The #MeToo movement, which aims to raise awareness and end sexual harassment and abuse has sparked conversations all over the world including the African continent where discussions about sex, sexuality and harassment and/or abuse are more or less taboo.
When have you been part of a general discussion with your peers or colleagues on the subject of:
- Sexual assault?
- Sexual harassment?
- Child molestation?
Due to very strong cultural and religious norms, women often don’t dare admit that they have been harassed or assaulted, and hardly report such cases to authorities. They avoid reporting cases of sexual harassment or assaults for fear of being ostracised by society, and maybe ruining their chances of being married or staying in their marriage or keeping their jobs. Although sexual harassment and assault are more openly discussed in western societies, even many women in these societies also find it difficult to come forward to report cases. Majority of victims across the world suffer in silence, not wanting to jeopardise their careers or their place in society.
The recent global conversation on sexual harassment and assault in late 2017, catalysed by sexual abuse allegations against American film mogul Harvey Weinstein, has given victims of sexual assault a chance to speak up.
Tarana Burke launched the “Me, Too” campaign in 2007 to provide support to survivors of sexual violence who were marginalised, poor and underrepresented. Following the Harvey Weinstein allegations, Actress Alyssa Milano made this request on Twitter to highlight the prevalence of sexual misconduct: “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.” Millions of women around the world have been sharing their experiences of harassment and abuse on social media platforms with the hashtag #MeToo. Many women in the western world appeared to be speaking out for the first time in great numbers about abuses they had suffered, often saying they had to overcome feelings of shame and embarrassment to do so.
According to a 2016 World Bank report, about a third of African women say they have suffered abuse. In this regard, it behoves women to look out for their welfare and stand up in defiance of societal attitudes which dictate that being abused brings shame on the family, is a curse, or makes a woman unmarriageable.
Sexual harassment is endemic in our societies, where men who perpetuate these acts feel it is a non-issue and carry on as if it is their birth right. Even more perverse is the assault of minors – male relatives and close family friends abusing children and teenagers. Most children or minors who report sexual abuse are not believed or told not to speak of such unspeakable things.
In the workplace, women are subject to threats and pressure to engage in sexual favours as a means of getting employed or receiving promotion. Promotions have been known to be delayed and even denied specifically because women refused sexual advances. Women have been promised that they would advance in their careers if they had an affair with the boss, only to be threatened with being fired if they refused.
Nigerian Universities have a bad reputation of being a hot bed for sexual harassment of students – a phenomenon that has undermined the validity of the Nigerian university degree. For decades, female students in Nigerian universities have summoned up the courage to report randy male faculty members who sexually harassed or assaulted them. However, such reports have often not been addressed with the seriousness they deserve. This has affected the lives and destinies of so many young female students who either drop out of university or are suffering the consequences of succumbing to male faculty sexual advances.
Sexual harassment and assault have painful physical, emotional and psychological consequences for women – “Molested by a family member. Raped as a kid and an adult. Became a drug addict and then overcame. Don’t ever give up. I’m here. #MeToo,” a woman identified as Amy Christensen said on her Twitter account.
The events following the Harvey Weinstein revelation is a watershed moment and must be so for our societies. The sexual atrocities women endure at the hands of men should not be swept under the carpet. They should be exposed and the perpetrators made to pay the price as stipulated by law. We should stop treating sexual harassment as an issue for the victims, usually women, to solve on their own.
The breakdown of silence should just be the beginning of a journey towards a seismic change in our societies. Women should be acknowledged – rightly – as indispensable to the well-being of any society, and must be accorded the utmost respect, must be educated and must be empowered. Anything less is unacceptable.
Pride Nigeria is launching our “#FROM THE SHADOWS” campaign which kicks off on International Women’s Day, March 8, to encourage women to rise to their full potentials and not fade into the background as our male dominated society will like them to. If you have a story of how you overcame challenges in life which you want to share to encourage other women, we would love to interview you as part of this campaign. If you have an opinion you want to express or a story you want to narrate in writing, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject – Shadows.