At what age should children be exposed to sexuality education and enlightenment? Who should be their first teacher? And what should be the extent of the information we give to safeguard them from all forms of sexual abuse and mismanagement? These are questions begging for answers. But beyond answers, these are problems begging for solutions, especially in a society that is not only so porous and permissive as to treat issues of Rape with kid’s cloves but also a society that is so compromised as to protect culprits and conceal their devious acts.
Like it is in most underdeveloped areas, Ijegun and its neighbouring communities namely Abaranje, Oke-Orube, Ijeododo, Kudebu and Ijagemo, all in Ikotun axis of Alimosho Local Govt Area of Lagos State boasts of a huge percentage of unformed youths, hence many are reckless about sex. Unfortunately, many men, both single and married, also take pride in sexually assaulting, abusing and molesting young girls and teenagers: and oftentimes they get away with it because there is little or no punitive measure from community leaders and policy makers.
Rape has been adjudged one of the causes of teenage pregnancy/early marriage in the area, more so that the culture of silence and secrecy makes it easy for sexual assault and abuse to thrive. Sometimes the abusers are even old and aged men, who by virtue of their position as landlords or community leaders seek to take advantage of vulnerable girls. How then do we safeguard the girl-child against this injustice? How do we prevent her from being violated? How do we protect her dream from being truncated by unscrupulous elements? How do we prepare her to defend her right?
These and many more informed our decision to begin a Sexuality Education class at the Girls Arise Initiative forum. Knowledge is power, they say. And so it turned out two weeks ago (09/06/17) as we engaged the girls in an open, down-to-earth interactive session on the Anatomy of the Female Body. This is part of our DAC to stem the surge of teenage pregnancy and empower girls to live more purposeful and productive lives.
Our volunteer, Toyin Fakuade, who happens to be a graduate of Biology, did a fantastic job on this subject. Not only did she give graphic details of sensitive parts of the female body e.g. the breast, hips, ovary, vagina, fallopian tube, uterus and its functions but she also enlightened the girls on the subject of virginity. Taking over from here, I asked a simple question – What do you understand by Rape? In answer, one of the girls said, “Rape is sex without a person’s consent.” I went further to give copious examples of instances where girls have been assaulted, abused or raped outrightly and how to identify warning signals from a potential rapist, especially in the neighbourhood. At this juncture, it was as though I took the lid off a kettle of boiling water as the girls decided to open up on the several threats and advances they have encountered from neighbours and co-tenants in the community.
One of the girls narrated how a married man in her compound once asked if she was a virgin and she answered ‘Yes’. Ever since then, the man has taken it upon himself to give her unsolicited sexuality education and advice, part of which is that the girl needs allow a man deflower now to avoid complications during childbirth. It took a while to debunk the lies she had been fed with and also enlighten her on the need to speak out against his deceptive advances by reporting him to his wife and children as well as her own mother. Incidentally at this time, he was already boasting that he would be the one to deflower her one day and in her naivety she dismissed it as empty threat despite the fact that the man had been stalking her. Another girl asked, “If you have a neighbour that harasses you sexually and you are unable to open up to your parents because you are not free with them, what do you do? To this I quickly offered myself as the listening ear and confidant, the intermediary between her and her parents and the whistle blower to expose the culprit. One after the other, the girls asked burning questions that had been bottled up for so long. It soon dawned on me that many of them have been near victims of rape while some have suffered one form of sexual assault or the other. We cannot deny the fact that sexual assault is a traumatic experience that affects the victim emotionally, psycho-socially, physically and sometimes even spiritually. Oftentimes it happens to vulnerable people, regardless of class or status. Sadly too, perpetrators are not strangers. They are well known people, uncles, fathers, brothers, family friends, neighbours etc. It happens near us; in our homes, schools and worship centres and communities.
The question is -Are parents listening? No! The Family and Society are more concerned about keeping and covering the secret because of the shame and stigma attached to it. Interestingly, the girls were all clued to their chairs; they didn’t want the meeting to end. They didn’t even mind that it was getting dark. This, I reasoned was a subject that was very dear to their hearts and they needed help. There and then I resolved that in finding solution to this oppression and repression, we must talk about it more; we must provide a safe space for necessary information/ sensitization; we must empower our girls with defence mechanism; we must encourage them to speak up and speak out.
Then, we must put necessary machinery in place to confront the injustice that victims are made to suffer. And for the society to find the way out of this imbroglio, 1. We must dispel the myth that it is a normal thing.
2. We must create an enabling environment for girls and boys to be educated on their sexuality.
3. We must revisit our value system and train our sons to respect women.
4. We must look for interventions that are effective such as self-defence classes.
5. We must confront our long time challenges – Cultural challenges.
6. We must look at our policies and laws and change them to accommodate women and girls rights.
7. We must establish strict/heavy sanctions and punishment for violators/offenders. Again, it is sad to know that often times, women and girls believe they are powerless, so they sometimes excuse abuse.
The first step in addressing this problem is to work on yourself as a woman or girl. How do you do this?
1. Address the issue of low self-esteem and self-worth
2. Empower yourself and your daughter to be a black – belt taekwondo fighter
3. Before showing up at the marriage table, you must be able to earn a living and feed yourself. That way you are economically empowered and won’t be a push-over for any man to abuse.