“Our culture unconsciously helps with the patriarchal way. Girls are socialised to be modest to avoid triggering the wrong attention, while boys are socialised to see sexual abuse as a badge of honour. When it comes to emotional and psychological abuse, men don’t talk about it.” – Ini Abimbola
These are the paraphrased words of my guest, Ini Abimbola on the last episode of SCwN Conversations. Ini is the Vice President/Founding Member, Association of Sustainability Professionals of Nigeria (ASPN); Convener, Africa CEO Roundtable & Conference on Corporate Sustainability & Responsibility. Ini served as the pioneer Executive Director, Defence for Children International – Nigeria Section, and was also a Consultant with the Women, Gender and Development Directorate of the African Union, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia as well as the African Centre for Gender & Development within the UN Economic Commission, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
She made this statement in response to my question on how social conditions, such as cultural norms, and prevailing attitudes about sex, mold and structure the behavior of abusers within the broader society, thereby fostering a sexual-abuse prone environment. To buttress Ini’s sentiment, a World Health Organization, First World Report on Violence and Health (2002) cited that “In many societies, “women, as well as men, regard marriage as entailing the obligation on women to be sexually available virtually without limit.” Even outside of marriage, women may have “extremely few legitimate options to refuse sexual advances.”
I was moved again, to have this conversation following the incidents that had been in the media about the underaged abused girl by the Nollywood actor Olanrewaju Omikunle popularly known as Baba Ijesha and the young lady, Ini Umoren that was raped and killed in Akwa-Ibom – may her soul rest in peace and may justice prevail.
With such a high prevalence of sexual violence reported in the country, I decided to take a quick poll to assess ladies’ experiences or exposure to one form of sexual molestation or the other within my immediate and extended network. My findings are illustrated below.
While it was not surprising to see how close to home it was, following the percentage that affirmed an exposure to sexual abuse, it was sad to see the age brackets when these events mostly reportedly occurred. Sadder, was the fact that the 66% of women that said they had experienced a form of sexual molestation was actually conservative. According to Ini, what is closer to reality is that circa 97% of women have been abused in one way and another at one moment in time.
These percentages indicate that the societal ills that plague the girl child and quite frankly the boy child as well, is closer to home than one imagines. This therefore thrusts a responsibility on each of us to begin to work on the socio-cultural norms that tend to normalize or foster such acts. The silence culture prevalent amongst most families does nothing to make the situation any better. According to Ini, “we hear issues like don’t say anything, nobody will want to marry you”.
To address, this, she proposes that people should be encouraged to talk about their experiences, and sooner rather than later, as it may inspire someone to speak up and also protect many more when the culprit is identified. Ini believes that, once we unlearn somethings from how we were raised and relate to our children differently, we will find out that our children are not safe. This will propel parents to pay more attention and take better precautions. Additionally, she notes that parents have to master the balancing act of being a parent and a friend – “you should want to have conversations with your children, total conversations with explanations”.
Finally, asking about her views on rape apologists. Ini had this to say – most people don’t understand abuse and how it affects them mentally. These persons saying these things don’t even understand what they are talking about. I think our society has condoned so much, it is only when people shout and scream and say no, that’s when we take notice. “Unfortunately, there are no consequences for rape apologists. It is only when there are consequences that people watch their utterances and actions.”
In conclusion, while there are seeming steps by way of laws/policies to check and reprimand these societal ills, I believe a lot of work needs to be done to reorientate and shift mindsets and cultural norms that continue to foster such acts insidiously.
Please visit www.socialconscience.africa to listen to the full conversation as Ini offers practical steps that parents or guardians can begin to adopt to curb these plagues that affects us all in the linger terr.
Chinasa Ken-Ugwuh (‘Nasa) is the Founder & Anchor of Social Conscience with ‘Nasa Conversations (SCwN Conversations) – a social development advocacy programme that airs online at Africa Business Radio (ABR) and converges into Op-Eds in print and digital newspaper with BusinessDay. She is passionate about social justice for women, youth and the marginalised generally. She works full time as a Social Development consultant with a global professional services firm. To read more of her articles and listen to some of the insightful conversations from the SCwN podcast series, visit www.socialconscience.africa.