Evolution of a Superweapon (as she’s about to hit forty) – Hawa Jande Golakai

RUIN: A PHOENIX ARISES (a pictomap of womanhood)

Thou shalt not hurt or publicly display rage, pain, shame, loss, filth or any form of brokenness.

Thou shalt despise correction and never seek help.

Thou shalt keep your face in the Strong Black Woman sunshine until it burns you to a crisp.

RUIN: A WOMAN IN HER PRIME (a pictomap of womanhood)Thou shalt BE.

Be intelligent (but non-threateningly). Be sexy (but don’t show it off like a ho). Be ambitious (but not aggressive). Be curious (but don’t nag). Be firm (but not a bitch). Be a giver (but don’t cling). Be a great parent, daughter, friend, neighbor. Be a bawse. Be rich (by magic). Be a great partner by never asking for anything you want directly. Be knowledgeable of everything under God’s sun.

Be.

BUT NOT ALL AT ONCE. NEVER SHOW OR BE AWARE OF ALL YOUR POWER. Don’t be kind and good; be “humble”.

Never get tired. Ever. Always prostrate yourself to give and forgive.

RUIN: ASCENDANT (a pictomap of womanhood)

Thou shalt allow others to define how strong, sane and sapient you are.
Allow every hardship to break and reshape you. Never be proud of crafting your fears and weaknesses into strengths.

RUIN: SCION (a pictomap of womanhood)

[If thou so chooseth]: Thou shalt have a close encounter of the 4th kind with at least one of your ova. It’s worth it 💚💛💜❤🌺🌻🌺💙🏵.

PS. Make it accidental, to maximise the horror and comedic effect.

SUPERWEAPON ( a pictomap of womanhood)

(OR.)

Damn all the advice to hell. You were there alone; you built the only map out.
Assemble all your broken pieces and create anew. Be your ancestors’ wildest dreams and deepest nightmares.

I LOVE YOU, HJG. God continue to bless you and entertain your madness. 💛💚💜💙💜❤🌻🌺🏵👑

Hawa Jande Golakai was born in Germany and hails from Liberia, where she spent a lively childhood before the 1990 civil war erupted. She writes crime, speculative fiction (fantasy, science fiction, horror, magical realism) and is in an unhealthy relationship with all twisted tales. A medical immunologist by training, she now works as a literary judge, creative consultant and educator. Golakai is on the Africa39 list of most promising sub-Saharan African writers under the age of 40. She is the winner of the 2017 Brittle Paper Award for nonfiction, longlisted for the 2019 NOMMO Award for speculative fiction and nominated three times for fiction. In addition to two novels, her articles and short stories have featured in BBC, Granta, Omenana, Cassava Republic, Myriad Editions and other publications. Currently, she lives in Monrovia with her son and too many chickens.

Photo Credit: Kanda V. Golakai

End the war on Nigerian Women!

On Tuesday, May 21st, Police officers raided a Marie Stopes Clinic in Lagos, harassed the health workers and patients and took away confidential client information. Marie Stopes offers free and affordable family planning services to women and men, pregnancy tests, pre- and post-natal care, treatment and services for sexually transmitted infections (STI), HIV testing and ultrasound and laboratory services. They have trained staff who offer counselling and treatment especially to those who cannot afford the costs at private hospitals. To raid a centre that provides such services is sending a message to women and girls as well as men and boys that they are not safe in health centres and that they don’t deserve access to quality health services without fear or judgement.

This is happening in a country that contributes 10% to the global burden of maternal deaths ranking fourth after Sierra Leone, Chad and the Central African Republic. Safe spaces where women can access confidential and non-judgemental sexual and reproductive health services are vital and we don’t have enough of them to reduce the risk of maternal deaths. Just before the raid in Lagos yesterday, the Minister of Health was testifying before the Nigerian Senate about the overburdened health system, the deplorable state of General Hospitals in the country and the need to revitalize the tertiary and primary health care system in Nigeria. Women and girls are dying from preventable deaths because of lack of access to quality sexual and reproductive health services.

Recently released NDHS 2018 data state: “Unmet need for family planning declined from 20% in 2008 to 16% in 2013 before increasing to 19% in 2018.” Family planning is the conscious choice by people to limit or space the number of children they have through the use of contraception. And 19% of married women in Nigeria have an unmet need for family planning services, according to the survey. Marie Stopes shouldn’t be punished for offering a spectrum of services, including family planning, to those who need and want it, especially women, married and unmarried.

The work being done by organisations like Marie Stopes is necessary to dispel myths, provide counselling on the right modern method of birth control and help women and men space their children. The National Strategic Health Development Plan 2018 – 2022 recognizes the importance of this work, which is why one of its pillars is to “Promote universal access to comprehensive quality sexual and reproductive health services throughout the life cycle and reduce maternal, neonatal, child and adolescent morbidity and mortality in Nigeria.”

Marie Stopes’ work is supporting the government in making sure Nigeria can achieve the targets to reduce morbidity and mortality, which means improving the health and wellbeing of women and girls in Nigeria. We should be celebrating their efforts, not intimidating them.

