A friend of mine recently was trying to raise awareness for a non-profit organization that helps survivors of rape. Here is what the website for this organization, Global fund for women, states: Wars are being waged on women’s bodies. Nearly 50 women and girls are raped every hour in eastern Congo. In the Syrian conflict, women and girls face rape and violence aimed to control, intimidate and humiliate. Across the world, survivors are often forced to carry unwanted pregnancies because they don’t have safe access to critical post-rape care, including abortion and other health services. Women’s lives are being threatened. Women’s rights are being ignored.
My friend is a feminist and the definition of her own feminism is “essentially the fight against the dehumanization of women” and this is where I take my cue. For many years now, the images of many women have been denigrated in a plethora of ways, and for some uncanny reason the media has refused to do its duty in covering, efficiently, these injustice done to women except for the few cases that make world news like the sati of Roop Kanwar in the late 80s in India and the much publicized ABSU 5 rape case in Nigeria. Every time a case of injustice against women pops up people shout, scream, ‘investigate’ and eventually the case dies out, until another one happens and the banality of the cycle becomes evident. The truth is that injustice against women would continue until we deal with the root cause of the problem, because when misogyny is inherent it would take more than the enactment of laws prohibiting the maltreatment of women.
Even though the abuse and constant dehumanization of women is rife all over the world, I intend to do a brief analysis of misogyny in Nigeria where I believe misogyny is not just a problem but embedded into the very fabric of the Nigerian society
Nigeria is one of the lowest ranking countries when it comes to adherence of human fundamental rights. The Police are still known to beat and torture accused criminals to get a confession from them. Arresting and torturing the relatives of an absconded criminal to make such a criminal come out of hiding is still ubiquitous.
There are over 250 ethnic groups almost all of them are inherently polygamous. The male children are considered the more important sex, and are generally entitled to privileges as superior to their counterpart sex. Therefore it is common for many crimes against women, to be interpreted in ‘patriarchal’ ways, and for such crimes to be thrown under the rock. Usually when a girl gets raped it is common for everyone to accuse her for not ‘dressing the right way’, in essence she asked for it, or ‘for her to not have been out that late in the night’, or ‘she should not have gone to the boy’s house, did she not know that he was going to rape her’. Nobody ever really condemns the boys because of the heinous crime they committed, instead they are pitied for being ‘victims’ of the woman’s seduction.
The Nigerian poet and author Lola Shoneyin gave a talk at the Tedx Euston conference along the lines of the topic of rape. During her speech she mentioned an incident that had apparently gone viral all over the media; it was called “ABSU5”.
The name ABSU is an acronym for “Abia State University”, and these boys, five of them, purportedly to be students of that university, raped a girl. The boys made a video of this ordeal which took place for over an hour and they uploaded unto the internet. This was torture of the highest order. They all took turns to rape this girl and all her pleading fell on deaf ears.
What was interesting about this issue is how desensitized Nigerians are to the violence against their women. In the aftermath of the infernal act, the University’s student’s body took to the streets to protest, which one would expect, but the reason for the protest could only be defined as uncanny. It was not for the kind of indignation caused to the girl, but that their university was being libelled, by ‘evil’ rivals. They were angry their school was said to be the location of the diabolical crime. Nobody expressed disdain at the grotesque act committed on the girl. Not even the girls in the school rebuked what happened to the victim or showed repugnance for such an act instead they were bothered about their school’s image.
It get interesting, the Vice-Chancellor of the University claimed that “the gang-raping of a student did not happen in the institution” (simply because it didn’t happen within the confines of ABSU). So what? One is led to ask. Why did these people not express revulsion about this act for what it was? Apparently if the Chief executive of the school could be so passive, what would one expect from the student body? The Abia State Police Commissioner said there was no report, thus the “police could not investigate an issue that was hypothetical and unfounded.” He even had the effrontery to say that the rape looked “consensual”. Lola Shoneyin, in her speech pointed out that this same man said he looked at that video, and the girl looked like she might be enjoying it. How dare a top Police officer be so flippant about such an infernal crime? Even the office of the state Governor said that the act was the handwork of a political rival to cause disrepute to their government. Could everybody just stop talking about their reputations and dignity, and think of this act for one moment? One is forced to ask.
It was also said that the girl perhaps had offended the one of the boys and that boy might have assembled his friends to teach her a lesson of her life. So apparently according to these low lives there might just be a “good” reason to rape someone.
On January 25, 2013 , the latest poll results released by NOI Polls Limited, has revealed that almost 3 in 10 Nigerians admitted to personally knowing someone who has been a victim of rape; citing stigmatization as the main reason why many rape cases go unreported.
