Violence shaping Women’s Experiences and Sexuality
One of my teenage girls told me after our girls’ sex chat, that she would go on the implant contraceptive immediately she got into university – just in case she gets raped- as we all know that the Federal University in Nigeria has a high rate of rape.
I was so heartbroken and shocked to hear this; it was not merely because of what she said but how she said it. The normality of that sentence- the fact that the shame and pain from having an unwanted pregnancy are worse than the violent act itself.
We have a problem; a deep-rooted disease in our country that have allowed us to blur the lines between what’s violent and appropriate behavior.
Violence has become so embedded in our culture that our teenagers no longer look for ways to avoid it but rather find ways to cushion the blow of a violent act.
This is why women’s sexual experiences in Nigeria are often viewed from a place of violence and not pleasure or empowerment. The fact that a 16-year-old would go n a 3-year hormonal contraceptive not to prevent pregnancy from a consensual sexual relationship but from violent intercourse.
When I speak on issues on our sexuality as Nigerian women, my goal is to allow you reclaim your sexual life and become empowered whilst doing that; to let you know that you are entitled to pleasure whilst interacting with your body.
Your sexual life should not begin and end with violence.
I also remember sitting in a gathering of five women from different African countries, discussing what sexuality meant to us and realizing that four out of five of us had been introduced into a sexual behavior through violence.
There’s a dysfunction that bubbles underneath when violence shapes our intimacy and connection with others. DSVRT recorded that in three months (July – September) 677 cases were reported; UNICEF reports that 43% of girls are married before age 18 and one in four girls have experienced sexual abuse before age 18.
There’s no denying that violence against women (VAW) has become embedded in our culture.
Many of us still carry the scars that this violence left with us, and even though some are not direct victims, as children they saw their close ones been violated and in turn suffer from secondary trauma. As counseling to reshape the mind to heal and demand healthy connections are often rare, we end up with many young girls and women who suffer from PTSD and carry the deep-seated fear of men.
When fear of impending violence dictates how you connect with the other sex, there’s no way we can have a society where people function effectively and in harmony, as this fear manifests even in the tiniest things. You find it difficult to say no because you fear triggering male anger, inability to own your space as walking on the street is an opportunity for one to be violated; taking a morning jog or going to the market also seem like an enormous task.
Due to this, women begin to create survival mechanisms that shape their experiences, leaving them as passive citizens in society. Instead of saying- “No! I am not interested in sex” they wear a sanitary pad to put him down easily; Instead of simply declining to give out their personal information, they give it to the man or risk been pursued or hurt for declining.
Even people who claim to love us are not spared because we remember that the people who violated us also claimed to love us; so even in intimate relationships, trust is a foreign concept. Mothers protect their daughters from their fathers, uncles, and brothers; because even though Gender Based Violence (GBV) is sometimes random, at the core, it is done repeatedly and systematically by the people we know.
The fear ushers in a sense of helplessness as rarely do they see women escape victorious in these situations. The justice system fails them; the media continues to reinforce the belief that violence is normal and should be endured.
Women become seduced into believing that the amount of pain they endure determines their strength and threshold of their femininity; as fear of social isolation, shame and stigma associated with breaking away from abuse holds them captive.
Human beings are social animals that always seek to be accepted and belong to a group, an overview from UNICEF showed that the most frequently cited benefits and reasons for supporting Female Genital Mutilation was social acceptance.
When people lack a support system that recognizes that violence in all form is unacceptable, you are bound to find people who diminish the effect of such violence and accept it as the reality.
We must begin to publicly and privately denounce these violent behaviors as normal and expected. We start from our homes to churches and even schools. Public Education Campaigns that seek to change attitudes and norms should be put in place; In the US the public education campaign with the message “My Strength is not for hurting” has opened room for dialogue for men to challenge harmful practices, beliefs and behaviors that they had internalized.
The helplessness that we face has also sadly intensified the by-stander epidemic. People would rather not concern themselves with the problem especially when they label it a domestic issue.
We are our brother’s keepers and must do something no matter how little. In India, the campaign “Ring The Bell” created by Breakthrough show people how to “interrupt” violence against women in a constructive way with simple actions like ringing the bell to ask for salt or drop their mail.
Our young ones need to be protected. Before deep-rooted beliefs on gender stereotypes become ingrained in them, we should educate and work with them by promoting respectful relationships and gender equality.
Many of us have never experienced nor have insight on what exactly healthy relationships/connection entails. There are no representations in society to demonstrate what we can strive for.
Sadly, because of the high rates of VAW, conversations for women around human sexuality are shaped around violence, pain, and trauma. Rarely do we have spaces to discuss or embrace our identities without violence as the leading agenda. There’s so much we need to unravel as a society. We need hope! We need to know that we can push and strive to live a full life without violence as the underlying theme shaping our experiences as women.
There’s an ecological frame that shows how differences levels influence the risk of GBV; forcing us to recognize that we all have a role to play for violence to be prevented and eliminated.
You can do something in your own small capacity! Change starts with us!