Ten percent (10%) of maternal deaths in Nigeria is due to unsafe abortion. Access to safe abortion is restricted in Nigeria, and can only take place in circumstances where a woman’s life is at risk. Even though safe abortion services are restricted, access to post-abortion care (a service for women and girls who have medical complication as a result of unsafe abortion) is not restricted. Nigerian laws and policies uphold women and girls’ rights to post-abortion services, a much needed service that Marie Stopes provides. Services providers who are implementing these policies and guidelines should not be subjected to harassment and intimidation for performing their jobs. These healthcare workers are providing care and saving lives; actions that should be praised and promoted.

These efforts to demonize and block access to legal services are being funded in Nigeria by a Spanish organisation called CitizenGO. CitizenGo is a partner to an SPLC designated hate group World Congress of Families and the city of Madrid has banned their activities calling their campaigns hate based. CitizenGo and its extremist partners have been organising trainings in Nigeria and Kenya within the past 18 months, trying to block women’s access to critical healthcare. They should not be allowed to instigate the harassment of women making informed choices about their health, and health workers who are provided life-affirming services. They are an intolerant group and they are bringing their hate mongering to Nigeria.

This group has set-up camp in Nigeria and are propagating false and unfounded sensational narratives in places like Enugu, Imo, and Nairobi under the guise of religious and moral obligations. They must not be allowed to instigate hate and oppression in Nigeria and the rest of Africa. This is a coordinated attack on the rights of women, girls, and marginalized persons and we must say NO to their oppressive tactics.

Signed
Education as a Vaccine
Nigerian Feminist Forum
Alliances for Africa
Women’s Crisis Centre
Project Alert
Vision Springs Initiative
The Initiative for Equal Rights
Women’s Health and Equal Rights Initiative
Equality Hub
Ake Arts and Book Festival
NoMore Campaign
Above Whispers
9jafeminista
Stand to End Rape
International Centre for Reproductive Health and Sexual Rights
Autamaimasa Health Foundation
Drug Free and Preventative Healthcare Organization
Women’s Rights and Health Project

Iheoma Obibi
Olabukunola Williams
Fadekemi Akinfaderin
Maream S. Muhammad
OluTimehin Adegbeye
Lesley Agams
Ayodele Olofintuade
Akudo Oguaghamba
Josephine Chukwuma
Lola Shoneyin
Ngozi Juba
Manre Chirtau
Pamela Adie
Bisi Fayemi
Azeenarh Mohammed
Funmi Juba
Ireti Bakare
Hauwa Shekarau
Wana Udobang
Charmaine Pereira
Fisayo Owoyemi
Amy Oyekunle
Oluchi Ogwuegbu
Itoro Eze-Anaba
Karo Omu
Chioma Ogwuegbu
Oluwaseun Ayodeji Osowobi
Uche Umolu
Oseyi Etomi
Sylvia Ekponimo
Rita Musa
Chika Ibeh
Toyin Chukwudozie
Otibho Obianwu
Omolara Oriye
Chibogu Obinwa
Bose Ironsi

NO to the War On Women!

Briefing Paper by the Nigerian Feminist Forum, 15 May 2019.

On the 22nd of April, 2019, agents of the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) carried out a raid on Caramelo Club in Utako, Abuja. Of the mixed clientele, men and women, only women were arrested. All the 27 women arrested were profiled as strippers, regardless of whether they were or not. Women were dragged out of the club in the nude and manhandled by male law enforcement agents. The 27 women were coerced into “confessing to prostitution”, without legal aid or counsel, and sentenced to one month’s imprisonment or a fine of N3000.

Barely a week later, further raids were carried out on several nightclubs in Abuja, on the 28th of April. Individual women were also abducted, including one who had simply gone out to buy noodles and another who was in front of a supermarket. In all, 70 women were abducted from different parts of Abuja and profiled as “prostitutes” because they were out after working hours. At a press conference, the arrested women gave testimonies of a range of violations: abduction, physical assault, mental anguish, and sexual assault. One woman who was menstruating at the time was ogled and humiliated by policemen. Women who wore wedding rings were released. The arrested women either paid between N5000 and N10,000 to be granted bail or, if they could not pay, were coerced into sex for bail.

Official raids on women in the streets at night in Abuja are not new. Activists have observed that the police and AEPB have been regularly involved in rounding up and removing women off the streets at night since the early 2000s. The previous round of overt state sponsored violence against women was in 2011, when police officers preyed upon women found on the city’s streets, dragging them onto buses, and sexually assaulting them because they were said to be “prostitutes.” Students, employees, shoppers, married women were among those abducted and told to pay N5000 to secure their freedom. Those who could not pay were tortured, brought before a mobile court, and then sent to a “rehabilitation camp” for sex workers(Isine, I. and Akurega, M. 2014.) In 2014, Dorothy Njemanze, an actor and activist, and three other women who had been assaulted by state agents, took the government to the ECOWAS Regional Court. In a landmark ruling on October 12, 2017, the Court found the Federal Government of Nigeria guilty of multiple violations of the women’s human rights. Despite this ruling however, official roundups of women in Abuja continue unabated.

Whilst extortion on the part of the police and the Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB) is not specific to their raids on nightclubs and abductions of women in public places at night, the manner in which the police and AEPB carry out their rounding up of women from nightclubs is very particular, being marked by sexually humiliating, coercive and violent actions. Women were stripped of their clothes and bundled naked into vans where they were sexually assaulted. This type of treatment is reserved exclusively for the women rounded up in such raids – no men were even charged by the police.