Here is how the NOI polls website describes the poll:
In the light of the recent rape case in India, which has sparked widespread series of protests against rape across India and further campaigns for women’s rights in several countries, including Nigeria; NOI Polls has sought the opinion of Nigerians regarding the prevalence, and causes, of rape in the country, as well as solutions on how to curb the incidence of rape.
Respondents were asked: Do you personally know anyone that has been a victim of rape? Curiously, almost 3 in 10 (29%) respondents admitted to personally knowing someone who had been a victim of rape; with the majority (68%) stating that they did not personally know any victim; while 3% refused to answer the question. Furthermore, in view of the debate that often arises about the cause(s) of rape in the society respondents were asked the following: What do you think is the prevalent cause of rape in the society? From the result, the majority of respondents (34%) were of the opinion that the most prevalent cause of rape in the society is “Indecent dressing”; followed by 18% of respondents that cited “Unemployment”. Also, “Lack of moral values” and the “Inability to control sexual urge” were each cited by 9% of the respondents as the prevalent cause of rape. Other reasons mentioned by respondents include “Faulty upbringing” (7%), “Ungodliness”, “Illiteracy about women rights” and “Bad Company” (all with 5%).
It is worth noting that this question was open-ended, allowing respondents to provide spontaneous responses. It is therefore worrisome that the majority (34%) of respondents attributed the prevalent cause of rape to indecent dressing. This finding throws some light on a recent article by Amaka Okafor-Vanni in the Guardian newspaper UK titled “Nigeria has a rape culture too”. In the article, the author argued that if the India rape incident had taken place in Nigeria, nothing would have been done about it. Stressing that societal values suggest that a lady “… must be told what to wear (or not wear) to limit the exposure to the men and when she doesn’t conform, and is assaulted or arrested, then she is responsible. In other words, if a woman’s body is visible, it ought to be available for sex or punished for this visibility.”
Nigeria’s 1999 constitution left open a possibility for the legality of girl child marriage: Section 29 (4) of the 1999 Nigeria Constitution provides that age of maturity is age 18. However, Section 29 (4) (b) includes an exception for girl children and proclaims that girl children reach maturity when they marry, regardless of the age of marriage. Thus, marriage arguably elevates even a ‘1 year’ old female child to the status of womanhood. Removal of the above section portends the inferred exclusion of child marriages.
In 2013, the house began to make some amendments to the constitution, and when this law was to be repealed, some senators stood against it. The lead senator who headed this crusade, had been known to have married a 13 girls old, and his argument was that repealing this law is against customary law, that is, according to him Islamic law, which says any girl that is married becomes of age.
In an interview with a news station this senator said that it is if a girl begins to see her menses then she is nubile enough for sex, and he used holy writ to back his point. The law still remains unchanged. It is at a time like this I remember the words of St Augustine: an unjust law is no law.
So what can we do about it? Because it is crystal clear that indeed misogyny is inherent in the society. It is important we first restructure our narratives on how and what feminine and masculine entities should be in our contemporary societies. Because if this not dealt with, we would be wasting our time, trying to come up with a solution to this problem; we need to remove misogyny from the very fabric of our societies, so that if it ever happens, like murder it would be a clearly defined crime and not something debatable or that could be justified.
We teach girls restraint, we teach them not to exploit the biological impulses that have to do with orgasmic gratification, we teach them to be docile and then we teach to do whatever their fathers, brothers and when they get married, their husbands, ask of them. We treat them like commodity for the rest of their lives, when they are born, they are owned by their fathers and he eventually sells them to their husbands at any time he wants, sometimes irrespective of their personal equivocations about the man they are supposed to marry or their age, and this eventually becomes a never-ending black-hearted cycle.
While boys are taught to be like ‘animals’, to always get what they want by any means, exploit their sexual impulses and revel in their sexual prowess, they are made to believe that the female is second to them and is at their beck and call, and any man who in some way tries to digress from this heartless path set for him becomes an object of social ridicule, earning himself pejorative monikers like: unmanly, woman-wrapper, etc. They are taught to always show strength, never ask for help, to ‘be a man’, to not cry when in pain and to see themselves as the custodian of all things. This is what I call partial misandry, because it seems to me that when men and women stop young boys from being caring, from learning how to cook, from learning basic practices about hygiene and personal survival so as to be able to handle themselves well, and always telling them that they should expect girls to do all these for them, that they have ‘other important’ things to do, can only be interpreted as misandrous.
Now how then can the boy and the girl exist simultaneously within the same vicinity without being suspicious of one another? The men are trained to initiate sexual contact; women to show restrain, and even to offer coy resistance to sexual advances, so that they can be chased, as is required for them to do if they are going to find the right suitors. When the woman eventually refuses to willingly give the boy the ‘gold in between her legs’, the man because he feels the need to give in to his baser urges might result to violence, so as to get what he wants because society has made him believe it’s his right. We basically create chaos for ourselves. What is wrong in teaching boys restraint? What is wrong in teaching girls how to be ambitious and how to be independent? Nothing!
