The 16-day Battle Against Gender Inequity
By Femi Olugbile
Recently the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ), in collaboration with the Women’s Optimum Development Foundation (WODEF), the Women Entrepreneur Association of Nigeria (WEAN) and Step Up for Women In Journalism Initiative (SWIJ held a series of public conversations on Gender-Based Violence, to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. The theme was ‘UNITE! Activism to end violence against women and girls.’
The 16 topics for daily discussion on Twitter Spaces (X) ranged from ‘Safeguarding female journalists, survivors of terrorism and banditry against sexual violence’, to ‘Is prevention better than cure for sexual violence?’
Bimbo Oloyede, one of the grand dames of Nigerian broadcasting, and one of the organisers of the entire event, had invited you to join the panel on the fifth day of the discussion, to have a conversation on ‘How real is psychological violence and emotional manipulation in offices and homes?’
It struck your eye that all the topics were integrally related, and an unsympathetic eye might see the stamp of the Woke victimology of the ‘Me-Too’ movement that was popular in the USA and Europe in some of the tone. ‘Me-Too’, in some instances, had succeeded in turning the underdog to the oppressor, especially when ‘historical sex offenders’ were dragged through odium, lynching them in the court of public opinion, bringing ruination to notable careers on old allegations that often failed to meet the required standards of evidence, even before any court had fully heard the case. Sometimes you felt ambivalence because you knew that some men, acting from a position of power, had indeed behaved in dastardly fashion towards the female sex in years past, in the workplace, or the home, or even in politics. On the other hand, you felt pain because you knew the depths of perfidy the human mind was capable of, and how tempting it was for a woman with a grouse against a former lover or boss to realise she could destroy that person’s career and reputation by concocting a lie that she did not have to prove. Some of the spectacles you had witnessed conjured up images of Mississippi style public hanging, with lives and careers of possibly innocent people torn to shreds by a righteous, indignant mob incensed by a story that could be a lie or a half-truth.
Indigenous Nigerian cultures were traditionally patriarchal, and the rules guiding relationships between the two sexes to this day were substantially determined by these antecedents. The still flagrant lack of equality for the female, despite all the recent advances, and gender-based disadvantage and violence were obviously matters that should occupy the minds of everyone wishing to live in an egalitarian society. School enrolment for the girl child was substantially less than for the male child, and the attrition rate as they progressed up the ladder to secondary school left the girl at a massive disadvantage. Child marriage was still rife in parts of the nation, and there were fewer girls in undergraduate and postgraduate studies than boys. In political office, as in managerial and directorial positions in public service and the corporate world, there is a preponderance of men. There was little representation at the very top, because a ‘glass ceiling’ limited female progression beyond a certain level.
The reality of domestic violence was brought home starkly to professionals in Mental Health and Social Welfare during the COVID-19 pandemic. It was a time of great stress for all, and people sometimes turned on their intimate partners with aggression. There were reported cases of death and injury. The victim was usually, but not always, the female, and the perpetrator the male. The stress of isolation and fear of death cranked up the aggression that was always simmering underground.
In many countries, there were laws that protected the rights of women on such matters as inheritance, access to health and education and protection against sexual violence, which could be psychological, or which might be physical, as in rape. Embedded in such laws were technicalities, such as the labelling of any sex act with a female below the age of consent as ‘statutory rape’. Nigeria, for reasons of lack of cultural unanimity, had not been able to fashion out a generally agreeable set of laws to protect women’s rights to date, although Lagos State had set up legislation and infrastructure in the area, prosecuting perpetrators and offering protection such as sheltered accommodation to their victims.
Attempting to answer the question posed to your panel on Day 5 of this 16-day high-minded marathon talk shop, you averred that psychological violence and emotional manipulation were indeed real, and could occur in the office, as in the home. While the direction of flow was often from male to female, the direction could be the reverse. A female boss could be a terror and ‘emasculator’ to her male subordinates, for example, and a wife in a dysfunctional marriage could so talk-down her partner that he might be driven to consider taking his own life.
The conclusion was that these matters needed to be brought out from the closet into the open, so that they could be discussed, and understood, as a first step to mitigation. Many perpetrators were not even aware of the hurt they were causing to the other party, and it was conceivable that some victims could be complicit in the initiation or perpetuation of their plight, for instance by persisting in a hostile, violent domestic relationship when all the signs were that it was dangerous and unworkable.
Achieving equity in gender relationships, and taking violence off the table, in Nigeria, as in all the rest of the world, remain, at best, work in progress. If the progress was slow, it only showed that more energy needed to be committed to the struggle, by everyone.