The latest state sponsored attacks on women in nightclubs signal an extension of roundups on the streets to intrusion into more enclosed/private spaces. In another instance, Ada Akunne, a Nollywood actress, was in her car on a night out with friends to celebrate a cousin’s graduation when they were stopped by police. The women were accused of being provocatively dressed and therefore “prostitutes”, particularly since there was no man in the car. The police called their colleagues to arrest the women and only released them after members of the public gathered around them. (Adebayo, B. 2019.)

State officials’ violence against women rests on the assumption that it is appropriate to divide women into two groups: “good women” – married, caregivers, sexually chaste and therefore worthy of respect – and “free women”, women whose bodies and sexualities are not under the control of men and therefore “not deserving of respect”. AEPB and police actions demonstrate their belief that women who are found on the streets of Abuja at any time after working hours fall into the category of “free women”. Moreover, they state that the environment must be “sanitised” of such women, particularly if they are thought to be dressed in ways considered too revealing. Women’s presence in the city at night, their dress, their mobility – all these are treated as “evidence” of women behaving badly and exerting a corrupting influence on the society at large.

The police have presented themselves as being concerned with “public morality”, which they (and many in the society at large) see as appropriately policed via control over the bodies of women. This is not only wholly inappropriate but also ultimately untenable. The responsibility for public morality cannot reside with women alone. Public morality would be more appropriately advanced by addressing official corruption, extortion and impunity. These are clearly not addressed by policing women’s presence in the city at night or in the evening nor by acting in ways that violate the safety of women in public.

 

By asserting that policing women’s bodies will advance public morality, state agencies justify their acts of extortion, sexual assault and rape by casting them as efforts to control crime and “promiscuity”. Police and AEPB officials have generally targeted women they consider to be “prostitutes” or else claim that the women they have targeted are “prostitutes”. The existence of commercial sex and a sex industry in Abuja is officially treated as an example of degenerate morality as well as being associated with criminality. What stands out, however, is the selective demonization by the police and the AEPB of women alone, not any of the men present in the nightclubs, the owners of the clubs or other parties involved.

Police and AEPB personnel feel justified in denying women sex workers, as well as women whom they claim are “prostitutes”, their bodily autonomy and integrity. Worse still, state agents treat the women as “fair game” – sexual objects whose bodies they are entitled to, whether through molestation, rape, the coercive exchange of ‘sex for bail’, which is also rape, or sexually degrading and intrusive language. Women who defend the rights of other women affected by state sponsored violence are also subject to such treatment. In the process, state agencies enact a toxic form of masculinity that perpetuates and legitimates rape culture.

The Nigerian Feminist Forum condemns these violations in the strongest of terms.
We demand an end to the rounding up, abductions and sexual violations of women and girls on the streets, in nightclubs, in markets, in public and private spaces in Abuja.
We demand an independent public enquiry into the latest spate of state sponsored violence against women, with substantive representation of women’s rights groups on the panel of enquiry.
We demand that the specific allegations of rape and sexual assault on the part of security and state officials should be investigated and prosecuted.
We demand the systemic transformation of all institutions involved in the state sponsored violence – particularly the police and the AEPB. This requires unravelling the obnoxious treatment of women in Abuja after working hours as “free women” whose bodies need to be controlled by official agencies. It also requires undoing the toxic masculinity which justifies male sexual entitlement to women’s bodies in institutional operations. Ultimately, it requires transforming the notion of “security” to mean, in principle and in practice, freedom for women from violence.
We insist that state agencies should actively respect the constitutional provision that the primary purpose of government is to provide for the security and welfare of all people (S.14 (2b)) without excluding women, whether these are students, hawkers, food sellers, civil servants, sex workers, married women, single women, shoppers or any other category of women.
We insist that state agencies should actively observe the constitutional provision that the sanctity of the human person should be respected and their dignity maintained (S.17 (2b)) without excluding all women’s rights to bodily autonomy and integrity.
We insist that state agencies should actively respect all women’s constitutional rights to freedom of movement (S.41(1)), peaceful association (S.40) and freedom of expression (S.38(1)).
We insist that state agencies should actively respect the constitutional rights of all women to freedom from discrimination on the grounds of sex (S.42(1a)).

 

Endnotes

  1. Isine, I. and Akurega, M. 2014. ‘Investigation: How Abuja NGO, AEPB, Arrest Innocent Women, Label Them Prostitutes’. Premium Times, 10 February 2014.
  2. Adebayo, B. 2019. ‘Nigerian police arrested 65 women in a raid. Some of the women say officers raped them.’ CNN, 13 May 2019.

 

Sex Work na Work – Michael Akanji

Editorial: In the past one week the Nigerian government has come under a lot of criticism when the police launched a raid on Nightclubs in Abuja, and in the process ended up arresting close to a hundred women, who were then charged with prostitution and arraigned in a court of justice.

The weird thing about these arrests is that sex work is actually not a crime in Nigeria although Chapter 21 of the Nigerian Criminal Code penalises the activities of pimps, brothel operators, underage sex workers and their patrons, no mention is made of sex workers.

