“Comrades, there is no true social revolution without the liberation of women. May my eyes never see and my feet never take me to a society where half the people are held in silence. I hear the roar of woman’s silence. I sense the rumble of their storm and feel the fury of their revolt. I await and hope for the fertile eruption of the revolution through which they will transmit the strength and the rigorous justice issued from their oppressed wounds.”-Thomas Sankara
In the wake of the abduction of nearly 300 school girls in the Nigerian City of Chibok, at the state of Bono, in the North Eastern region of the country by an Islamist-styled insurgent group, Boko Haram since 14 April 2014 ; there is has been an international uproar, condemning the act, that has been widely regarded as tantamount to terrorism. Boko Haram and its actions including the abduction reveal some form of extremism and reluctance to allow modernity and democratic values to become enshrined in the lives of Africans. What however remains striking and disturbing, is the underlying fundamental sexism that is borne out of heteronormative patriarchy. While for advocates of liberal democracy see the abduction of the girls as a threat to Nigeria’s sovereignty and security, including that of the entire West Africa region; the real story behind the abduction reveals the overall status and plight of African women at the hands of a heteronormative patriarchal society. The manner of the abduction of the girls and the treatment they have endured (being held and possibly sold as sexual slaves) under captivity [in fact the threat to sell as them as slaves is reminiscent of pimping women that is a dominant in our societies], notwithstanding the seemingly slow reaction in efforts to try and rescue them, exposes the common trait prevalent in all horror stories of our continent regarding women and their rights. Women are soft targets of extremist attacks and are forever marginalized to the periphery of civil society and the liberal rights it apparently upholds and cherishes.
Women have been common victims of all war crimes perpetuated during civil wars that have and continue to plague our continent. In the Democratic Republic of Congo’s decades-long war over the control of its mineral resources, sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) has been perpetually used as a weapon of war. Women are vulnerable at the hands of extremists that do not have any respect for human life, especially at the backdrop of them advancing their narrow and selfish agendas. Study published in 2011 in the American Journal of Public Health estimated that as of 2009 some 1.92 million Congolese women had been raped at some point in their lifetime; 462,293 had been raped in the previous year.
Closer to home, a woman by the name of Khwezi, laid charges of rape against the then former Deputy President and now current President of Republic of South Africa Jacob Zuma in 2006; notwithstanding the right to a fair trial guaranteed by the country’s constitution, the woman was subjected to all sorts of abuse by the all and sundry. The failure of the country to have empathy and indeed sympathy to the alleged victim of a rape, in a country with devastating rape statistics (an average of 3 600 rapes day, 500 000 per year and only 1 in 9 rape cases reported), dealt a huge blow to the rights and security of women. The Jacob Zuma rape trial served as a catalyst in how the country has been dealing with the perception of rape and the scourge of rape. Despite the eventual acquittal of the accused, the abuse the accuser was subjected to throughout the trial underpinned the minimal rights and respect of women or lack thereof in a country gripped by the plague of rape and gender-based violence (60 % of males and 50% of males between the age of13 and 24 believe it is acceptable for husbands to beat their wives under certain circumstances).
Essentially, while we join millions all over the world in calling for safe return of the close to 300 Nigerian schools girls who are victims of a sick political battle between Islam Fundamentalists and the predominantly Christian government of Nigeria, what remains evident is the degradation of women generally in the eyes of a very sexist, heteronormative and patriarchal African society. That Boko Haram would specifically target women is not a microcosm of Islamic fundamentalism only but that of general culture of patriarchal politics in the entire African continent. Thus this calls for what in the words of Jessica Horn, is “the consideration of what actions can be taken to reverse the rise of close-minded, discriminatory, anti-democratic thinking dressed in the language of religion and [culture].” Meaning the Chobik calamity is an exposition of the overall failings of the entire continent in its effort to be economically, politically and socially secure region.
As Jessica Horn correctly quoted the Nigerian writer and Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka in a recent interview, “our generation of Africans needs to start taking greater action to [respond to those who think they have a divine right to mess up our lives]. Stopping the spread of religious fundamentalisms does not require military action. It requires the persistent public reaffirmation of critical thinking and debate, a separation of religion from state policy and law-making, strengthening progressive social movements, and the bravery to stand up in defence of the marginalised in our societies. It also requires us to be more assertive in our defence of women’s rights.”
“A nation can rise no higher than its women.”-Minister Louis Farrakhan