The 14th of February. A day dedicated to celebrating love and lovers all around the world; Valentines Day. It was also V-Day; a global activist movement to end violence against women. Women in over 200 countries, from South Africa to the Philippines and even here in Lagos, dancing and chanting all spurred on by the brutal Delhi rape.
We danced with placards from Toyin Street roundabout to Alade market, shoving stickers and leaflets through moving car windows with a white van blaring out loud music leading the pack. A gentleman stopped and hurled a couple of sentences about how women were raped because of the clothes they wore. There was nothing new there to get upset about. I had heard it so much it has become a constant refrain that sadly even some women echo the sentiments. Amy from KIND (Kudirat Abiola Initiative For Democracy) took him to a corner proceeding to carry out what I now call a VAW special ED class on the sidewalk, speaking about the rights of women, babies and school children who have been raped by fathers and school teachers. They seemed shocked. They claimed not to know that babies were being raped.
We danced further down to the market congregating at the entrance where a young woman brought over her boyfriend reporting that he had beaten her a few times but had promised not to do it again. She laughed it off, she said she loved him.
The traders joined us in heavy discussion, the men mostly pontificating about how their wives and girlfriends could be a bit stubborn or disrespectful and needed physical discipline. We dolled out advice and shared laughs then Lala an actress took to the stage.
In grand theatrical fashion she yelled ‘What are we doing?’ and like a call and response Fela track we answered ‘We are rising!’ ‘ Rising against what?’ again like a tape loop we responded ‘Violence against women!’.
Her rhetoric centred on the need for the men to protect their women, not sexually violate them or physically harm them. The rhetoric was a plea, a plea that massaged their masculinity and threaded carefully on their machismo. A plea, that exploited the stereotypes of women as week and feeble, with archetypical roles of mother and wife.
She begged that it was ok for their daughters to go to school and informed them that if their wives were happy, they would be happy. The plea to some extent I would have viewed as counter intuitive to the message of equal rights.
Lala’s speech didn’t threaten their system of which their mutterings, ferocious nodding and side talk alluded to. Her final re-enactment in Yoruba proved that she was a home run. I was billed to perform the Eve Ensler poem but declined in the end because I felt it would be lost in translation. That would have been counter intuitive in itself. Lala had spoken in the language of those groups of people. Those market traders, hawkers and bystanders represent a much larger demographic of Nigerians. Nigerians whom have been socialised in a world of inequality and institutionalized gender violence. One that has always stressed the value of men over women and a framework built on social constructions, archetypes and stereotypes.
The one thing I learned from V-day was that we needed to re-engineer the discourse of gender equality if we are to get our message across and if we are to truly end violence against women. As I was told by a friend, ‘Convert them by their own religion.’