With the news of the murder of Reeva Steenkamp in South Africa still fresh in our minds, we recall several other sexual abuse related deaths which have also made headlines: Cynthia Osokogu of Nigeria, Lama Al-Ghamdi of Saudi Arabia, Anene Booysen of South Africa, and Singh Pandey of India, among others. Already it has been predicted that by 2016 one billion women will have been violated in different forms all over the world. Feminist and human rights activists are using this platform to demand better legislation, which would protect women against violence; and for the provision of stiff penal sanctions, to serve as a deterrent to potential offenders. Particularly, in Nigeria, they are demanding that the Violence against Persons Bill, which has been on the floor of the National Assembly, since 1999 (more than 14 years) should be passed.
One must confess that the epidemic of rape and violence against women in Nigeria which is perpetuated by both old and young, rich and poor, lay, clergy and traditional leaders is both a slap to dignity of the human person and even more to the character of manhood.
It is trite knowledge that our criminal law system is very redundant, since many of our laws, which were transplanted hook, line and sinker, have not been amended to fit the changing consciousness of the people. The procedure for convicting for rape is also rather strenuous and troublesome due to factors like the stigma Nigerian society attaches to rape, the lack of qualified security agencies and even medical doctors who would help gather evidence of probative value and therefore many offenders go scot-free. It is on this note that I join hands with the activists by demanding worthy – or at least better- legislations to prevent women from violence and these have to be expeditiously implemented.
When we talk about violence against women, we are not talking of an abstract phenomena or lofty considerations existing in the world of ideas. No! It is imperative that we all understand that we are talking of inhuman acts committed against our mothers, sisters, daughters, neighbours and the all world of womanhood.
Despite the fact that I support the idea of the existence of a legal structure which will stage a war against violence against women, I do not propose that that alone can remedy the entire situation or even achieve very much, precisely because in many developed countries with an effective criminal system the rape toll, and violence against women is still quite high. Examples of this include the United States, which has a rape every 6.2 minutes, and the UK which has 230 rape cases reported daily. After all, law was made for man and not man for law.
As proved the problem really is not just the law: all these acts of violence are arising precisely because we have lost, in moral terms, a grasp on the true meaning of human nature and natural rights. This is at the epicentre of this struggle. This error has come to devalue the human person; it has degenerated to the point wherein men decide arbitrarily, and in a diabolic fashion, who lives and who dies, who has more dignity and who has less. It is precisely because of this that a man beats a woman: he thinks himself superior to her or even sees her as his property because he has paid the bride price for her; he may even compare her to his dog.
We have experienced violence against the dignity of the human person before. The story of the existence of man could be said to be composed of the violation of the dignity of the human person: The Final Solution of 1942 by Hitler, the genocide against the Tutsis of Rwanda in 1994 are but a few examples. In this type of violence, both men and women were killed, but the violence which we are facing now is such that not only have some women been killed, but also a lot of them have put in a place where they serve as nothing more than a mere means of sensual gratification for men.
This lowering is not caused by only men but also by women. Take it or leave it: since the legalisation of abortion, the promotion of contraceptives and the like, this view has only been strengthened and has made women vulnerable to exploitation and abandonment, which most times they consent to, in the veneer that they are using their freedom. As such I wish to correct the notion that it is culturally allowed for a man to beat up his wife. This is allowed under some conditions and limitations in the north (under S.55 (1)(d) of the Nigerian penal code -which should be expunged and jettisoned!), but among the Igbo it is seen as an aberration for a man to beat his wife, he is seen as a coward, for if he intends to test his strength he is advised to meet a man of his match.
There is no doubt that respect for the woman has been lost and she has been considered as a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment, and no longer as a respected and cherished companion. This idea is being portrayed almost everytime and everywhere. Last December, in my class there was a fundraising ceremony for a class tour to Cross River State. A man rose and donated N1000, which is like $6 or $7, on behalf of all the beautiful girls in the class. Instantly there was applause from the girls, cheering and feeling happy that finally they have been recognised. In a class with over 90 girls, is the price of N12 considered to be worth clapping and cheering for? Does this mean that our girls, with their beauty, are worth that little and could be gotten for that much? Okay let’s leave out the money: why should someone want to put a price on a girl, much less her beauty? Even if he proposed a billion bucks: is one human being worth just that? At first I was surprised because no girl hissed or stood up and objected, despite having studied a course titled “Children, Women and the Law. They were all content. If at least one of the girls had stood and censured his inadequate pledge, it would have held meaning and taught the students there a valuable lesson -I am certain of this. Nevertheless, as they refused to speak up for themselves, the situation can only deteriorate with someone else coming up later to do worse. Now think about it: if it was a girl who had made a similar donation, I am sure she would be in the hospital now recovering from the blows that would have befallen her, because we men know our worth and we protect it jealously. That was not all. In this same class, there was a plan to have a tour in conjunction with another department. However, someone objected stating that the other department was populated with mostly boys, and at the behest of this ridiculous person, the students decided to cancel the collaboration. Although the tour was meant to be an academic tour, the issue of “supply of girls” became the main thing: more means to violate them.
The violence condemned by mainstream media like rape, battery and so on, is done without consent they say, and so it is condemned. Yet the prevailing violence which many are not seeing is one where there is almost unanimous consent. This is the violence women do to themselves, wherein they do not carry themselves with dignity and decorum. It is exhibited in the way they dress, walk, and talk: on the streets, in the world of entertainment. However, this should not be seen as an excuse or justification for men to violate them -we are not animals devoid of reason after all and since we have reason we should know and appreciate the virtues of temperance and self-discipline.
All through my childhood, in my neighbourhood, I never heard anything about violence against women. One might quickly retort: this was because it is hidden in the family and, yes, this is true. Nonetheless, I challenge our women to behave with dignity. When they do men will and must not only regard them and worship them but they will also tread the floor on which they walk.
In the pages of history we find instances where women were regarded with dignity and value. It has happened, it is happening and it will continue to happen. This privilege is only enjoyed by the few, because only a few have behaved liked Women with the capital W.
Womanhood is a blessed and precious gift from the Creator which, when borne positively, is greatly admired and venerated by all.