I wrote this last month, so please bear that in mind as you read this and as always, I hope to hear your thoughts on the issue.
There are a lot of things that I love about my country, Nigeria. I love the people, the food, the parties, the music and so much more. This is why, when I landed in Murtala Muhammed airport a couple of weeks ago after being away in the UK for six years, I had a huge smile on my face because with all the issues that we face in this country, there really is no place like home.
However, within the last month that I have been here, I have found myself either having to tolerate or to educate people on what I believe should be common sense: sexual assault, in any form, is wrong!
Over the last couple of months, the Western media has been filled with reports of men in power who have been accused of sexual assault. If you google the word, sexual assault, you will see new cases of men who are alleged to have abused their powers on women and in some cases other men too. Social media has been filled with conversations about sexual assault and sexual harassment more than ever before and while I am glad that these issues are being talked about, a lot of the stories I have heard have left me completely sick to my stomach.
For the purpose of this piece, I thought it important to define what sexual assault means. According to Wikipedia, “sexual assault is a sexual act in which a person is coerced or physically forced to engage against their will. It is also defined as non-consensual touching of a person” Now, I have had a conversation with a lot of women in my life and I can tell you that based on this definition, majority of them have been sexually assaulted. If these are just the women in my circle, now imagine how many women out there are going throuigh the same thing every single day, especially in this country.
For a lot of men in this country, I think that our cultural and religious values have left them with a sense of entitlement. I think because our culture and religions teach us that we should respect the men, they automatically believe that women are property. This is not all men but I think that this is a problem that has largely been caused by the society by which we live in.
When I was growing up and even now as I am older, I hated going to the market. Whenever I went, there were always men catcalling and attempting and in a lot of cases, succeeding to touch me inappropriately. Now, was that being done to my brother? No. This just shows how far this culture has seeped into the DNA of our people.
In leaving this country six years ago, I knew that these things were wrong but it had happened so much over the course of my life that it was all I had ever known the society around me to be. Then, I lived in a different society where the rules were completely different. Then, I realised that this is not normal. Does that mean that it does not happen in the Western countries? No. In fact, the news cycle in the last couple of months has shown that this happens very often. The difference is that these men are now being shamed for their actions.
I have only been back for a little over a month and I have already been sexually assaulted by men from all sorts of backgrounds. I just finished my time at the NYSC orientation camp and while I was there, I had a lot of these conversations with some young men and women on camp. For some people, when I started talking about this, they called me feminist – which in their minds translated to men-hating. I am a feminist but I do not hate men. I just believe that women should feel comfortable being whoever and whatever they want to be without anyone giving them grief. I believe that a woman who works hard should be rewarded for her hardwork just as much as the man would be. I absolutely believe that women should not be touched or spoken to in an inappropriate manner that would leave them feeling sick and disgusted. This, to me is just common sense. Just as our common sense knows that stealing or lying is wrong, we should also know that we should respect people’s boundaries and not touch or speak to people without their consent.
How do we combat this issue in our society? I think we need to start educating ourselves on this issue and shaming those who commit these disgusting acts. I believe that we have to make victims comfortable in speaking out because our society has made it almost impossible for them to say anything. If they do, they are either blamed for the acts committed on them or they are told to shut up altogether. Our leaders need to take point on this because this is a real issue in our society and no one seems to be talking about. It all starts from the top.
I would love to live in a society where I am treated with respect as a human being and for what I can offer. Let us start the conversation. Let us say No to sexual assault.