From Anger to Action! Let’s Stamp out Rape

Posted on Wednesday, April 10th, 2013 at 11:15 AM

By Ijeoma Ekoh

As an academic and activist, engaging in frank and uncomfortable discussions about topical issues is a part of my everyday existence. Yet no political issue has been the source of sustained frustration, anger, and emotional upheaval as much as the crisis of sexual violence and rape in Nigerian society.

Often while exchanging thoughts and opinions with my Nigerian sisters and brothers on this problem, I find myself too overwhelmed with anger and thus forced, uncharacteristically, into silence. Or I may become so frustrated with the dismissive way that rape and sexual violence is treated, that the conversation invariably ends up being unhelpful in the building of awareness and consciousness. What usually follows then is anger at the unconstructive nature of the dialogue and my inability to persuade the other individual to reflect more critically on the issue.

But as the famous human rights activist and educator Audre Lorde reminds us, not all anger is unproductive, in fact, there are “uses” of anger (Lorde, 1984/2007**). As she puts it, “anger expressed and translated into action in the service of our vision and our future is a liberating and strengthening act of clarification” (p. 127).

To be sure, when it comes to the crisis of rape in Nigeria, there are numerous reasons to be angry. There is the matter of those Nigerians who readily dismiss rape as a non-issue despite piles of evidence to the contrary. The resistance that is put up by those who undermine its significance in relation to the structural inequality, corruption, and massive unemployment that plague the daily lives of most Nigerians. And then there is this overwhelming tendency amongst many of us to individualize the problem of rape and to separate it from the broader devaluation and oppression of women in Nigerian society.

Oftentimes in these discussions, the perpetration of rape and sexual violence against women is not of paramount significance. The issue that is deemed important is the regulation and control of women’s bodies and sexualities by the dictates of the state, men and by religious authorities.  And so it becomes not unusual to hear those who place the onus of responsibility on women, urging them to morally discipline themselves and pursue more “righteous” paths to avoid being sexually violated by uncles, fathers, husbands, armed robbers, and so on.

And so, reflecting on the current state of affairs, it is no wonder that anger emerges as the overpowering emotion.  However, unlike before, I now believe that this anger can become the impetus for concerted political organizing and mobilization for those discerning Nigerians who are outraged at the scourge of sexual violence that threatens the everyday lives of our sisters in the country. Following in Audre Lorde’s footsteps I have resolved that this anger need not be incapacitating. It need not drive one into silence and inaction.

It can be redirected as the energy and motivational force that inspires us to plant our feet firmly on the battleground over women’s right to their own bodies and sexualities. My continued anger is thus a testament to my commitment toward the eradication of this social plague. Until all women in Nigeria are granted the human right to determine their sexual and bodily autonomy, I choose to remain angry.  And these are three reasons why you should be too!

Firstly, the issue of rape and sexual violence is not removed from Nigeria’s broader socio-economic issues but is a part of it. Studies have shown that rape is more prevalent where women have relatively low economic autonomy. This  means that Nigeria’s rising poverty rate of over 61% (and women make up a  large proportion of the poor),  would aid the further entrenchment of sexual violence in Nigerian society.

Moreover, it is becoming impossible to divorce Nigeria’s culture of corruption from its culture of sexual violence and this is true of all Nigerian institutions. Within Nigeria’s corrupt educational system, women’s sexual autonomy is daily trampled upon by administrators, instructors and by students themselves. Within the criminal justice system, women are at risk by a legal system that continues to sanction marital rape; that fails to effectively prosecute sexual violence against women; and by political and legal representatives that readily blame the victims of rape. In Nigeria women are unsafe even while in police custody!

What does this all mean? It means that the oppression of women in Nigerian society must be understood as being compatible  with the systemic oppression of all of Nigeria’s working-class and peasantry by the political and economic elite. It also means that those who call for radical changes in the current political and economic status quo must adopt a holistic understanding of oppression in which women’s gendered oppression is a significant part.

Secondly women’s rights are human rights. So if you are truly angry at the gross human rights violations so characteristic of Nigerian society then you should also add the violation of women’s bodies and sexual autonomy to your list. If you are angered by the denial of our rights as citizens to freely elect representatives without coercion; the militaristic restrictions on our freedom of speech and expression; and the class warfare which leaves the majority of Nigerians vulnerable to exploitation by the kleptocrats then you should be angered by Nigeria’s failure to take women’s rights seriously.

If you are angry at the disregard for the human rights of the poor by the corrupt law enforcement, judicial and political systems, then you should raise your voice stridently in anger at those who would deny women the human right to engage only in consented sexual activity.

