Panellists: Florida Uzoaru, Femi Oyebode, Kikelomo Woleosho
Moderator: Bim Adewunmi
“The issue of sexual violence is a public health issue – physical and mental health. We are aware of it but do not speak of it: the way society treats survivors and victims, the stigma, the structures to help survivors and victims.”
Bim Adewunmi starts the important conversation on talking sexual violence: victims and violation, a panel with Femi Oyebode; professor of psychiatry, Kikelomo Woleosho: a photographer and writer who has a memoir on sexual abuse and Florida Uzoaru, co-creator of Slide Safe box, an innovative pack that provides STI test kits and emergency contraceptives.
Sexual Violence is a critical obstacle in the journey to attaining equality of women and invariably a hindrance to feminism. The discussion on sexual violence though is one that we should never stop having, comes at a very interesting point where the media in general is filled with news on sexual violence. It is on this note that Bim starts out her question to the female panellists who live in Nigeria. She makes reference to Harvey Weinstein and the several other sexual predators in Hollywood whose victims and survivors have been coming out and telling their stories. This has been a horrible but fascinating thing to watch. The story took several years to break. But for how long would it remain a headline, how long would it take for us again to watch it slip to the back of newspapers and then forever into oblivion, having been normalized. The reason it took several years for this kind of stories to start making waves according to Bim is that, men like Weinstein did a lot of work to suppress the victims and their stories. “It feels unprecedented because men are losing their jobs and are now essentially shunned.” she says “At the moment it feels like something we have never seen before.” She asks: “What do you think it will take for there to be a Weinstein situation in Nigeria?”
Florida Uzoaru answers first: “Women are usually the ones in need of help meanwhile men usually have the power and women are usually expected to use sex to say “thank you.” We have to recognize this as being an assault and not as a “thank you.” We have to move away from seeing it as thanking you for helping her to seeing it as assault. And we have not gotten there yet [in Nigeria]. We also need to start having conversations about workplace sexual harassment. There is no law in Nigeria against sexual harassment. I have no hope of anything happening anytime soon.”
Looking at the current state of things in Nigeria, Kike says, “There is more information on sexual assault in Nigeria but we need to keep creating awareness.”
For Professor Oyebode, Bim asks a question in relation to his work as a psychiatrist in the United Kingdom. “I wonder if you’ve had patients who have experienced sexual assault. Are people in the UK more open to talking about it than Nigeria?”
To this he answers yes and no. He says that if you focus on Harvey Weinstein, sexual violence sounds rare. He reminds us that we have to keep in mind that it is so prevalent that it is normalized. He refers to an earlier stage play where Maimouna Jallow did a storytelling session of Lola Shoneyin’s book: “Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives” in which there were scenes of assault and domestic violence occurring as part of life. “The situation is the same everywhere.it is pervasive,” he concludes.
Bim clarifies that while she understands the pervasiveness of it all, in terms of impact nothing hits quite like a celebrity being involved. Two women a week are killed due to domestic violence. When women come forward about their sexual assault experiences, the reaction is always to vilify them. She talks about Sugabelly. She was called promiscuous when she came out about her sexual assault and named the predators. This is the common reaction across the world. She took a risk by going online and speaking about it. The comments against her were very violent. “What will it take for us to go to a place to get to place for survivors to get to that hierarchy of not being referred to as a good victim or bad victim?’
Florida says that we do have the problem of always wanting a perfect victim. The first time she was raped she was 16 and a virgin and had been raped by a boyfriend. 10 years later when she was 26, she was raped by a friend after going over to his house to watch a movie and sleeping off there. She posted this on Facebook and got goodwill replies. She explains the need for us to recount our stories of sexual violence. “In telling the story we get to understand. The things that happened to me were so different from the way I understood rape to be. I thus did not believe myself to be someone who had been raped. It will take a lot of variance of stories to come to this place of understanding.
Bim asks about Nollywood. She says: “Nollywood is a huge part of Nigerian culture. What job does it have in normalizing victims that look like average everyday victims?” Both female panellists agree that they do not like Nollywood because it is very sexist. Nollywood can educate women on what to do after rape. People take life lessons from Nollywood, so this is very important.
Bim concludes the panel by reiterating the fact that women across the world have trouble reporting sexual violence. “This is because of the structure put in place to suppress their voice” She says, and thanks the panellists.