It is important for one to understand that both sexes are complementary to each other. They are meant to help each other and should wield equal amounts power as the case may be, and as decided by the social construction within their inhibiting environment. But then in such unions, this is most likely unrealistic. Someone has to step up and become a leader; this could be figuratively or actually. ‘Figuratively’; most of the time is the better option, because the leader gets to be a leader of the union in the apparent sense. It is like a ceremonial president and a prime minister. They both check themselves, as to how power is wielded. Some form of constitutional monarchy, as it were. ‘Actually’; is most of the time what eventually obtains, and it is the type sanctioned by holy writ, at least according to popular interpretation and since most of the time uncontrolled power is intoxicating there is usually abuse of power by the he or – which is less likely – she that wields it. This type is some form of Absolute monarchy or Theocratic dictatorship, as it were.
This dilemma of who gets to be the ‘leader’ has been solved within many social constructs by the man becoming the de-facto ruler. This is fine when the woman’s powers are not curtailed, but allowed for fairness. I would argue that a man or a woman can take that ‘ceremonial’ position, but then many societies almost always demands that a man, should lead, and if it is somehow perceived that the wife is leading, in the sense just described, the man is considered unmanly, and the woman is considered as ambitious (which is most of the time used in a deprecatory context), she is seen as an aberration of life. This once again gives rise to what I call ‘double quandaries’ – that is, in the quest to solve a problem you eventually create another problem without even solving the initial problem, so one had two dilemmas to contend with. This is the reason why we need a reconstruction of our cultural and societal narratives, especially in modern times.
But like I said, the man can be allowed this glorified position if he knows that he only heads his wife in the same sense as a ceremonial president heads the prime minister, but then they both can effectively share this power within their union and maximize it accordingly for both their benefits, through empathy, compassion and compromise on both ends where necessary. This apparent leader position in the man-woman union is necessary because of how humans are able to perceive and understand phenomena with respect to frameworks and paradigms. We have had the Leader and Follower paradigm for as long as recorded history can remember, things just work better for us in this way, many times we prefer not to change or shift these paradigms, so we must from time to time try to manipulate these paradigms to fit our idiosyncrasies; this I believe can be helpful within the man-woman union.
Maybe the reason why this de-facto leadership falls to man, as the evidence of many cultures show, is because of the evolutionary advantages of man with respect to physical characteristics. That is, in the sense that they evolved to have stronger and sturdier body structures well adapted to the physical rigours of their environment. This might just have gone the other way by mere statistical probability and women would possess what men have, and men would possess what women have. But then how then do we know this was not the case? The various genders of the species had to have certain characteristics that differed from that of their counterparts.
Another solution after restructuring our narratives is the law, because we are the ones involved in making and enforcing our laws and only when we become sensitive to misogyny can we actively create and enforce laws that deal with misogynistic crimes. Men are generally stronger than women, but with the law, might does not mean right anymore, no longer is a king entitled to his ‘right of the first night’, no more can a stronger man beat a weaker man and loot his belongings, at least not under the law. Therefore the law is meant to protect the weak. The law is the law. If the law says rape is a crime and anyone who commits this crime should be sentence to an amount of years in prison, this should be enforced to the book. There is no excuse for rape; enough is enough of boys going free for rape because they were seduced by the victim. We should all know that the victim of rape is the victim of a crime, and no more can we afford to pity those boys and – though rarely – girls, who committed the crime. Reasons like “she was scantily dress so I could not hold myself” is bullshit as far as the law is concerned, and such a fellow should feel the weight of the law, after proven beyond every doubt that such a person committed that crime.
A man in one of the many slums of Lagos was seen beating his wife. He was using a belt. This is a very common scene in these places. People around who heard the woman’s wails rushed to plead with the man to stop beating his wife and to enquire about why he was beating her, his reason was she stopped preparing his dinner, so he comes back from work very hungry and has to go to bed with an empty stomach, so today he decided to give his wife the lesson of her life. So the neighbors began to reprimand his wife for not taking care of her husband. The criminal once again becomes the victim, and the real victim is left to her tent.
Finally I believe the bond of friendship and familiarity, if extrapolated could do wonders in resolving the conflict existing between the male-female dilemma. I was in the midst of friends, both boys and girls, and we were all talking about the dudes and girls we had done, and actually making explicit innuendos to describe our escapades. One I remember was when one of them was describing how she had a guy in her room and after ‘doing it’ with him kicked him out in the middle of the night so ‘she won’t catch feelings’, it was just a hook-up according to her and this got me thinking. These girls could say these things about themselves with the certainty that they won’t be judged or denigrated as philanders because there was a bond of friendship between all of us. Imagine if my small group of friends was the entire world.
Same Essay was published on Medium a while ago.