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RESPECTING A WOMAN'S DIGNITY AND HUMANITY

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A horrific incident was report by the Vanguard Online Edition of March 18 2011 under the title of “Masquerades strip 2 women for wearing trousers” in Enugu. Two women were reported to have been violently attacked by Odo masqueraders and stripped of their clothing for wearing trousers. http://www.vanguardngr.com/2011/03/masquerades-strip-2-women-for-wearing-trousers/ .

This is not the first time for this type of sadistic, uncalled for violence against women. This should never have happened, and should never happen again. This cowardly, criminal, malicious, and immoral act would have been treated as a parochial matter, but seeing as Nigeria is well-disposed towards such mistreatment of women—mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts, grandma’s—it is time to bring this up to the attention of the general polity of the peoples living in Nigeria. After all, Nigeria has proven in all aspects of life that it will continue what Obasanjo himself, as the then-President of Nigeria, described for Nigeria—“the 5-step dance to oblivion,” I call it—wherein Nigeria matches one step forward, then takes two steps backwards and following that, two steps sideways. It is no surprise that in this area, Nigeria will also be furthest in darkness. Recall that in the recent past, a delegation of elite Nigerian women and politicians to a UNO Women’s Issues conference was practically jeered at by their global peers for finding no more pressing issues for women of Nigeria than the “morality” of women’s clothing. That was around the time when the Nigerian newspapers reported that the wives of some state governors—so-called “First Ladies” were waging a fierce campaign, using the organs of state, against women wearing trousers—imagine that!

For the cowards hiding behind so-called Odo masquerades and the other persons who have participated in such acts in various places at various times, know that you have committed a heinous crime. You have deliberately physically attacked a woman / women without provocation, causing mayhem and terror: you are in fact terrorists. This is gratuitous violence. You have caused unnecessary emotional anguish and grave harm while leaving an indelible emotional scar on innocent women who were merely going about and minding their own business. By forcibly disrobing a woman, obviously without her consent, with the clear intent of exposing her intimate parts, you have committed RAPE. You have violated these women’s civil rights and their human rights. You have violated their honor and dignity. For the fact that the so-called Odo group is Igbo, you have also committed ARU in Igbo tradition; pity you are so ignorant of real Igbo tradition and culture.

For the other cowards who allow this sort of thing to happen, without appropriate intervention, or who support this type of crime even if not participating directly, you have lost your humanity: “…ask not for whom the bell tolls...” For the society which tolerates this type of violence, there is no hope of redemption until it wakes up and gets out of the darkness to offer and insist on the protection of all of the people, and preservation of human dignity, and rights, especially that of victimized women, and goodwill among the people.

In the technical matter of women’s clothing—and men’s, for that matter—why all the ignorance which Nigeria celebrates, as only the ignorant do? Remember who introduced Western-style clothing to Nigeria? Particularly to Igboland-Biafraland? Was it not the British and European colonizers? The trouser-wearing British men gave our men trousers. The trouser-wearing British women gave our women trousers. So, if our men would happily accept and wear the Englishman’s trousers, what’s wrong with our women copying the Englishwoman’s trousers and pants? Or skirts? Or shoes? It is sheer hypocrisy for men—assuming that they know history—to wear pants and then, turn around to chastise or castigate women for wearing pants.

Then, there is the issue of women’s skirts. Men can’t seem to get their eyes of them (the skirts, that is) and it appears that government cannot help itself either, enough that legislation is either being considered or has already been put in place. Under the guise of “Morality,” (such hypocrites!) or “Decency” (what a sham!), the length of a woman’s skirts is now a subject of legislative control, with provisions for criminal punishment. It does not matter that for every woman in “short” skirts, there are many more in “regulation-length” skirts; and it does not matter that is up to the looker to only look away if he (or she) does not “like” what he or she sees. Yes, it is ever so easy to prey on the weak and vulnerable in society; to always and unnecessarily, unjustifiably and unjustly criminalize their clothing choices under the pretext of “Morality,” by those who are unable, incapable or unwilling to apply self-control and manage their own impulsive behavior, those who are intolerant of other people’s legitimate choices.

For that matter, show me a country that legislates the length of a woman’s skirts, and I’ll show you a regressive country that has nothing good and nothing else to offer to its citizens. Show me a man whose strength is in “moralizing” on how short a woman’s skirts are, and I’ll show you a male pervert hiding under the skirt (pardon the pun) of some institution with archaic, ignorant and hypocritical traditions.

And, for that matter, why are we discussing women in trousers or short skirts, as if they are the problem in Africa or Nigeria or Igboland-Biafraland? The world and all enlightened societies and individuals are more concerned with the postcard picture and spectacle of the African woman with bare feet trekking along a long and windy dusty road, with a child on her back, another one dragged alongside; perhaps even another on her chest, nursing—all at the same time, while an ungainly load is balanced skillfully on her head, still managing to find and appreciate color with patterned cloths draped around her, on her way home to be responsible Mother to a dignified Family of perhaps six or more likely, ten. This picture captures overwork, poverty, under-nutrition, lack of education, lack of resources, lack of personal time and lack of opportunity for personal development, suffering—all contributing to chronic poor health, poor health care and perhaps, poor individual human development, for the African woman. That should be the focus of any well-meaning system, institution, or persons: to re-paint this picture.