A third reason to be angry is the absence of comprehensive and accessible statistical data on rape and sexual violence in the country which doubly injures survivors of rape. Further, the sparse statistics on reported sexual violence renders the suffering of so many women and girls across the country invisible.

While the gathering of statistics is not something that Nigerian authorities do well, this negligence becomes especially criminal with respect to the issue of rape. This state of affairs is perhaps why so many Nigerians remain ignorant of this crisis and are startled when instances of rape, like the Abia State University incident, are exposed in the open. Yet despite this denial, and its accompanying institutional erasure, Nigerian women know that it exists.

We know this from our individual and collective experiences. We know that the culture of shaming, aided by religious moralizing, which holds victims of rape and sexual violence responsible for their suffering, silences those who would come forward with their stories.

We know that Nigerian society is one where women are socially and economically prosecuted and punished for being victims of rape. And we know that our government’s silence and failures on this issue, despite reports by Amnesty International and other international organizations which attest to its existence, speak to the state’s complicity in the continued sexual oppression of women.

So if your mother, aunt, sister, friend, wife or daughter has been a victim of sexual violence and has seen her experiences of trauma denied and erased by the state, then you too should be angry!

Yet our anger is just the beginning. As Audre Lorde reminds us, we should also “tap that anger as an important source of empowerment” (p. 130), to aid us in envisioning a different future society. This would be a society in which women’s bodies are not sites of masculine displays of power, objectification and dehumanization. It would be a just national community in which women are recognized as human beings.

The question that remains is, how will you and I tap into our anger?

***Lorde, A. (2007). Sister outsider. New York, NY: Crossing Press Berkeley. (Original work published in 1984)

Photo Credit: brownpapertickets.com
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Ijeoma Ekoh is a doctoral student at York University. She previously received a masters of arts degree from the University of Toronto in education and is a member of the Network for Pan-Afrikan Solidarity, a political organization dedicated to the emancipation of Afrikan peoples across the globe from all forms of exploitation.

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  • 29 Comments on “From Anger to Action! Let’s Stamp out Rape”

    Comments
    • Dee April 10, 2013 at 1:00 PM

      ‘In Nigeria women are unsafe even while in police custody!’ For me this is the scariest part of the place i call home!I have heard of too many cases of women getting raped while in police custody, sometimes by the very men who are meant to protect them! Nigerians have very little respect for women, and unfortunately women are also guilty of condemning their fellow women in such circumstances. I have heard women saying things like why was she wearing that, why did she go to his house, why was she out at that time and such about rape victims. If women can have such attitude towards fellow women you can only imagine how far Nigeria has to go.

      • Iris April 10, 2013 at 9:59 PM

        I think that’s what gets to me the most – the women who will say ‘why did she wear that? Who knows what she did to provoke him?’ (and God help us, sometimes it is ‘provoke them?’) There are so many things that need to be confronted with regards to rape. 1. Rape is not corporal punishment. It is not something you do to someone in retaliation for offending you somehow. 2. THERE IS SUCH A THING AS MARITAL RAPE (the number of times I’ve heard people say ‘it is not rape if it’s your husband..’; ‘No’ means ‘no’. 3. A person’s body (man or woman) belongs to them first. I think if people actually reflect on that, it becomes obvious that there is absolutely no justification for rape. 4. It will probably take the physical sighting of hell itself to make a lot of people understand the concept of respect for women so I won’t even go there, but since it is ‘religion’ Nigerians apparently understand the concept of, ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ should suffice. At least I know that one is in the Bible, directly from Jesus.
        We need things like counselling centres (which will obviously be privately funded as we know how we’ll roast before that comes from the government) but more than that is an attitudinal change and I think this is where our much glorified religious leaders can step in (i.e. the ones who don’t believe that a woman’s place is at her husband’s feet)

    • jcsgrl April 10, 2013 at 1:05 PM

      For me the biggest step was reassuring women that it was never their fault and making them feel comfortable telling their story in spite of the stigma so others can be liberated. Its quite tough but I’m beginning to see more women…ok maybe a few nigerian women openly confide in people and tell their stories.

    • precisely April 10, 2013 at 2:46 PM

      Nigeria is a terrible country to live in if you are a woman. I was a victim of child sexual molestation. Till this day, I don’t want anyone touching me. That was how living in Nigeria as a child messed me up. Unfortunately, Nigerians do not want to fight rape and other forms of sexual abuse towards females and hence Nigeria remains one of the nastiest countries I will forever dislike.

