A Speech on Femininity and Sexual Violence against Women in Nigeria

Image of Nigerians protesting oppression
Photo by Grace Ekpu

The #WeAreTired movement in Nigeria inspired my master’s thesis on femininity and sexual violence against women in Nigeria. A month after I received my master’s degree, I enrolled in Harvard University’s Rhetoric: The Art of Persuasive Writing and Public Speaking certification course, and I had to write a speech.

At that time, teaching duties were crushing me, so I decided to transform the familiar by writing my speech on the #WeAreTired movement and my thesis’ central argument and findings. Below is the speech.

Why Nigerian Women Are Tired

Brothers and sisters, I have come here today because I am tired. I am tired because Nigerian women are tired. They are tired of getting raped. They are tired of being blamed for getting raped. They even held a protest last year and named it #WeAreTired. Something must change.

Today marks the first anniversary of the tragedy that befell 18-year-old Barakat Bello. Barakat was doing her homework in her father’s house when a man broke in and raped her. Then, he bludgeoned her, to death. Those who remember the incident can probably recall the ridiculous rhetoric that followed. Still, I will remind you all. They said Barakat would not have been raped if she had dressed modestly. Every radio and TV station that covered the story noted that Barakat was covered head to toe in a burqa before she was raped. Still, they said the young lady would not have been raped, in her home, by an intruder, if she had dressed modestly.

So, of course, Nigerian women are tired. Every time, our society chooses to complicate this simple matter. We know that thieves steal because they want or need to steal. A determined bank robber is not dissuaded by the bank’s security. Locked doors do not discourage burglars. A robber robs and a rapist rapes. Their choices have nothing to do with the bank, the house, or the people. Yet, when rapists strike, our society blames the one person we are certain did not commit the crime. Are we in love with rapists? Are we rapists? So, why is it that we – and I say “we” because we constitute this society – why is it that we do not blame rapists and sympathize with their victims?

I have spent two years researching cases of sexual violence against women in this country. I have examined transcripts of interviews with convicted rapists -all of them men- and I believe I have an answer to this problem. Permit me to share with you.

At the core of our society is the belief that women and femininity are solely for the satisfaction of male sexual desire. This is also the reason why we struggle to understand homosexuality. Our proverbs instruct us to think this way. Our films and music reinforce this ideology. We all remember the most popular song in the country two years ago – the one with a chorus that shames a little girl who asks her uncle to stop touching her inappropriately. And when they teach our kids about sex in our schools, they tell them that sex starts when the man enters the woman, and it ends when the man reaches orgasm. Whether the woman orgasms or not is not important, apparently. Our society believes that women should not enjoy sex, and the men who rape women agree.

When we teach our kids that women exist solely to please men, we are teaching young boys that every female person is their sexual toy. We are also teaching young girls that they exist just for the sexual gratification of boys and men, that they have no say in the matter, that they do not have to enjoy it, that they only must take it, and that only they must ensure that men do not give them what they do not desire.

It is little wonder that when a woman is raped, we are so focused on what she did or did not do to prevent the rape that we do not ask the rapist why he violated her. We accuse the woman of bringing shame on herself, and to the man, to the rapist, we say nothing. We say nothing because we understand him, because we think that a man cannot control himself around women, even though he is a higher animal with a sophisticated brain. Even domestic dogs learn to control themselves. The bar must not be this low for men.

Now, this is not a matter of women versus men. It may appear so because too many women are raped by men. I say this because there are some people who will murmur “well, men get raped too.” To those people, I say, don’t murmur, do something about it! We must not be one of those people who remember that a few men have been victims of rape only when women protest rape. We cannot afford to let the gender politics of us versus them plunge our society into moral bankruptcy.

Parents must not just teach their daughters to beware of rapists, they must also teach their sons to not rape. Our schools must give our children sex education that is not tainted by patriarchal ignorance. Everyone must understand consent. Everyone must understand that women are individuals with agency. We cannot wait for the next Barakat Bello. We must examine our biases and deal with them now. Thank you!

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