Bisi Adeleye Fayemi
Saratu could not stop staring at the woman who was speaking. She was not sure what her name was because people kept calling her different things. Some called her “Her Excellency”, some addressed her as “Madam” and others called her “Doctor” or “Hajia”.
She thought she heard the name “Amina”, but she was not sure. Madam’s hands looked very smooth, just like her beautiful face. She wondered if she had ever washed dirty pots. Madam was speaking in English. She spoke fast and Saratu only understood half of what she was saying because she spoke like an English woman.
Madam switched from speaking fast English to Hausa and Saratu was startled. She was saying that it is criminal for young girls to be abused and poorly treated. She promised to do whatever she could to help them. Saratu nodded and clapped. She was mesmerised. She had never seen anyone like Madam.
There were other Madams on the high table. They had come from the United Nations to visit Nigeria and talk to Nigerian women. Saratu was with a group of girls who were living in a shelter for those who had been rescued or who had run away from Boko Haram. She and most of her friends had been taken long before the whole world knew what was going on, before the girls from Chibok were kidnapped. All the important women on the high table spoke about different things. The woman who spoke first said that Nigeria had many great women who had paved the way for others. She mentioned Margaret Ekpo, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, Laila Dongoyaro and Gambo Sawaba. Saratu had heard of these women, and she wondered why some men spoke as if there had never been women who had done great things in the past. The Boko Haram men had told them that their education was Haram and useless. If it is useless, how come we have all these madams? Saratu thought.
The second woman talked about the conflict in other parts of Nigeria. Women and girls were being targeted in the Niger-Delta, there were also many kidnappings in other parts of Nigeria and something called “Badoo” in Lagos. Saratu shuddered. There is evil everywhere, she thought.
Then there was the Indian-looking woman who said she was from a country called Mauritius. She spoke about violence against women and girls and how she would make sure that they had better protection. Saratu liked what she said, but she wondered how it would make a difference. The woman worked in New York. How would she protect girls in Nigeria?
The madam who wore a colourful Senegalese boubou spoke; she was from the African Union. She told the meeting how the African Union wanted more women in power so that wars in Africa could end. Saratu shifted in her seat. I don’t think we will ever have a woman as President in Nigeria. Women cannot have that kind of power here. Can a woman stop men from going to war and doing what they did to us? Tears welled in Saratu’s eyes.
The woman who spoke after the Senegalese woman was from South Africa. If Saratu understood correctly, this madam was responsible for women in the United Nations. When Saratu heard that she used to be Vice-President of South Africa, she craned her neck so that she could have a good look at her. If a woman can be Vice-President, she can be President, she thought to herself. She knew that there were some countries in Africa where women were President, but they sounded so far away, and the idea sounded so unreal that they might as well be myths. But here, right before her eyes, was a woman who used to rule a country!
After the big madams spoke, it was the turn of Saratu and her friends. Khadija spoke first. She started to talk about how she was abducted five years ago and held for three years before she escaped. She paused and started to cry. One of the women on the high table beckoned to the MC and whispered something to her. Then the MC went up to the girls and told them that they did not need to talk about their experiences. They should just tell the important women what they wanted. Saratu was surprised. All the people they had spoken to before wanted every detail. When were you taken? How long were you there for? What did you do there? Were you forced to marry? Where are the other girls?
Saratu was not listening to her friends as they spoke. Her mind was far away, in a time and place when she was helpless and hopeless. A time when she had nothing to live for or look forward to, except a life of drudgery, hunger and abuse. The microphone was pushed into her hands. It was her turn to speak. She looked at the women on the high table. A counsellor had told them one out of every four women suffers from one form of violence or the other. Education and status do not matter, women are abused all over the world. Saratu found it hard to believe that any of these women could be beaten or abused by anyone. These were the women she had been told she could never become. They all wore beautiful clothes and spoke good English. Had any of them ever been kidnapped? Or beaten? Raped? No one could tell. It did not matter. Saratu was sure that whatever they had gone through they had won. These women were brilliant, knowledgeable and beautiful. They were survivors. I will win too, Saratu thought to herself.
She spoke softly into the microphone. “What I want is to go back to school,” she began. She finished her brief speech and handed the microphone back. She glanced at Madam again. Madam was crying. And so were all the other madams.
From 19 – 22 July 2017, there was a United Nations high-level delegation to Nigeria led by Her Excellency Amina Mohammed, the Deputy Secretary-General to the United Nations. The visit was also a solidarity mission in support of Nigerian women. The delegation included Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director, UN Women; Pramila Patten, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Armed Conflict’ and Bineta Diop, African Union Special Envoy on Women, Peace and Security in Africa. One of the events organised during the mission was a meeting with Nigerian women civil society leaders and young girls who had been affected. This is a fictionalized account of the meeting through the eyes of one of the participants.
Saratu’s Wish can be found ‘Where is your wrapper’ Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi, Farafina Books, November 2020.
• Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi is a Gender Specialist, Policy Advocate and Writer. She is the Founder of Abovewhispers.com, an online community for women. She is the First Lady of Ekiti State, and she can be reached at [email protected]