      • zsa zsa April 10, 2013 at 8:14 PM

        @precisely…oh how i feel your pain. I used to be you years ago. I understand how you feel about Nigeria, most of my memories from my formative years in Nigeria are negative. However, i refuse to let that experience define me, i still get flashbacks and i am freakishly protective of my child but i made conscious effort to put it behind me. I still love Nigeria and look forward to living there in the future and possibly help bring this issue to light.
        The problem with Nigeria has many heads…corruption and a pure disrespect for women does not help. Imagine being raped by policemen while in custody? that just takes the cake! And women are not any more supportive…they are quick to point fingers or judge.
        The very day women all over decide to come together, have each others backs, protect one another…oh what a day that would be. This cause also needs to have a face, people need to come out and speak up! I certainly would, there is no doubt that this is my calling.
        @precisely, pray for God to help you turn your sorrow into joy. Start telling your story, it would help with the healing process…cry when you feel like it and don’t let anyone judge you for it. Seek therapy if you can, i never did but i haven’t ruled it out. God be with you.

    • konie April 10, 2013 at 4:02 PM

      Precisely, your anger is misdirected. it should be at the people or person who raped/molested you, the people who refused to listen to you and or offer you protection. that being said, the nation need particularly women need to stand up to the violence of rape in naija or anywhere in the world. As a victim, I know the emotional mess that results in it and the anger it generates in you. it can actually destroy you if you let it. Sadly, in my case, I found men more understanding of the situation and some helped to get me some form of justice…. as for my sister women, it all seemed to go over their head or maybe they were sticking their head in the sand because it was too close to home. A really big problem but it can be stopped.

    • Myne Whitman April 10, 2013 at 4:52 PM

      For me, I will not shy away from talking about rape on my blog and to anyone, but seriously, not all anger has to be fiery or like you said, you turn people away.

      • Bee April 10, 2013 at 6:14 PM

        I disagree with you Myne. In a country like Nigeria where little or nothing is done to protect women, we need fiery HOT anger. We are too complacent and are not passionate enough about issues that negatively affect us.

    • Bee April 10, 2013 at 4:56 PM

      Rape happens in every part of the world but in Nigeria, it is mainly because there is a general lack of respect for women. Everyday, the common Nigerian woman is face with some type of harrasment and “sexual disrespect”. From the danfo driver calling you a prostitute, to some stupid gateman oogling at you or the executive at work trying to touch you inappropriately to Senator Ekaette’s bill against indecent dressing ! With the lack of respect these men have for women (and even fellow women’s lack of respect for each other), with the way our society condones the way men treat women,with the way women are stigmatized, this problem will not go away until we as women are angry enough and speak out everyday. If this article was about a society wedding or some irrelevant celebrity gossip, it would have had 100 comments…so we definitely are not angry enough!

      I will never forget when a former blogger “solomosydelle” posted an assault case on her blog and some female bloggers (including mothers) actually blamed the victim.It was a surreal moment for me!

      • Ada Owerri April 11, 2013 at 12:06 AM

        Gosh I miss Solomonsydelle. Such a great blogger.

    • Idak April 10, 2013 at 6:10 PM

      The moment i gave up was when i realized nothing was coming out of that ABSU rape case.
      That was our “June 16 uprising” moment. Like the Subsidy removal strike, the groundswell of opinion was unprecedented. We pissed it away. Every now and again, i raise the issue on LIB but everyone act like i am an alien. Bolaji Abdullahi spoke all the right grammar,but like most politicians all they do is talk.

    • Idak April 10, 2013 at 6:19 PM

      I wish we could have our religious leaders trained in some form of basic psychology and counselling. Considering that Nigerians are very comfortable confiding in their pastors (and imams),unfortunately these leaders are not skilled in addressing the issues even at the most basic level,besides prayers.

    • Ajamu April 10, 2013 at 6:36 PM

      Toronto Star: Most sex crimes in conflict zones are against children says startling report

      “The report draws from statistics and testimonies in more than a dozen countries including Sierra Leone, Liberia, Haiti, Nepal and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

      “Sexual violence everywhere is tied to power relations so if you think of who is most vulnerable in societies where women and girls are discriminated against, it is children who are targeted,” said co-author Alison Holder in an interview from London. “This idea of power can help us to understand the dynamics, especially in a conflict situation, where things break down in society very quickly.”

      In the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2008, 65 per cent of the recorded 16,000 cases of sexual violence involved children, mostly girls. In Liberia, where the civil war ended in 2003, nearly 80 per cent of rape victims were under the age of 17. In Haiti, nearly one fifth of girls in Port-au-Prince were raped in the 2004-2005 armed rebellion. ”
      thestar.com/news/world/2013/04/10/most_rape_victims_in_conflict_zones_are_children_report.html

    • faith April 10, 2013 at 9:29 PM

      We women should just love one another and it shall be well with us….