Not only were the women abducted from Nightclubs, they were also sexually assaulted by the officers in charge of the arrests (we shouldn’t fail to mention that the policemen used pure water sachets in lieu of condoms.)

In this article Michael Akanji examines labour rights, dehumanization of persons labelled ‘prostitutes’ and a whole slew of other issues bordering on human rights abuse.

It is important that we know that sex work is a very big industry and respect for labor rights involves not dehumanizing the workers within that establishment by calling some persons ”prostitutes”.

If in ignorance a police spokesperson claims that because sex-workers do not pay taxes it means they do not have rights. This translates to the point that every other informal sector and/or persona that don’t pay tax should be dehumanized by the police.

Body policing and gendered dehumanization is disgusting and coming from the government that has a mandate to protect all irrespective of their sex shows that we have a set that respects not even Nigeria and Nigerians.

The term sex workers’ rights encompasses a variety of aims being pursued globally by individuals and organizations that specifically involve the human, health, and labor rights of sex workers and their clients.

Law of demand and supply, sex work is contributing to the economy. Children are kept in schools, traders are kept in business… sex-workers pay taxes… At least VAT…

Don’t blame your failed tax system on sex workers and use that to dehumanize them… Fix your tax system and your labour laws… Sex work is work and not a crime.

Labour rights need to be reformed to include sex work. Any changes to labour laws to include sex workers should not create an underclass of unregulated workers who do not benefit from rights, and should be structured in a way that benefits the largest number of sex workers.

It is myopic to assume that only female-identified persons can be sex workers, just like every field sex workers are diverse, too, male sex workers, trans sex workers, queer sex workers etc.

General recommendation 19, the CEDAW Committee observed, “[p]rostitutes are especially vulnerable to violence because their status, which may be unlawful, tends to marginalize them. They need the equal protection of laws against rape and other forms of violence.”

Runs Girls and the Sliding Scale of Nigerian Morality

Editor’s Note: Twitter outrage has become commonplace (while Facebook has become some form of family friendly place to air achievements, family portraits and unpopular opinions with relative safety). On the upside these ‘outrages’ have effected changes, as more and more people are using this platform as an avenue to hold governments to account and share histories that would have otherwise been lost in obscurity (particularly Black History).

Nigerian feminists have been using social media to educate Nigerians at large about social inequalities and highlight how cis-heterosexual men are at the top of the foodchain, how they use their privilege to keep women and sexual minorities oppressed.

The latest topic being discussed with a lot of passion is the rights of sex-workers/runs girls/side-chics (or the lack thereof). The trigger for this discussion is Falz, a Nigerian musician who embraces social consciousness, (wokeness) served with a side of misogyny.

Tracy in this article discusses how problematic Falz’s politics is.

Definition of terms

Sex Worker aka Prostitute: A man/woman/gender non-conformist or trans person who sells sexual expertise to a variety of clients. Sex workers do this professionally. By the way, sex work is illegal in Nigeria and this tends to lead to police brutality and abuse by clients or pimps.

Runs Girl: A young woman, often an undergraduate who dates rich,(married) older men. These relationships are transactional and have time limits. A runs girl doesn’t only offer sexual gratification, she also adds to the social value of the man she’s with because of her youth and attractiveness.

Side-Chic/Side Piece: This is man/woman/gender non-conformist or trans person who is dating a married person (male or female). A side piece provides the comfort of a home for clients without the responsibility that comes with marriage. Unlike the first two, side-chics/side pieces usually have a relationship with their ‘friends’ while the friend in question may provide cash or economic opportunities.

Transactional: exchange of goods or services for cash. It can also be exchange of emotional labour and investment between two or more people.

Read on…

Another day, another PSA by an entertainer about the evils of runs girls. The reactions have come in with people asking, almost in anticipation of the ‘backlash’, why this particular societal problem should not be addressed amongst others, whether people are claiming that runs is a good thing, whether those people would let their daughters live that lifestyle and, as always, whether the people protesting against this message are actually runs girls themselves.

On the other side are people questioning the need to address this topic at all, claiming that what a woman does with her body is her business and asking artists to leave runs girls alone.
What I, along with others, can’t ever get my head around is the equating, or at least placing alongside, runs with crimes of corruption, fraud, theft and actual violence. I can only imagine that it is the kind of thinking that leads to garbled songs like Child of the World ( see my critique of the song here misogyny or a massive overreaction ).

First of all, what is ‘runs’ and where, on the sliding scale of the transactional nature of Nigerian romantic relationships, does it fit?

I used to lump it in with sex work but now I’m not so sure. The term appears to cover a range of relationships where there is the expectation that a woman will be kept financially by a man, often older and far richer, by mutual understanding. In return, he gets the pleasure, sometimes exclusively, of her company including sex.

The above will of course sound familiar, not just because a kept mistress is one of the oldest practices in the world (Solomon had ‘concubines’ – I really hope they were closer to runs girls than sex slaves but I am pessimistic). It also sounds familiar because of the ‘husband-provider’ model that is supposed to be God’s will for marriages (although there is scant authority for this in the Bible).

In some cultures, this starts with symbolisation at a couple’s traditional wedding, where hubby stuffs wife’s purse with cash to show his ability or willingness to provide (she of course kneels to show submission But. That. Is. Definitely. Another. Article).
In what is essentially a two-income economy, this leads to some very strange expectations and actions. A woman who works is still responsible for the family’s domestic tasks including childcare. If a man earns less (or nothing at all), he is still ‘the provider’ and anything his wife says or does which appears to undermine this is seen as pure disrespect.

