“Ohons, come back home, it’s getting dark”
“Ohons, don’t wear skirts that end above your knee”
“Ohons, don’t jog at night”
“Ohons, don’t talk to boys…”
These are very few warnings I have received over the years by my mother, aunts, and elders. As girls, we are educated from the onset on how to behave; what to wear, what to expect, how to prevent abuse, what to say when you’re being abused, how to approach boys, how to stay away from men, how to cook, clean, basically be a doormat for your husband and how to raise and cater for children. So much emphasis goes into training from your mother and shouts from your father who sends you into the kitchen to watch your mother whenever you have an idle moment. When the girl child reaches a mature age or when she has finished her education, the next step is marriage and popping out children exactly 9 months after and every 2 years till the husband or nature says it’s enough.
In spite of all these ‘well-meaning’ training and constant education, women are the major victims of abuse. Every day, there are reports of violence, rape, murder, injustice, and death against women – principally by men. According to UNICEF, one in four Nigerian women are sexually abused before they turn 18, with the majority of sexual abuse perpetrators not being prosecuted.
As the number of cases rises, failings in the criminal justice system have let down victims who are stigmatized by authorities. Despite the enlightenment in this 21st century, there is still a backward belief that body language, clothes, and the environment are the causes of sexual assault and violence. Where there is an incident of assault, people’s minds immediately go to “what did she wear… who was she with… was she out partying…was she out at night…” and so many disgusting thoughts that people are brave enough to utter. This is chronicled by the serial killing incident that took place in Port Harcourt, where the police judged that the victims were prostitutes who were unlucky in their choice of customers. So, are we, as a Nation, saying that some lives are precious and some aren’t? When are we going to realize that the only cause of rape are the rapists and nothing more? There is no justification or argument that explains the act. There are only the perpetrators that are responsible for their actions.
Gender-based violence is a global pandemic that affects 1 in 3 women in their lifetime. The numbers are staggering:
35% of women worldwide have experienced either physical or sexual intimate partner or non-partner violence.
Globally,7% of women have been sexually assaulted by someone other than a partner and 38% of women have been killed by an intimate partner.
200 million women have experienced female genital mutilation.
Women are stuck in unhealthy and abusive relationships because they are afraid to leave. When they finally summon the courage to leave, they are hunted down like dogs and stalked until they are finally murdered. A man sees a girl on the street and asks her out, she says no and the girl is stalked and abused. Sometimes, even killed! For as much progress as feminism has made, it is still not a good time to be a woman.
A new study from the Violence Policy Center shows that the number of women killed by men has increased to 20% since 2014. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported that one in 16 women’s first experience with sexual intercourse will be rape. Women are more likely to die in the hands of men than from any other incident. Why are women seen as expendable by men? Do our lives not matter because we are females? Should the fact that we are women have no consequence on how we are treated by fellow humans?
As a woman, I can’t go out jogging in the morning or at night without my heart palpitating and my eyes darting from left to right looking for any suspicious activity. I can’t enter a taxi in the evening before first committing my life to my maker. I can’t walk along empty roads without serious vigilance. I have to let a guy down gently, no matter how persistent he’s getting, because I don’t want to be harassed. I have to watch my tone and temper around men in the workplace because I don’t want to be seen as difficult, emotional and bitter no matter how sexist and chauvinistic they are.
I have to constantly lecture my friends and colleagues about toxic masculinity and improper conduct. I have to grin at my family relations and family friends when they congratulate me on my victories, then inquire about when they’ll be invited to my wedding because my accomplishments don’t matter as long as I don’t have a man by my side. I have to answer questions like “are you sure you can cook? Your hands are so soft”.
I listen to men – and even women – equate my self-worth as a woman to my ability to cook and clean after my husband and children. When a couple doesn’t have a child after a year of marriage, all eyes and hands immediately turn to the woman because no man can ever be at fault. We have to stop coddling men and making excuses for them. We excuse their weakness and pathetic behavior on the fact that they are raised to be pillars of strength. Mothers spend all energy on the girls, teaching them what to say, do or think and then exempt the boys. Sex education and virtuousness is a topic for the girls while we raise entitled men who think they deserve everything because they were born male.
Much work needs to be done by everybody; parents have to do better, society has to do better, and we, as individuals, have to do a whole lot better.