    • sunny April 10, 2013 at 11:45 PM

      So proud of you and the publication. Keep it up my biggest cousin! Looking forward to more posting from you.

    • prince April 12, 2013 at 9:05 AM

      Rape is a cowardly brutish act against women and it should be stopped but then again some ladies really need to think before they follow a man they hardly know to his or spend the night at his just because he has been acting nice to you for a week or two. you get raped for such stupidity even after all the warnings from elders telling young ladies to avoid going to a mans house alone or hooking up with strangers. the truth is no matter how much we speak out against rape it would not stop until women start to reason rationally, avoid being alone with men you don’t know to well and have the strength to report rape cases if the unfortunate happens. to the mothers never leave you daughters alone at home with ay uncle or houseboy allow you kids to be open with you and train them properly.

      • inori April 12, 2013 at 11:20 AM

        You are one of the reasons women will continue to be raped , which mother can be with her child 24 hrs of the day does the child not go to school? Do you realize that this rapists are crafty and sometimes drug or overpower their victims . I hope do not have daughters because having a father with you attitude is a punishment

      • B! April 12, 2013 at 11:32 PM

        You are a complete and utter moron.

        Normally I would have launched into an explanation of how rape is ALWAYS the fault of the rapist. Normally I might have explained that rape is hardly ever about the victim but about the need the rapist has to control and subdue his victim. Normally I would say that rape is all about control and that men who rape lack self – control in abundance, and therefore THEY are the cause of rape. But I’m going to abstain from all that because I know that with people like you, even if I explained, you most likely wouldn’t understand.

      • Hold up! April 13, 2013 at 1:00 AM

        @Prince, your 2 cents suggests that the majority of rape cases are because the victims go home with random men they hardly know. Your statement is quite offensive to victims of rape and women generally. Let me educate you if Inori was not clear enough for you and anyone who shares the same opinion as you. Rape does not just happen to adult women. Lots of children are raped. This happens on a daily basis. Those who are “lucky” get a way with being sexually abused. Most young adults that are raped are raped by a family member or someone close to the family. Yes there are cases where women find themselves in obviously dangerous situations which can turn nasty and lead to rape but those cases are not as common as the former. What you fail to realise is that the victims of such a crime is usually very familiar with the perpetrator. The perpatrator usually comes in the form of people we trust with our children, people we believe would never harm us or hurt our family members. It is never the stranger you refer to. People who commit this crime are usually the last person you would ever imagine could do such a thing. Matters such as this are quite sensitive and unless you are well informed on the subject it is best not to weigh in or share your naive 2 cents.

        • Teez April 17, 2013 at 4:52 PM

          I think you all keep missing the point.
          I am a lady and I don’t believe any Man/boy/guy can justify rape for any reason. I don’t see anything wrong in Prince’s comment.

          Thieves break into houses and steal properties. Even if your door is wide open, stealing can still not be justified. SO why do we lock our doors? why do we have security men? why do we have security cameras? Reason is to help ourselves since we can’t control the mind and activity of the thieves. Also to steer them away from our path.

          If providing your female children for instance with more decent clothes will reduce the attraction of rapists, great idea – Why not do that.
          If visiting a male friend in his house ALONE can reduce an incident of rape – Why not?

          It is everyone’s responsibility to protect themselves especially when you cannot control the activities of others around you.

          Afterall, if a mad man is walking on the road, you move away to avoid contact with him. I believe that every man should be held accountable for their actions. There is absolutely NO excuse for RAPE, anyone who rapes should be locked up regardless of if the victim was naked or fully covered but women/ladies learn to protect yourself as much as you can. Also educate your boys / sons on things like this.

      • Flue April 17, 2013 at 3:35 AM

        Do you know that most women are raped by people they know???????A high percentage of rape is in the household!

    • prince April 12, 2013 at 3:23 PM

      @ Inori- no need to be abusive I just gave my two cents and if you read properly you’ll be able to comprehend what I wrote. no one ever said a mother should be with their daughters 24 hours. wives get raped by their husbands, daughters by their dad so what is new. it’s a sad development but speak to your daughters be free with them it would still help save some of them from rape, agreed some men are crafty but some women put themselves in avoidable situation that’s all I was driving @ or what do u say about women that end up in a man s house they rarely know to spend the night and they then get raped when they could easily avoid such situation by not even following the dude to his crib or a lady who leaves her drink when she’s going for some guy she just met to use the loo in a club or anywhere? these are just examples of incidents women could avoid to protect themselves . Anti Rape all the way.