Some wives hand their husbands their salaries, or money, so he appears to pay for things. When a man loses his job, he is supposed miraculously continue to ‘provide’, which mostly consists of hanging about the home making grand plans, while studiously ignoring the housework.

Couples are very reluctant to enter into relationships where the woman earns more. Rejecting a higher paid job is one of the ways women can make ‘noble sacrifices’ for her marriage. Not all Nigerian marriages of course, but this type of thinking still surprisingly persists among young people.

I say all these to illustrate the transactional nature of marriages. In addition to the ‘provider’ male partner, you have the girlfriend’s credit alerts, bills for sick relatives that materialise shortly after a relationship starts and other things. At what point does the providing that the male partner is supposed to do metamorphose into ‘transactional sex’? People who keep carping on about prostitution being is illegal are missing the point – I highly doubt runs and other kinds benevolent relationships are illegal in Nigeria.

Another question is why the anguish by entertainers and other people, who seem to have no problem with men boasting of their ability to attract beautiful women with their wealth? Isn’t putting a line about runs girls, in the middle of a song about corruption (which has led to the loss of hope for millions of Nigerians) a bit like rapping, ‘Slavery, genocide….and dressing like a chav! Those are the three things I won’t have!’?

Is it a matter of distaste – seeing young women actively vying for a position with Alhajis? Or are entertainers pestered by runs girls the second they sit down in a hotel, or other public place, and put their phone on to check instagram?

I remember being spoken to very rudely in Nigeria by a non-Nigerian older man because I asked him for a pen. Mum explained that he thought I was a – (she didn’t say runs girl, but something very similar. On that same trip, a young man tried to offer me sex in exchange for financial upkeep – so go figure. I guess I was ahead of the times).

There are valid debates, from personal moral, religious and even feminist points of view about sex work and transactional sex. However, if you have a problem with sex work and that problem only manifests in shaming and ridiculing women involved in whatever form of transactional sex – but mostly the sugar baby/runs girl variety where women tend to have more agency – and does not include –
bashing the men who participate in transactional sex or men who use money as a way of attracting sexual attention;
addressing the problem of women being forced into transactional sex by, for example, lecturers who demand sex for grades (or more precisely not unjustifiably failing a woman), or employers who harass their female employees into sex with them or their clients;
addressing the entitlement to sex after money is spent on a woman (what’s the argument men use as an excuse for marital rape in Nigeria again? Aaaaah….bride price!);
addressing the economic reasons why women are drawn to sex work, including a bad economy, gender based discrimination, and the fact that women are often sexually harassed out of money making abilities, and linking them to their hatred of sex work; or
acknowledging that women carry out real crimes – embezzlement, murder, trafficking – instead of treating sex work as the most predominant ‘crime’ committed by women.

Then, to use Adichie’s reasoning, you don’t have a problem with transactional sex, you have a problem with women and particularly women having agency and real choices about it which is why people call you a misogynist.

In fact the only thing this serves to do is demonise sex workers along with women who have sex on terms that some people don’t agree with. Actual problems, like trafficking, are ignored.
As long as they can provide enough evidence of their near-destitution to activate our saviour complex, actual prostitutes are also not often the target of these kind of attacks.
Any woman can, of course, be labelled a prostitute at any time and in the middle of any argument. On hearing this, the woman is supposed to sink down to her knees, continue sinking until she resembles a tightly wound ball of wool, cover her eyes from the sun and shriek “No! NO! Please! Not that! Anything but that!”.

Luckily we have feminists who are brave enough to tell us that actually a woman is or should be entitled to sell sexual services if she truly chooses to and if she does, she is not exactly selling her soul or body (wives do that, not prostitutes ha ha).
But the weaponisation continues of course and female entertainers routinely find themselves victims of men taking it upon themselves to announce, without a scrap of evidence of course, that they can only afford things or advance in their careers because they are paid to have sex with older or influential men. It’s the kind of thing that in reality is a warning to all women that their reputations can be ruined by associating them with sex work.

I’ll tell you what. Let’s fight it from both ends. People are free to have an opinion about sex, transactional or otherwise, but let’s end the demonisation of women who participate in transactional sex, starting by realising that most relationships have some element of the transaction about them, and let’s end the assumption that the only way women can make money is through transactional sex. As a bonus, let’s disabuse ourselves of this notion that it is women’s job to guide the universe into sexual morality and stop the hand wringing and redefining of the term ‘societal ill’. Deal?

The Politics of Pretty IV: Fair and Lovely – Daphne Lee

First of all, I was thrilled when 9jafeminista asked me to contribute a post for this blog’s The Politics of Pretty series(here, here, and here). I was also a little apprehensive because I wasn’t sure I had anything to say that would be of interest to Nigerian women. However, 9jafeminista said that she wanted the post to reinforce the fact that body shaming and unrealistic beauty standards are part of the worldwide phenomenon that judges women’s appearances and forces us to constantly question our validity based on the way we look, primarily through the male gaze, and largely as dictated by parameters and ‘rules’ established by the American and European beauty and fashion industries. WTF, right?

