In this “silly season of politics”, I resist the pervasive national tendency to put all things on hold in the frenzy of upcoming 2023 general election. Life continues. I focus this contribution on a worrisome trend in the equally worrisome topic of gender-based violence in Nigeria. Media watchers in Nigeria are familiar with the sponsored and long-running promotion associated with the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism and its partners. In case anyone is not up to speed, it is a public awareness and educational promotion against gender-based violence that currently runs on a range of leading Nigerian electronic and broadcast media outfits nationwide. The initiative is timely and worthy. It is a welcome intervention at a time when Nigeria is embroiled in an epidemic of gender-based violence.
Daily, incidences of violence against women and the girlchild continue to escalate. The media manage to capture only snippets of a grossly underreported and socio-culturally suppressed phenomenon. Horrific accounts and entrenchment of gender-based violence evoke social and moral outrage. Incidences of gender-based violence continue to grow despite paucity of credible data and notwithstanding efforts by the judicial and social welfare sectors. Notable in this regard is the pioneering initiatives of the Lagos State Government and Judiciary. In addition, there are also other credible NGOs whose field interventions against gender-based violence intermittently bring reliefs to hundreds of women and girlchild victims of gender-based violence and its toxic interface with most domestic violence.
My interest in the initiative of the WSCIJ on gender-based violence steps primarily with the Soyinka brand even though the WSCIJ is an independent entity. Soyinka needs no introduction. Even before he became the first and only Nigerian Nobel Laureate, his profile as an inspirational public intellectual with a lifetime investment in the success of the Nigerian experiment was towering. I have read several versions of his daring and patriotic interventions during the Nigerian civil war. His consistency in national awakening and nation building has ubiquitous imprints in obvious and unusual places. His capacity to speak truth to power stands him out as part of the remnants of the rare pantheons of our national conscience.
From Soyinka’s legacy in road safety, student solidarity, democracy, press freedom, the arts in all their ramifications, I am not surprised that the Centre Soyinka founded has gender-based violence on its radar. Gender-based violence is a gender-neutral concept as counterintuitive as that sounds. It refers to harmful conducts or practices directed at persons including female, male or ‘ungendered’ others because of their gender identity or lack thereof. However, given the inherent biases of our obligate patriarchal and socio-cultural and political orientations against the female gender, the latter are the major victim of gender-based violence. But women, including the girlchild, are not the exclusive victims of gender-based violence. Men, counting the boychild, and increasingly ungendered others are also victims of gender-based violence.
As fundamentally an act of abuse, dehumanisation, exploitation, discrimination and inequitable treatment, gender-based violence is inherently a human rights matter. Given the preponderance of women, including the girlchild, as victims of gender-based violence, the malaise is of indispensable interest to proponents of feminism and human rights advocates in the academia and in other cultural, social engineering and policy shaping discourses.
At the core of feminism is the rejection of objectification and subjugation of women. Strikingly, a critical review of the WSCIJ anti gender-based violence campaign reflects an entrenchment of that objectification in a counterproductive proportion. It is, all things considered, even if not intended by its proponents, antithetical to feminism. It evokes a sense of outrage for discerning feminists. And here is why. I draw from two dramatizations of gender-based violence from the few seconds skit (based on the Channels TV streaming) to underscore the contexts for the objectification. One is potential sexual assault (rape) of a girl child by an adult male. Another is a dramatization of sexual pressure by a male professor directed at an undergraduate female victim – an obvious reflection of sex-for-grade phenomenon in Nigerian universities.
There is only so much that could be conveyed in such a few seconds skit. One need not bother about the questionable single gender violence victims (women only) and preparators of gender-based violence (men only). But the major problem is the provocative language of the narrative. The rendition conjures the essentials of power imbalance associated with gender relations in ways that depict such tendency as acceptable instead of rejectable norms in our society. There is a missed opportunity to renounce those norms. Rather, they are reinforced. In the promotion, a woman and a girlchild is depicted metaphorically as “ripe”, “juicy”, “fruit” for plucking or harvesting, a tender and desirable gift for nurturing. And all these attributes are for the pleasure of the predator male. The anti-gender-based violence content is blurred to the ironic prodding of the male predator to be patient and wait for the fruit to ripe or mature and to seek consent before devouring, harvesting or plucking, etc. That is a crude objectification of women.
The above characterisation of the female gender does violence and sabotage to women and feminism. It reinforces objectionable aspects of our socio-cultural orientation as an excessively patriarchal society. An anti-gender-based violence project should not be seen to reinforce those even if inadvertently. The WSCIJ’s anti-gender-based violence initiative under focus is a reminder that the best intentions can have self-sabotaging outcomes. It leaves one to reflect on the kind of professional and ethical scrutiny or even cursory critical review this and similar well-intended public education projects undergo before they are released for public consumption.
Oguamanam is a Professor of Law at the University of Ottawa, Canada
Culled from Punchng.com
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