Nigerians have embraced the Internet as a medium to get our voices heard on important issues. Lately, the prevalent issue has been violence and brutality against women, which we have surprisingly responded to with outpourings of outrage and demands for justice. When the Skye banker was brutally murdered by her husband, we unanimously condemned his actions and domestic violence on our blogs, our Facebook pages, our Twitter accounts, and on online forums and Nigerian news websites. Some of us organized and participated in anti-domestic violence walks across Nigeria. When Linda Ikeji publicized the news of the rape of a young woman by five ABSU students, our message was clear: rape is unacceptable. Once again, we lit up the Internet with our unified outrage, anti-rape walk plans, and calls for justice that soon the story was in the International press, forcing our previously indifferent government to take action.
While these efforts are commendable, especially given our preference for silence and pretense on sensitive issues, they do not address the underlying problems where rape and other atrocities against women find their roots. They treat the symptoms while neglecting the causes, which only lead to a cycle of violence, outrage and silence. To put a meaningful dent in the prevalence of abuse of women in Nigeria, we must boldly and purposefully seek to end our culture of sexism, and sexist exploitation and oppression in Nigeria.
For too long, we have subscribed to a culture that treats women as less valuable than men. We have embraced a culture that places women as second tier and men as first tier. And we have allowed our patriarchal religious leaders to justify this archaic tradition using blatantly skewed Biblical passages. In today’s rapidly evolving technology driven world, it is time for Nigerians to realize that is what is in our heads and not what we have between your legs that matters. We have to end this unjust culture and correct its consequences.
Nigerian boys and men should know that they are not inherently better than women. They should learn that as humans they do not own other humans. We must learn to see the value women add to our society. We must also learn to listen to women’s voices. We need more representation and participation within our government. We need to empower our women through education, job opportunities, and creation of social safety nets for abused women. More importantly, we must create a society that allows a woman to thrive independently of a man, and we must swiftly silence the voices of those who wish to stigmatize unmarried or divorced women.
We have an opportunity and an avenue –the Internet– to be drivers of positive social change. Let us speak out in a unified voice against a societal culture that has for too long fostered discrimination against women. Let us tell our children, our uncles, our aunties, our neighbors, our lecturers, our Twitter followers and Facebook friends, and most importantly, our government that women must be respected. We are not solely objects for male sexual gratifications. We are not to be blamed for rape. We are not punching bags for men to take their anger out on. We are not objects that are either sold off or bought into marriages and relationships. We retain our right to walk out of destructive and toxic marriages and relationships. And we deserve equal treatment and opportunities as men. We may be mothers, wives, sisters, and friends, but we are more than that. Our society must recognize this and treat and invest in us accordingly.