Think about it for a second: Asia and Africa are two huge continents that comprise peoples that are pretty different as far as cultures and appearances go. Yet, most Asian and African women subscribe to the same beauty standards set by the West. Thank you, colonialism. And yes, although our countries have been independent of colonial rule for decades, our minds are still f****ing colonised thanks to the powerful reach of Western media.

Anyway, this post is not going to be a cultural studies lecture about the way women have been taught to think negatively about themselves. I don’t want to speak for all Asian women. I don’t think I should speak for all Malaysian women either, or even all ethnically Chinese Malaysian women. The only perspective I feel I can offer is my own, so here it is:

I am fifty-one years old and I was born in a small town in Malaysia’s southern-most state, Johor. My (late) parents were officially ethnically Chinese, although my mother also had Malay and indigenous ancestry.
I have always been fat. Definitely fatter than my three older sisters who were slender, small-breasted, narrow-hipped teenagers whereas I was a D-cup by my early teens.
Let me add that while I was considered fat by everyone I came into contact with, my fair, rosy skin was seen as my saving grace. ‘Well, at least she’s fair,’ has been a common refrain throughout my life. When I married my ex-husband in the 90s, his parents objected because I was Chinese and they were Indian. However, my skin colour meant that “At least their children will be fair.’ Anyway, I digress, although of course, skin colour is just one of the physical features for which women are judged.

Anyway, when I look at pictures of myself as a child and also a teenager, I am amazed to see that I was not what I would now consider fat. I am aware that the way I think is problematic because I am implying that being ‘fat’ is undesirable. Well, I am still struggling not to think of ‘fat’ as a negative adjective and, back when I was a teen and tween, I felt (and was made to feel) that my size was a problem. I was teased by other children as small child. I was taunted by strange boys and men as a tween and into my late teens. Someone I considered my ‘best friend’ told me, when I was fifteen, that I should not consider performing at a school concert because I would be laughed at for being fat.

This idea that I was abnormally large was reinforced by the fact that, as a teen, I could not find ready-to-wear clothes that fit me. I wore my mother’s dresses instead, and was encouraged to seek out and hide my bulk in baggy t-shirts. (Thinking about that now, I am filled with rage and also sadness. Hide your body as it may be an agent of sin. Hide your body because it is not attractive enough to be an agent of sin. Either way, it’s f***ed up.)
When I was sixteen I was 159 cm (5’3”) and 54 kg (about 123 lbs). Let’s put the word ‘fat’ aside for now. Was I ‘too large’? I’ll let you be the judge, but I know I felt as big as a house.

When I lived in the UK (in my early twenties), I enjoyed five years of never having to worry about finding clothes that fit. I didn’t feel ‘too large’ because, although there were lots of people much smaller and lighter than me, there were also those who were much larger and heavier. Still, years of being told I was fat resulted in me going to see a ‘doctor’ about my weight. I was put on what I quickly realised were amphetamines. I lost my appetite and got lighter, but, thankfully, my student budget and love for pork pies and macaroni cheese meant that I didn’t continue with the treatment for very long.

In my thirties, I got married and had kids. It was OK to be ‘fat’ because I was wrapped up in motherhood and had no social life to speak of. When my marriage broke up, I lost a hell of a lot of weight. While it sucked being miserable, losing weight seemed to be the silver lining around the big, fat grey cloud of my divorce. I won’t deny that I liked the way I looked then. For the first time in twenty years I was below 60 kg, but I put it back on as I got over the breakup and started putting my life back together.

It’s interesting that losing weight was a result of things going wrong. A friend, commiserating about my husband’s infidelity, said, ‘Well, at least you’ve lost weight and look great.’ That made me so angry — probably partly because I secretly felt the same.

What would the average woman rather be? Slim and sad or fat and happy? Most would claim to prefer the latter state, but I think many identify being slim as the remedy to all woes. Obviously, being thin doesn’t automatically make you more content. Neither does it ensure good health. In fact, there are lots of people who say they want to lose weight for health reasons when they are really only interested in the effect it has on their appearance. For example, they diet and exercise, but also smoke and drink. If it was suddenly confirmed that being massively overweight was good for our health, I wonder how many of us would start trying to become fatter!

In my forties, I started dating African men as there are now, in Malaysia, many students from that continent. African men didn’t think of me as fat. ‘Fat? You don’t know what being fat is,’ said one of them.

I’ve also been told by my African dates that they don’t like thin women. They like their women curvy. Some even specify (on dating sites) that they are looking for BBW (big beautiful women) to date.

On the one hand, it makes a change from Malaysian men preferring very slim women, but on the other hand, I think to myself, ‘Why does it even matter what men think?’

Whether men like their women slim or thick, it’s still about their preference, their say. A man’s opinion of what a woman looks like should not signify, but, in reality, few heterosexual cis women are unaffected by the opinions of men.

Like, right now, I can tell myself that being this shape, this size, this weight is fine so long as I’m healthy, but I also find myself ‘warning’ guys I meet on Tinder that I am not slim. I want to pre-empt any disappointment my appearance may cause, but why should I care if they are disappointed? I tell myself I care about my own feelings and want to avoid being told that ‘I don’t date fat women’ or ‘I would ask you to be my girlfriend if you were thinner’, but wouldn’t it be great if I ceased to care that they might say that? Wouldn’t it be great if I could respond with ‘F*** you, your loss’ and not feel hurt and humiliated by their judgement? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if I didn’t want to lose 10 kg, if I didn’t desire a flatter stomach, less ‘bumpy’ hips, longer legs wobbly underarm flesh?

