First used by a sexual harassment survivor and activist Tarana Burke on My Space in 2006, the ‘me too movement’ grew in 2017 with the popularization of the hashtag ‘me too’ by women challenging men who had abused, harassed or conducted inappropriately at the workplace or at one or more times in their lives. Although this movement spread to other parts of the world including Britain, India and Japan, it was mildly felt on the African continent and especially Nigeria.
Starting in October 2017, after the allegations against Hollywood producer, Harvey Weinstein was popularized on social media, the hashtag grew into a movement that challenged the entire Hollywood in America.
This singular act sparked a rise in the voices of women against people who had abused or harassed them in America. The other parts of the world were not left out, celebrities called out one or more persons, either female or male for acts of sexual misconduct. While in Nigeria, the percentage of women who had suffered abuse or an act of sexual violence was high, the percentage of people who spoke up was lower, and this movement was not utilized as a means to call out people in positions of power who had abused, harassed or acted inappropriately with them.
Largely, the culture of silence in Nigeria, aids and abets the injustice of abuse, with the belief that people who speak up will not be believed and that the perpetrators are powerful men and women, which nothing will happen to in the grand scheme of things, and this culture of silence is not peculiar only to Nigeria.
In France, a person who makes a sexual harassment complaint at work is reprimanded or fired 40% of the time, while the accused goes unpunished. In the United States, a report released by the Equal Opportunity Commission, states that although 25-85% of women say they experience sexual harassment at work, only few report the incident; while in Japan as few as 4% of rape victims report the crime, with the charges dropped about half of the time.
In Nigeria, we live in a country where in 2016, a serving lawmaker, Dino Melaye threatened to beat and physically assault Oluremi Tinubu, a collegue and wife of a former Lagos State Governor with no resultant consequence. In that same light, Elisha Abbo, a senator was caught on tape assaulting a young woman and this crime went unpunished. As if that was not enough, the President and Commander in Chief, President Buhari, in 2016 referred to his wife as belonging to the kitchen and the other room, when her voice became a bit loud. This outburst only sparked a hashtag of its own, hashtag the other room, criticizing the perception and thoughts of the president on the role of women in society. Yet, it did not have such revolutionary reactions up to the level of a movement.
Several of these cases and social media revelations would have been enough to push for a movement but none of them did. In the same vein, the sex for grades documentary was released by the BBC eye revealing the injustice faced by students in tertiary institutions in Nigeria. Although this documentary largely influenced a social conversation about the trauma faced by women suffering or that have suffered a form of sexual harassment in tertiary institutions, it did not lead to a widespread movement against the abuse, harassment, and victimizing of female students and women in universities.
The Baba Ijesha rape and defilement saga that rocked the cyber space is another case of a minor, which stirred and caused a lot of attention. In 2019, and 2020, the Nigerian social media space was preceded by an array of rape cases and assault, especially on twitter, some of it stirring a me too like solidarity movement to support victims and seek legal action. These reactions are only gotten outside of the arms of power, and not in the corridors of power, where something real can be done about the alarming number of cases of abuse and the approach towards cases of sexual violence. Like in the United States where the congress passed the ‘Me Too Congress Act’ – a bill to change how the legislative branch of the U.S Federal Government treats sexual harassment complaints.
With an overwhelming number of both reported and unreported cases of sexual abuse, rape and harassment in Nigeria, one can be sure that the public and private work places are not safe when acts of sexual violence are concerned. In Nigeria, one in four girls and one in ten boys suffer sexual violence before the age of 18, and this percentage of Nigerians, female and male grow into adulthood with the trauma of a sexual act done against them without telling anyone and overtly normalizing the experience.
This culture of silence instituted by a culture of victim shaming and doubt has discouraged victims of one form of sexual violence to speak out. And like the ‘me too movement’ in the U.S, Nigeria too needs a me too movement and an effective one that will spark conversations in different industries – the film, fashion, music, educational, and the entire political space. If this is done, more men and women will better understand how to conduct appropriately, women will be safer at work places. Not only that, the Nigerian society will be purged of its inhumane culture of female abuse, and culture of silence; and justice will be served.