularization trend and psychic mobility have promoted women (and even men) to redefine their image. Women have begun to adopt the attitudes that are changing their roles in their homes and the larger society. Communication technology has made it possible for women to imagine, see, hear or read about the activities of women in other nations. This has made women in Nigeria to sit up and re-awaken their sense of self-worth.

Women in Nigeria have come to the realization that they are no longer subservient to the men folk; they are now aware that, as creations of Almighty Allah, they also hold a pride of place as an integrate part of society.

In a general sense, women in Nigeria are now redefining their image in such a positive way that the men folk are taking notice.



  1. Examine the situation(s) which have caused women to try to redefine their image.
  2. Identify the means by which women (and other stakeholders) have being exploring in an effort to re-define their image.
  • Identify the impact (positive or negative) which the redefinition of

the image of women has had or would have on the women

themselves and on the large Nigerian nations.

These three factors constitute the relevance of this study that would ultimately culminate into its significance. Despite these three (3) objectives however, the study may highlight other factors that may emerge as the examination of the situation progresses.



The basic purpose of any and every research project is to identity a prevailing societal problem and to make efforts at finding solutions to the identified problem. Therefore, every research project which is titled “Redefining the Image of Women in Nigeria” is significant to the extent that it would.


Being an educational research, the scope of this study is confined to the project topic which is ‘Re-defining the Image of Women in Nigeria’. The study does not seek to delve into the general activities of women neither is it a documentary of feminine rights activism. It has the sole aim of studying how the image of women in Nigeria has been or is being redefined.


The research was conducted through the collection of data and documents from different sources which include text books, internet works, projects related to the topic and some conference papers.



Born in the Tura-Wazila com of Bomb State in Nigeria, Zaynab Alkali is one of the first female novelists to write in English Language from Northern Nigeria. She was the principal of Girls High School and has had a long university career teaching English and African literature. She graduated from Bayero University, Kano with a BA in 1973. She is currently engaged in research at Bayero University.

Zaynab Alkali’s first novel is The Stillborn was published by Longman in its drumbeat series in 1983. It won many accolades like the Association of Nigerian Author prize for prose fiction in 1985. The novel is set in Nigeria and explores the challenges facing Li, a young balance her family life and her own need for economic and emotional independence (Childhood in African Literature – A Review –Eldred D.Jones Google Books)

Zaynab Alkali also published three stories in German, one of which, Saltless Ash been published in Heinemann Book of African women writers her third collection of short stories The Cobwebs and other stories is about the maturing of Nigerian women and touches on the problem of child-brides and the negative consequences of unemployment and child abuse. She is also the author of the descendants, the virtuous woman, and initiators.

1.8    PLOT SUMMARY OF The Descendants

The descendants is a novel which tells the story of a woman called Magira Milli. Magira Milli is an old woman who is a wife, a mother and a grandmother. She is a woman who has shown love to her husband, her husband’s family and ultimately to her children. Magira Milli’s love of her family manifested in her prayers to God to spare her remaining son Aji. She begs God to let Aji survive so that his offspring would continue the lineage of their ancestor, Lawani Ramta. Her prayers to God is prompted by the ignoble occasions of Azreel (the angel of death) who has cruelly snatched away her son’s Abdulai, Made, Umar and Ilia, however her most unfortunate situation comes when Azreel snatches away her precious grandson Shuaibu.

In chapter one, it is seen that Aji, the only surviving son of Lawani Ramta and Magira Milli is a humane person who has the interests of his community at heart. Magira Milli is set against the values of individuals that go against the general values of humanity. This is the reaon why she goes against the marriage of Peni to the community butcher. Magira Milla is an old woman who in spite of being without western education has insight enough to know that humanity is not served by selfish interests but by understanding the wills of individuals (p.23)

Zainab Alkali has, by virture of her understanding of the ways of human beings dissected the means by which women who are adjudged to be the weaker gender of humanity, strive to assert their rights. Magira Milli’s dissention with her only surviving son, Aji is a clear indication that women have minds of their own, that women tend to bring themselves with the natural and religious injunction of self will.

Aji, the son of Magira Malli has tried to assert his role as the champion of the house but ultimately, he has to accept the firm resolves of his mother. But to his mothers influence, members of the Ramta are able to succeed in their chosen educational and other endevours of life. Hawwa Lawani certain instance who used to suffer certain instances of degradation is able to read and rise up to the prominence the state minister of justice.

The novel is a story ons love, dissent compromise and success, it is a story of a community that relies on the vicious of an old woman to make it thrive. Magira Milli despite her misfortunes at the hands of Azreel, the angel of death, has through her faith in God been able to preserve the lineage of her family. She is an epic example of women who do not aspire to greater heights for themselves but that their descendants may flourish in every way that is possible.

Indeed, Zaynab Alkali has written a story that is woven ground a woman. Who by all standards should be dubbed as the matriarch of not only her family but of the entire community. Magira Milli is certainly a woman whose attitude and characteristics are worthy of emulation not only by women but also by men who desire success in their temporal world and the eternity.



Naomi Alderman was born in London in 1974 and grew up in an Orthodox Jewish community.

After attaining a BA in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from Lincoln College, Oxford, Alderman spent several years working in New York. She later returned to the UK and attained an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia.

