Nigerian women staging self defense with “buckets as shields, actively protecting themselves” against abuse. Photograph by Cristina de Middel/Magnum.

The Sexual Assault Conundrum In Nigeria.

Nigeria’s rape laws are flawed in so many ways. In fact flawed is too mild a word to describe just how messed up they are.

As far as the law is concerned, men cannot be raped because how could a woman possibly overpower a man? And a man cannot rape his wife because by virtue of their union, her body becomes his. 

Simply put, the reason why these laws exist collectively is because of the patriarchy. Nigeria is so patriarchal, a man once told me to switch car seats with my teenage younger brother because he is a man and men sit in front. In a country where age is such a big deal, masculinity still triumphs over all.

There’s a popular saying which goes “what a young person has to climb a tree to see, an elder has seen from their place on the ground”. Taking this along with the strong patriarchal structures into consideration, men must be able to see even beyond the view of the elders. They can probably see the future. I think it goes without saying that these archaic rape laws need to be repealed.

A few months ago a tweet went kind of viral on twitter. A student at the Nigerian Law School tweeted about a lecturer who said that if a woman is not dressed “decently” it is basically an “invitation to treat”. I was in that class and a debate started almost immediately. A lot of smart things were said along with a lot of stupid ones. I can’t talk about anything that was said because I blanked out due to my tears. I started thinking about survivors who had to hear about how being raped was somehow their fault simply because they dressed how they wanted to or went out to have fun with friends or smiled at someone. 

One thing that really bugs me is this whole idea of decency.

My main question here is who sets the standard?

Who determines what is decent or indecent. I know of women who have been covered from head to toe and were still harassed. So when someone says that dressing decently will protect you, they mean that dressing decently won’t provide them with a “clear” excuse to abuse you the way they would actually like to. 

The entitlement that some people have to other people’s bodies is just astounding. For someone to see question the way a stranger is dressed and think “I know you wore that cause you wanted my attention”. That’s a different level of messed up. Couldn’t it be that I dressed up that day for me? 

Society has taught women to dress for the pleasure of men and programmed men to think that women dress up for their pleasure. Like I woke up this morning and decided to wear my cute dress and heels to class because of you Daniel? No I did not. I wore this because everything else I own is dirty and my flat shoes do not go well with this dress. 

Some people say that they do not like to discuss certain issues because they feel those subjects are too “political”. Well I don’t think that a person’s right to walk out at night without being harassed is political. I also do not think that wanting autonomy over my body is political.

I think it is a basic right that we have been denied and anyone that thinks these subjects are too political does not care about the human race. This is because at its core, politics is about people.

There is no politics without people. If we do not discuss these difficult and “political” questions because we’re afraid of conflict, then we are not ready for things to change. 

I don’t know why that law school lecturer made that comment. I also cannot go back in time and erase them, but I am glad that most of the students in that class strongly disagreed with him. It seems to me that the new generation of Nigerians have a better understanding of consent. I just hope that one day, our elders will climb the trees too. Things tend to look different from a fresh view point. 

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