    • Ngozi Ilondu April 13, 2013 at 8:52 AM

      At Project Alert, we are working towards a well informed society where there is zero tolerance for all forms of violence against women. It’s not been easy and we agree that we can’t do it alone. The journey to getting justice for abused women and helping them get back on their feet is a long one and we need more people who are tired of being angry to join us and put a stop to this madness.

      If we can come together and pool resources together, money, professional services etc we will make significant progress. While we are at it please speak up against violence against women in your neighbourhood and report every case of abuse. Reporting is the first giant step.
      projectalertnig.org

    • Ngozi Ilondu April 13, 2013 at 9:13 AM

      Project Alert on Violence Against Women is working towards a well informed society where there is zero tolerance for all forms of violence against women. It’s not been easy and we agree we cannot do it alone. We need more people who are angry and ready for change to support us with their money, their voice, their professional services and in any way they can.
      The journey to ensuring abused women get justice and helping them get back on their feet is a long one and it begins with reporting every case of violence against women.
      Speak up aginst all forms of violence against women around you. Talk to us at Project Alert, we are here to help you. projectalertnig.org

    • Damie April 17, 2013 at 11:20 AM

      On stella dimoko korkus blog, she recently put up a post about some girl wearing a short dress and getting harassed by touts and says she believes the girl deserves it because her dress was too short. I did not watch the video, but most of the reactions made me proud of nigerian readers, male and female.
      A possible solution I believe is educating secondary school boys and girls. Boys need to be taught NOT to rape. Even more so than teaching girls to protect themselves (I am not dismissing that o). I will love to join Project Alert.

    • My Two Cents April 23, 2013 at 8:20 AM

      Real men don’t rape regardless of what the woman wears. A man should learn self-control in all situations and not behave like an animal simply because a woman wears something you consider provocative. We should educate our male children from a tender age about showing respect towards women. There is also this sickening idea that when a woman says no she actually means yes or that a man has a right to teach a woman who says no to his advances a lesson. We need severe penalties and public shaming of rapists to serve as a detterent to others!

    • Duncan Bomba April 30, 2013 at 9:18 PM

      Let us stop the blame game and focus on what we can do help our sisters,daughters and mothers stay safe and free from rape. All over the World governments are not able to protect their vulnerable population from rapists 24 hours. They are only able to provide 25-30% of your security needs while the rest is upon the individual. If it is a child then the parents or guardians have to provide that duty. Women,girls and even children have the potential to stop rape on their own if they are empowered with anti rape skills. They need to know how to identify,avoid,prevent and protect themselves from those bad and misbehaving guys.
      Above all women,girls and even children need to be taught some rape prevention and self protection strategies that can help them combat rape on their own anywhere,anytime and under any situation. Boys and men must be also included in the programs so as to help them change some of their negative norms,attitudes and behaviors towards women,girls and children so that they be part of the solution and not problem.

      Such strategies are being implemented in Kenya and Eastern D R Congo and can also be replicated in Nigeria. The problem is not lack of interventions but lack of funds to reach out to all vulnerable population.

      Check our website:”www.dolphinantirape.org” and you will see what we are doing to address rape problem through education and training. You can also get in touch on email address “dolphin2002ke@yahoo.com”

    • Mapendo Razi May 1, 2013 at 8:46 AM

      I support Duncan Bomba, lets us stop the blame game because it is not going to solve the problem. Let us save our energy and deal with the root causes and empower girls and women with practical skills that can help them stay safe from sexual abuse. After all Nigeria is not a conflict country and what is needed is to focus on actions that can stop rape. The anger we show has to be translated into actions otherwise it will be meaning less. It just like creating awareness and if not followed by actions it is all worthless.

      From what i got from Dolphin’s work it is possible to stop rape if all women and girls are equipped with such initiatives. Rape has to be stamped out by all means and i request Ijeoma Ekoh to help by identifying serious partners in Canada who can help implement an anti rape program starting from Nigeria and replicated to other Countries. We are aware no program is 100% but this intervention has a more impact rate of over 70% and this is what we want in Africa.

      Thank you

      Mapendo Razi

      Congolese woman living and working in Kigali Rwanda

      • Mapendo Razi May 1, 2013 at 8:57 AM

        Looking forward to hear from Ijeoma Ekoh”s feedback and action. Canada has the potential to support such a campaign in Africa as we hope Dolphin anti rape will be ready to implement and work with local organizations in Nigeria and Africa. The best way will be to strengthen the capacity of other organizations working on the issue but do not have such interventions.

        Thank you
        Zena Bwalia
        Lusaka Zambia