It annoys me that I feel this way. It annoys me that I think about going on a diet. It also annoys me when I encounter women discussing dieting and losing weight, and talking about ‘sinful’ foods and being ‘naughty’ when savouring a delicious meal. It especially annoys me that I feel a twinge of envy when friends lose weight and look fabulous in photographs on social media.
It annoys me even more when people tell me that I don’t look fifty-one. It annoys me that they feel they are complimenting me by saying I don’t look my age. I know they mean well, but I dislike the assumption that a woman would rather look (and even be) forty or thirty-five than fifty-one.

I am thankful though that, in this matter of age, I am not struggling in the same way I seem to be when it comes to my weight and size. Wrinkles and white hair do not cause the anxiety that flab and fat do. I don’t know why that’s so.

What I do know and acknowledge is that the way I feel about my appearance is complicated and that it’s OK that it’s complicated. Most days I feel like I’m fighting a losing battle against the popular belief that women should be as slim as possible. I am battling my own desire to be thin, but at least this desire isn’t tied to the idea that being thinner would make me better or happier or more successful. I know I am a product of my environment and of a culture shaped by industries that thrive on women hating the way we look.

Being aware of this is vital for my mental well-being and survival. Knowing that my appearance (the appearance of women) has no value except what the media has chosen to bestow on it, takes away its power to break me, like it has broken better women than myself.

When I turned fifty last year, I realised that I had spent more than forty years being low-key unhappy with my appearance and trying to change it. It struck me as such an incredible waste of time and I told myself that even if I couldn’t totally stop wanting to be thinner (it’s hard to overcome a lifetime of brainwashing), I should simply just tell myself that I didn’t want to be thinner. In other words, I should fake it til I made it. The battle continues.

Wish me luck!

Daphne Lee is an Editor, writer, intersectional feminist and an atheist.

Nigerian Politics and her Diversity Problem

Diversity requires commitment. Achieving the superior performance diversity can produce needs further action – most notably, a commitment to develop a culture of inclusion. People do not just need to be different, they need to be fully involved and feel their voices are heard. – Alain Dehaze

It is election season in Nigeria, and as become the norm, our newsfeeds and timelines are chock-full of politicians, political jobbers and their shenanigans.

From the catastrophe that masqueraded as re-run elections in Osun State, to party primaries marred by confusion and hyperbolic counting of voters in Kano State, Nigeria has once again displayed an inability to manage the most mundane task without her trade-in-mark incompetence.

However, one thing that has been a constant, in Nigerian politics are the men, old men. Some of whom have been in power since Nigerian Independence 58years ago. These men that have done everything they can to keep their stranglehold on the country, running it deeper into poverty.

Reductive Reasoning: Federal Character = Inclusiveness and Diversity

The “federal character” principle, which has been enshrined in Nigeria’s Constitution since 1979, seeks to ensure that appointments to public service institutions fairly reflect the linguistic, ethnic, religious, and geographic diversity of the country. – Ladipo Adamolekun et al, 1991, “Federal Character” and management of the Federal Civil Service and the Military

Nigeria has 250 ethnic groups, speaking over 1000 languages within its borders, and in order to ensure that every cultural group participates in, and furthers its economic and socio-political growth, the Federal Character Principle was enshrined in Nigeria’s constitution in 1979, but this principle appears to have room only for these same old men.

Although signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women(CEDAW), and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, the stance of the Nigerian government appears to be that of dismissal and disinterest in the inclusion of women in governance.

In 2017, several attempts were made to introduce two bills that would ensure that governance and public life would be more diverse in Nigeria, Senators Biodun Olujimi, Binta Garba and Rose Oko, supported a bill seeking 35% Affirmative Action at the Federal level, and 20% at state level. The second is the Gender Equality Bill, which was practically sneered off the floor of the House of Assembly.

In spite of evidence to the contrary, especially with women running successful privately owned companies and chairing government parastatals, Nigerian Senators still subscribe to the notion of gender roles and the place of women in the kitchen.

On the surface, it appears that the Nigerian populace is, at least, willing, to entertain the idea of diversifying policy making and other government apparatus that would ensure a wider pool of opinions and voices, but the Not Too Young to Run bill, that was recently passed into law seems to be nothing but a publicity stunt.

The act ’empowers’ people who are 25years to run for office, but the original age in the constitution is actually 30years, a mere 5year gap, in spite of the fact that 30year olds are allowed to run for office, there isn’t a single 30year old in any political office in Nigeria as things stand.