Alderman’s first novel, Disobedience (2006), inspired by her own upbringing, features a 30-something female protagonist whose father’s death is the catalyst for her return to the Orthodox Jewish community in which she grew up. It was awarded the Orange Award for New Writers in 2006, and the following year Alderman won the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award.

Alderman’s second novel, The Lessons (2010), which explores the lives of a group of Oxford students, has been compared to Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. It was followed by The Liars’ Gospel (2012), a mature and ambitious work that offers different perspectives on the life of Jesus through four different narrators. All three novels have been adapted for the BBC Radio Four series Book at Bedtime.

Alderman’s short stories have been published in Prospect magazine and various anthologies, as well as being adapted for BBC Radio Four. In 2009, ‘Other People’s Gods’ was shortlisted for the BBC National Short Story Award.

Alderman is also a successful video games writer and creator. She has written online games for Penguin and the BBC, and was the lead writer (2004-2007) on the alternative reality game, Perplex City, which was nominated for a BAFTA. In 2012 she was one of the co-creators of a hugely popular iPhone fitness game, Zombies, Run!. Alderman has also written Borrowed Time (2011), a tie-in novel for the long-running television series, Doctor Who.

In 2012 and 2013, Naomi was mentored by Margaret Atwood as part of the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative. She is Professor of Creative Writing and Digital Media at Bath Spa University, and in April 2013 she was named one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists in their once-a-decade list.

In October 2016, Alderman published her fourth novel, The Power, a science fiction novel about a world in which women develop the power to conduct electricity. It won the Baileys Prize in 2017.



In The Power (2017), Naomi Alderman explores the subversion of conventional notion of gender role and mainstream history. She pictures the different nature of women fighting against the traditional gender role imposed by society and establishing their own identity and base-structure.  She shows the experimentation of electrostatic power in female characters to make them capable to blur pre-existing ideas of gender roles in contemporary society. It depicts reversal vision of thought, organization and agency in a new world. Unlike traditional women, they use electrostatic power to kill men for making a new structure in the world. The novel reveals the transformative movement of human existence and variance. Women create the new identity of their own God: Mother Eve and power discourse. It changes the way of using power, sexuality, religion, history, culture, desire, politics, literature, art and others. The author indicates human psychology and hegemony regarding construction of the world. She represents The Power as a dystopian speculative science fiction. So, she portrays female characters as anti-figures involving themselves in war, fulfilling their desires through torturing, assaulting upon the men. Men have faced the situation as more powerless and objectified ones undergoing crisis of identity. She shows the psychological conflict between women and men.

Human psychology drives through knowledge, power, and desire. In a rural society, women have apparent meaning in development and progress. It can only find positively in literary works, not in the real world at present scenario. People have an understanding of equality and meaning but they do not have positive acknowledgement. They do not want to spend on daughters because they take it as a waste of wages. All stereotyping realities derive women’s mind reverse and come in dream regularly as trauma in their life. When I studied Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid Tale, I was shocked and thrilled by the dystopian reality of women. It touched my heart. I am inspired to research Naomi Alderman’s The Power because she is influenced by Atwood and reverses the narrative in her Handmaid Tale. I have started to internalize social discourses and ideologies. This novel expresses the psychological mind of today’s women. They accept stereotyping reality as their happiness and reverse it in their fantasy. So, Alderman creates a new way of seeing the world in her novel which leads me to research on it.

In Naomi Alderman’s The Power, main female characters Roxy, Allie, Margot, Jocelyn and Tatiana appear as anti- figures who abuse men sexually, politically and physically and then kill them to show the impact of power in human mind and human nature. In the patriarchal world, even great roles of women, men make them invisible and meaningless. The author brings historical paintings such as The Holy Mother, Woman Warrior, Serving Boy/ Sex Worker, Male Genital Mutilation, Woman in the experiment of power, and Grave of Male Skeletons. It depicts women’s new history and a new identity in art and literature. So, Alderman portrays women’s psychology to challenge mainstream history and grand narratives by deconstructing the traditional aspects of presenting sex, war, religion, power, and politics.

Naomi alderman’s The Power reflects Sea Change of gender, history, sexuality, and identity. It combines the disciplines of intertextuality such as letter, historical picture, websites news, cards, and Archival documents.  It shows rewriting history and grand narratives. As Katharine Cocking claims, “Contemporary fiction has to address all manner of uncertainties. Those brought about by scientific developments and related social changes are possibly most acute in novels which experiment with the new science of cloning and reproduce technologies”(1). In The Power, the writer uses experimentation of electrostatic power and glitter in the human body. She pictures Butterfly effect which depicts the small reality of gender role bringing the drastic change in the world. In The Power, Allie’s father did not give to use her spiritual power in public place. Roxy’s father killed her mother by torturing.  Taitana’s husband blocked to gain the Gold medal for the nation and to fulfill her dreams. Male politicians did not believe Margot’s political commanding ways. So, all these realities bring the death of men and a new matriarchal world. August Derleth argues about contemporary science fiction, “Science fiction has few counterparts in the past decade. It is not in itself new. It is the development of fantasy and parallels supernatural fiction. It depicts speculation about the future and science fantasy” (187).  The Power as a science futuristic dystopian fiction reflects the contemporary issues of art and literature. Women rewrite the whole history and find their identity and roles in historical paintings. It portrays a new political, social, and religious structure of the world.


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