It is that time of the year again when we, mainly those of us in the civil society groups, mark the ’16 Days of Activism’ to draw attention to the issues of gender-based violence and call for actions to end them. It runs from November 25 to December 10 each year. This year’s theme is “From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World: Make Education Safe for All”.
But as the world focuses on that aspect of the gender-based violence, two recent, related events in Edo State have become cause of concern for me. The first event was the report of a protest by some women in the state against the alleged petulance of the state governor, Adams Oshiomhole towards one of the state’s senior citizens, Gabriel Igbinedion. For the records, Igbinedion is a very senior title holder in Bini Kingdom and the father of a former governor of Edo State, Lucky Igbinedion who served two full terms of eight years.
That, for many Nigerians, would mean he must be treated with an exceptional level of respect if not reverence. I remember not too long ago when the chief celebrated his birthday, the announcements from his family referred to him as ‘His Excellency’. Not that I know or care to know what Nigerians mean by that expression though.
Anyway, that is not the news. The news instead is that the women who were protesting wore red and some of them were half nude. Some reports actually said they were nude. They reportedly condemned Governor Oshiomhole ad demanded he should apologise to their ‘father’ for the insult.
About a week later, yet another group of women went on another public protest in the state, showing their support for Oshionhole and condemning Igbinedion. These other women were clad in white and claimed to represent not only Edo people but also people from different ethnic groups who reside in the state. Thus, within a period of two weeks, some (hapless) women had been ‘mobilised’ or manipulated by political bigwigs to go on the streets to protest on their behalf.
The incident reminded me of a similar one just before the last general elections where some women were similarly mobilised to protest for and against Governor Rochas Okorocha’s policies and in the process, a few of them were bloodied and teargassed all in the name of politics.
Talking about the idea of women protesting ‘protesting’ either ‘nude’ or ‘half nude’, I have always wondered what that is meant to achieve. Yes, culturally and historically, that used to be the case, but benefits when the women, mainly the poor and downtrodden ones are encouraged, promoted or celebrated to take up such means of protesting?
I have heard it argued that women resort to or feel compelled to resort to that nature of protest in extreme situation where they feel their rights have been terribly infringed upon or the situation is horribly unacceptable. Apparently such horribly unacceptable situation was one that affected the entire society. So why were the women the only ones to be pushed ahead to protest, with their bodies? My personal view is that nude or half-nude protests denigrate womanhood more if after being aggrieved, they end up going (half-)nude. It seems like double jeopardy.
Now see this: The protesting women condemned the alleged “disrespectful utterances by the governor on the Benin chief and father of the erstwhile governor of the state.” Yet they went about ‘disrespecting’ their bodies.
If, as I suspect these women were mobilised, procured and induced to stage this form of protest, who are those behind it and haven’t the women become tools by some men in their personal political contestation? And why were the immediate relations of the political contestants not part of the protest? Unfortunately, I have come across many otherwise well-informed women who justify this form of protest, claiming it is culturally acceptable. I find it quite outrageous, even if the victims are not aware that they are being used by those I call the culprits in this indecent treatment of women.
I really think that women’s rights organisations should consider how to work with women’s groups to add this practice to the same category as harmful traditional practice and incidents of violence against women, unless we are ready to do away with laws on public decency.