Diversity and Inclusivity as drivers of National Development

In a world that has historically silenced and written out women’s voices, it is even more important that we open up spaces to all genders, especially women and other marginalized groups. So we can include their voices in the present, to build the future we all want to be a part of. Numbers matter, visibility matters, inclusion matters, and we can’t continue to sideline important voices. We must be deliberate in fair representation when it concerns our speakers, panels, attendees, contributors, consumers. We must make space for a multiplicity of voices that reflects the variety of the space we work and operate in.- Xeenarh Mohammed Author/Activist

Prebendalism refers to political systems where elected officials, and government workers feel they have a right to a share of government revenues, and use them to benefit their supporters, co-religionists and members of their ethnic group – Wikipedia

Nigeria is run on a patronage system, as made even more apparent by the in-fighting presently going on in different political parties. The system is patriarchal and deeply corrupt, these three major issues are hallmarks of countries with little or no inclusivity and diversity, which leads to poor development indices.

With a system that encourages favoritism, it would be difficult to get a wide pool of competent people putting forth ideas and having the requisite skills to execute them. Worse still, with girls and women making up a little more than half of the population, it is incomprehensible that old men are the only ones in positions to make and execute policies affecting everyone.

The more there is a perpetuation of the self and ego, over a large population and issues affecting them, the deeper the divide between the rich and poor will become.

Several studies have established the fact that diversity and inclusion are the major drivers of innovation and this affects everything. Nigeria’s present indices as one of the poorest countries in the world seems to have no chance of improvement anytime soon.

Ayodele Olofintuade is a journalist, writer and feminist.

The Politics of Pretty: Feminity and Fuckability

Take up Space – Temmie Ovwasa

The Angels sing Hallelujah,
While your Body bends,
Your left Leg over his right Shoulder,
Your right Leg around his Waist,
You wait for it to be over ,
Like you wait every Night,
You count the usual One to Ten,
You do this Eighteen times,
and then it’s over.

You know,
To him You’re just a Body with a Hole, His Ego is bigger than his Heart,
His Ego does nothing for your Body,
His Ego does nothing for your Soul,
But He tells you once again,
Maybe if your Legs could bend some more,
Without the Flesh of your protruding Belly getting in the way,
Maybe He’d actually be interested in staying a little longer,
In actually pleasing You.

So you make up your Mind,
Just like you did the Night before and the One before that,
To shed more Dead Weight,
To be more flexible,
To wear more Makeup
To be more “Fuckable”.
But no matter how much you bend yourself for Him,
He’ll still never bother to please You.

But You learnt this from your Mother,
Didn’t you?
To bend yourself for any Man that finds You worthy enough to grace his Bed,
To shrink yourself for any Human that finds you Good enough to fit into their Life;
They say You take up a lot of Space,
So if they create Room for You,
It’s a favor.

Your Meals got Smaller,
Your Demons got Bigger,
Your Weight, Heavier;
Darling, Despair weighs a lot more than Body Fat,
Every Inch of your Skin is glorious.

And I swear by the Angels your Mother prays to,
You’ve always been Beautiful,
You’ve always been Worthy.
Take up Space,
Please,
Take up Space.

©Temmie Ovwasa

The Politics of Pretty II: Womanhood as a Performance

Editorial: According to L’Oreal one of the foremost beauty brands worldwide, “African beauty and personal care market was estimated at €6.93 billion in 2012 and it currently increases between 8% and 10% per yearIt is expected to reach €10 billion in 2017Nigeria, the beauty and personal care market could reach €2.5 billion by 2017…”

As we all know, the ‘beauty and personal care’ industry thrives on colorism, fat shaming, hair and unrealistic beauty standards.

Temmie Ovwasa, visual artist, multi-instrumentalist, contributes this poem.

UnTitLed

When I was Thirteen,
I wasn’t like the other Girls in my Class,
The ones who seemed to have matured a lot faster than their Age,
Breasts were a symbol of maturity at that stage,
Big Buttocks emphasized by tight School Uniforms.

I was the early Bloomer who suddenly stopped blooming,
I could never seem to put on any Weight despite how hard I tried,
And trust me, I tried.
I was skinny, lanky and so very awkward.
I wanted to look like a Woman.

I’m twenty One,
Standing in front of the Mirror,
Staring at my wounded Reflection,
Wondering how and why I gained so much Weight so fast,
A size Ten,
Still considered “too Fat” ,
Protruding Belly,
Inconspicuous Buttocks and Breasts,
Round, puffy Cheeks.

Dissecting my Body,
Wondering if I should ditch Antidepressants,
I heard they make you Fat.
Loathing myself,
My skin,
For being exactly the way I wished to be Eight years ago,
It’s almost like the Standards are never the same,
They get more unattainable, the Older you grow.

They sell Insecurities disguised as Self-love and Healthy living,
The Teas, The Pills,
I’ve had One too many,
The quick fix for your depressing Flaws.
Nobody wants to run out of business,
Your Misery feeds their Children,
Your Misery fuels their Cars,
Your Misery credits their Accounts.

So do not Love yourself Darling,
You can always look better,
You can get that Nose you’ve always wanted,
Buy Your Hair,
Buy a new Face.
Buy a new Race.
But your Misery will never Fade.
They will keep Feeding you lies,
You will need to keep up this life,
As your Body begins to twist and turn,
New dents formed,
More needles, More needles,
But this Misery still doesn’t bend.

In one part of the world you are too Fat,
In another, too Skinny,
It’s almost like,
Your programmed to force your Body into the mold of the Capitalist,
So if he sells Black today,
Then Black is in,
And if Tomorrow,
Beauty means peeling your skin,
Then you will.

I’m Temmie Ovwasa,
21 year old post-human Artist.

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