By Morak Babajide-Alabi
In Africa, it’s not often we get to talk about rape. This is saying it mildly, because we rarely talk about it. When we do, it is done in whispers, and in private clusters, never to be discussed publicly. Aside this, it is also a taboo, that comes up only when someone close is involved. The resultant effect of the “loud silence” is victims are indirectly turned into the accused.
In some African societies the victims not only suffer the emotional trauma, but also the shame of identification associated with it. The societies blame the victims for being the agent provocateurs in their own ordeals. No wonder just a few number of victims ever come up with their stories. Rape as we all know, is a crime of “aggression, power, and control in which one person forces, coerces, or manipulates another person to have sexual intercourse without their consent”. Rape involves vaginal, oral, or anal penetration by any object (including fingers) and it also includes forced oral sex.
The shame and stigmatisation of rape victims have been going on for long. Unfortunately this trend has contributed to the continued perpetration of this criminal act. A 2014 United Nations Children Education Fund (UNICEF) report titled “Hidden In Plain Sight” said in part that “around 120 million girls worldwide (slightly more than 1 in 10) have experienced forced intercourse or other forced sexual acts at some point in their lives.” This statistics should bring the reality of the magnitude home for everyone. It must however be noted that the figures reported here are mainly of those that were identified. Of every one case that is reported, there are surely tens that never made the books.
The reporting of rape cases, especially in developing countries is very challenging. Yet we cannot deny the fact that rape happens every second. Statistics reveal that living in certain parts of the world exposes one to rape attacks than in others. One needs no magical power to guess the countries where attacks are likely to be prevalent. These are in developing countries where lawlessness, violence and lack of good leadership prevail. Residents of countries in the sub southern Sahara Africa fall under this category as well. Do not get me wrong, rape is prevalent in developed countries but the long arms of the law usually gets to the offender faster than in a country such as Nigeria or India.
Talking about India, it’s a country where rape is reported to be the past times of young hot blood men. We can still recollect the story that came out of this country in 2012, when a young woman was gang-raped and thrown off a moving bus. We were appalled by this news, and many individuals and organisations raised their voices seeking the full weight of the law be brought down on the perpetrators.
In Nigeria, there are no accurate statistics for rape cases. We can excuse this, as even economic policies are drafted without correct statistics. This has not taken away the fact that rape is endemic in the country. We can recollect the infamous gang rape story that came out from a south east university sometimes ago. Do we know how many house maids are regularly raped by their employers? Or how many students are raped in universities? To be honest, rape over the years has become part of the workings in the Nigeria systems. Various governments have turned blind eyes to it and pretend it is nothing that calls for urgent attention. The executive and judiciary arms of governments have not done anything historic.
Rape is a serious issue that needs urgent attention of every reasonable man and woman. Human beings are created to be reasonable and rational, but atrocities, such as rape has indicated otherwise. If being reasonable is a demand of living, rather than increase, rape figures should be nosediving. One therefore wonders if we are losing the war on sensibility. The rise in rapes cases clearly suggests that some men and women rather than use their brains prefer to be controlled by their emotions. And in doing this, they cause discomfort to other people.
While governments, especially in the developed countries, have made some kind of progress, the journey is yet to start in the developing countries. These governments may have done more than the ordinary to sensibly criminalise this act, the question is are they doing enough compared with the scale of the occurrences. The consensus, however, is that no matter the prevailing culture supporting or encouraging rape acts, governments, leaders, and all right thinking human beings should be campaigning for tougher sentences.
There is hope rising in the horizon though, as individuals, charities and non-governmental organisations are giving voices to the victims of rape. Of recent, some Nigerians have in their individual capacities been waging wars on rape. Not that they have formed vigilante groups to stop the perpetrators, nor are they parading the streets looking for rape victims. No. They have, as kind hearted, patriotic and reasonable citizens been using their private resources to campaign for a change of perception towards rape victims in the country. They are also determined to ensure identified victims of rape are not denied justice.
I am particularly impressed by the rising voices of these individuals that are constantly hammering on this subject. These are not jobless people, but individuals concerned over the plight of thousands of victims who rarely get justice in Nigeria. A particular friend of mine in recent weeks used his personal social media channel to focus on rape in Nigeria. He has been seeking justice in his personal capacity for a housemaid who was raped by the husband of her employer. With these individuals, there is hope that there will be reduction soon in the number of rape cases. There may not be such drastic reduction, but the efforts will no doubt make a difference.
Yesterday, my sister, Omolola Balogun, joined these kind-hearted individuals who have taken on the cause of educating and training young girls in the country. She launched a project that has been very dear to her heart – All About Girls. The project is set up to empower girls in Nigeria to be whatever they aspire to be. This is a commendable project that needs the support of all well meaning Nigerians. It aims at promoting and developing capacity building, self-awareness in young girls to become matured woman/adult, while also empowering young girls with vocational/entrepreneurial skills for self-reliant and economic development.
She identified the need for this project because young girls are daily faced with challenges, disappointment from peers, discouragement from home front etc which has led to mental and emotional disturbance thereby affecting their sense of value and lifestyle, resulting in early marriage, prostitution, molestation, exploitation, drop out from school and some joining gangs in order to better their lives.
The strategy adopted is impressive – offering a completely free training to all girls using real materials as working examples to produce attractive product with the aim of marketing them to generate revenue for sustainability. With platforms such as this, Nigerians girls have access to what their counterparts abroad have that’s always give them the advantage in life. More so, where there are opportunities, there are bound to be successes. All About Girls will definitely fill a void in the system that is skewed against young girls.