The issue of “morality” or “decency” surrounding women’s wear in Africa (and even elsewhere) is such a sham and so hypocritical that it’s not worth mentioning. Suffice it to say that a woman should be able to exercise her choice of what to wear or not, without legislation or other dogma-driven stipulation, period. Among the peoples living in Nigeria, for example, there are regions where, by tradition and culture, a male child has more rights than an adult woman, including even the male child’s own mother, based strictly on gender, with rigid rules harshly constraining and restraining the woman’s movements and activities and modes of such activities. What kind of “morality” or “decency” is that: that a male child should have more freedom than any female person? It is this kind of absurdity which is pegged on such warped sense of what is termed “morality” or “decency” that needs to be addressed seriously and effectively in Africa henceforth.

By the way, what has the society done for the other women—those who don’t wear trousers and don’t wear short skirts and are not barefoot? Has the society and its government protected these women from predatory behavior by men? These women are constantly being victimized by the men who extract sexual favors, many times non-consensual, and physically abuse the women, to boot. Many of these men are highly placed in government and society; some are “family men” and others are “pious” men; they will be the first to push “morality” and “decency” laws. They are “respected” businessmen to whom the women are beholden for jobs and deserved promotion, or even simply adequate and fair pay for such jobs; and who invariably take advantage of these women at every turn, unconscionably. What chance does she have to avoid predacious male if she is unemployed, or if she is a typically poor student attending high school or college? Then, there are abusive men who not only abuse their own wives, but also abuse their own daughters. Of course, the rapists are always there, constantly victimizing and brutalizing women. A society that is unwilling to face these facts and truths, a people not interested in confronting these issues head-on, have no business invoking morality as an excuse to continue their harassment, molestation and mistreatment of women; such a society and people have no decency either.


So here we are: each one of us may or may not have a sister or daughter, may or may not have an aunt, may or may not have a wife; but we all each have a mother. We cannot isolate our respective mothers from the awful treatment meted out by society and by us and our governments to any women out there: you abuse any woman, you also abuse your own mother, and she is being abused by someone else in a like manner. This has to stop: we have to stop this.

All those involved in this matter at hand need to be arrested and prosecuted and those found guilty should be punished according to the law. If no law exists against their crime, then, an example should be set with them pending the enactment of such laws. Our society needs to shun these criminals. The governor of that state should be petitioned; a human rights violation ought to be filed against that state and the immoral individuals who attacked these women. An apology to the victimized women and to women in general is in order.

As for the rest of us, regardless of ideologies and beliefs, it is wrong to physically or otherwise harm or attack a woman in any case, but especially unacceptable if perpetrated for the reason of the woman’s wear or even non-wear. As a matter of fact, if such is to be applied, then, the only true Morality or Decency judgment here is actually against the attacker: you have no right to violate someone else’s human rights and their choice in this matter. It should be a sobering thought to realize and understand that when it comes to that, what in fact defiles and or violates a woman is not what she wears but what some man has done to her. Therefore, it should be a moral duty to make and enforce laws protecting women from unscrupulous men, and to make and enforce laws protecting women from men-made anti-women laws.

One final note of historical and cultural significance… That this travesty is happening in Igboland-Biafraland shows how low the Igbo have descended in their prostrate state and self-assumed status as “a defeated people” and how little of our own history we know, never mind, our own culture and traditions. Igbo women / Biafran women are some of the strongest, smartest, most autonomous, most industrious, most tough-minded and independent-minded women on the planet, even while being most devoted to their families; and our culture and traditions allow for, recognize, and expect that. No man or group of men would have had the thought, never mind the intent or guts to violate Igbo–Biafran women back in the day when “the [Igbo-proverbial] canopy belonged to the squirrels.” The women would “sit on” the man. In the Aba Women’s Riot of 1928/29, Biafran women proved their mettle by resisting a British colonial tax edit and had it rolled back, at a period when men had been reduced to mere wimps, subservient and unable to stand up to the British.

http://www.blackpast.org/?q=gah/aba-womens-riots-november-december-1929

http://igbokwenu.wikispaces.com/Aba+Women+Rebellion

(or, Google “Aba Women’s Riot”)
In a manner reminiscent of the Tunisia and Egyptian self-deterministic action—no, more like unarmed Libyan civilians against Gadhafi today—these Igbo and other Biafran women organized and marched together in a Biafra-regional protest—without the presence of their men; armed not with weaponry, just sheer will and intent. They were mown down by the British and colonial troops recruited from Northern Nigeria, because no Igbo – Biafran man would fire on Igbo-Biafran women. Over sixty of them were shot dead, and many more wounded; but they stood their ground. In the end, the British rescinded the tax law, taken aback by the courage of the “Aba women,” unable to accept that the women did this all by themselves without the help and organization of their men. The British were so “shook up” that they had (were compelled) to alter their style of colonial rule in Igboland-Biafraland; and, as opined by one writer, the British never forgot this colonial humiliation and defeat, and would “retaliate” decades later by supporting Nigeria to suppress Igbo and Biafran nationalism—nationalism expressed by the self-defensive declaration of the Independent Sovereign Nation of Biafra and the resulting Biafra-Nigeria war. Igbo-Biafra women do not deserve this type of Odo masqueraders’ treatment at all.

As a footnote, there is still a chance, given the once again helpless state of the men of Igbo and Biafra in the current dispensation wherein Nigeria has completely colonized Igboland-Biafraland, even worse than the British did, under the guise of [forced-on] one-Nigeria, that history will repeat itself: Igbo-Biafran women may once again come to the rescue to defeat the colonizer and as such actualize Biafra, where the Igbo-Biafran men have become meek. Given this history, one can see how egregious it is that a few spineless Igbo men who have no guts to rebel against their obvious enslavement by oppressive Nigeria would, based on what an Igbo woman has chosen to wear, turn on Igbo women who have an unbroken lineage of bravery and courage. Such is a big shame!

Oguchi Nkwocha, MD.

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