In recent months, conversations around rape and gender-based violence have taken center stage. During the attendant lockdown caused by the Coronavirus pandemic, it became expedient to have these conversations as it seemed that every day there was a rape or gender violence story in the news.
The relative silence of our lives during the lockdown made the noise of these activities even louder. In the space of a few months, we saw the story of Uwa Omozuwa, who had been raped and left for dead by unknown men in Edo state, as well as the rape and death of Barakat Bello in Ibadan and then a 12-year-old who was gang raped in Jigawa.
The Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, revealed that the Nigerian Police Force had received 717 reports of rape between January and June, 2020. The act of rape is a truly traumatic experience that goes beyond the physical violation of the person’s body but leads to grave emotional scarring as well.
The prevalence of these occurrences required that uncomfortable but urgent conversations about rape, sexual assault and abuse be had. A torrent of stories, almost as if the bond of silence had been broken, hit social media with ladies sharing their experiences. Up until recently, news of this kind did not make the front page. Victims, usually of the female gender, were afraid to confront their abuser and the worst of it, those that dared speak up were blamed for the horrendous act foisted on them.
Recent conversations on social media have led to confronting not just these perpetrators, but also the society and culture that allows these acts go unpunished. There is a culture of silence around the act, culture of victim blaming, and a culture of not holding perpetrators to law.
Sentiments around rape conversations in the past were tilted towards what the victims did or did not do to bring this action upon themselves, but the reality that toddlers have also been reported to be victims of rape throws that sentiment out of the window.
Conversations around consent were also had. These discussions made it clear that many do not understand the concept of consent or had terrible misconceptions about granting and requesting consent. Due to the largely hushed air around sex, important sex education that ought to be given to children, in schools and by their parents is lost.
Children grow up to be adults with only assumptions and misconceptions about sex to go on. According to a report published by NOIPolls in July 2019, at least one in three girls in Nigeria will have faced sexual assault by the age of 25. And in the World Population Review ranking of rape statistics by country, South Africa ranked highest with 66,196 incidents of rape in a population of 59,308,690.
Beyond these conversations, which are critical to improve the society’s understanding of the debilitating effects of rape on the individual and society in general, the legislative framework to ensure not just the capture and punishment of perpetrators, but also the deterrence of the act needs to be put in place.
Housemates of the BBNaija Lockdown season, as part of their tasks recently, were asked to create a presentation addressing rape and gender based violence issues in Nigeria. The housemates put together a campaign that showed a good level of understanding of the subject matter and its attendant issues. One of the housemates, Prince, the 2018 Mr. Nigeria addressed the society’s emphasis placed on properly raising the female child, but ignoring the emotional wellbeing of the male child. Lucy, another housemate, pointed out that the identity of rapists should never be protected, as they usually are people well known to their victims.
While they focused on one aspect of the issue, which is the transactional nature of relationships, and the feeling of entitlement some men have towards sex after spending on a woman, not enough about what happens after the rape was presented. Did the victim report to the Police? This would have been a good opportunity to show either the usual response and prejudice of the police force to these kinds of reports or change the narrative to a more humane and sympathetic response. The housemates’ failure to address all these other issues could be the reason they lost their wager.
The Big Brother Naija show is the most watched reality show in Africa, it attracts a lot of eyeballs across several demographics and society, and it is quite noteworthy that the platform was used to address pertinent issues such as rape, sexual assault and gender based violence.
The initiative received several commendations on social media, for bringing these important conversations to everyday Nigerians and Africans in general. S.T.E.R, a youth-led movement advancing gender equality and an end to sexual and gender based violence through advocacy and prevention, lauded the efforts to have the housemates addressing these issues on social media.