Sunday, February 17, 2019

#ArewaMeToo: A Hausa Normalised Culture Of Abuse




In Solidarity with our sisters fighting the good fight with the #MeToo movement!

A friend was lamenting late last year about how the sanctity of marriage has been bastardised. "Our hausa communities are rife with divorce." he cried. Fortunately or not so much, he came to me.

This year started out for me with the #MuteRKelly documentary. It is a crime documentary like no other because it is still on going, and then this nightmare came home. Over the last few weeks, harrowing details of abuse experienced by women/girls at the hands of men hit the twitter streets. All of the perpetrators of these violence against women have been people who claimed to have "love" for the victims. Trusted people even within homes. This shocked Hausa twitter. The verses for and against hitting women from the Qur'an were shared (we are still debating the autonomy of women). It was not the occurrence of the abuse itself that was so shocking, it was the why, the who, the i cannot believe it, the what did you wear, the why make it public.
One twitter user shared her story about the abuse she experienced at the hands of a previous lover. This began a domino effect on the streets of twitter which is still gaining momentum. To first of all understand the magnitude of this twitter user, Khadija's (@the_brown_one) story, is to understand the gravity of what she had done. The story came out to slap us in the face. To slap me in the face. The stories we keep hearing and sitting on top came to glare us in the face. We all knew her abuser, Lawal Abubakar (since deactivated his account), be it on twitter or in real life, that was the wave. What we did not know were the brutal details of how he turned Khadija into a property to be owned and destroyed if could not be had. Khadija is not alone. The outpour of support from women who shared her pain was a sight. These stories started vomiting out of accounts we have followed for years and did not know the trauma the humans behind the handles were living. It shakes up your idea of reality and you are left questioning who is around you.

I have never felt safe. Be it in Nigeria, be it abroad. We were often told as children that men are dangerous. My mother's fears involve us getting attacked by men, killed by men, raped by men, abused by men. I do not remember a time when these worries did not follow my mother everywhere. I remember telling her one time about getting attacked while in University and she was ready to end my education and bring me back home. The fiction is in the belief that my mother can protect the four of us when there are billions of men out there everyday getting taught to take up space in a woman's life. These men are never taught to take responsibility for their actions and you can see it in almost ever other nigerian household. Hausa people love image. Maybe it goes the same across other cultures but i am only aware of the culture i live in. We are often more concerned with the illusion of normalcy than normal itself. It is best to make it look like everything is fine than to invite the gaze of curious eyes and wagging tongues. So we accept the culture of abuse that allows and normalises the men we have allowed into our lives to unquestioningly commit acts of violence against women. (Abusers count on the silence of their victims to continue terrorising victims.)

When you hear stories of abuse in hausa communities. LOL, you don't hear stories of abuse in hausa communities. You hear whispers, a word hear and there. The tears are often washed and dried behind closed doors. He beat her once. It happened once. He raped her. You hear them take her back, marry her off to him. She goes back because she has nowhere to run. We assume these things do not happen because we do not talk about them. They only happen in the "west". That is why the abuse of women is so prevalent within hausa communities. When Khadija reposted her story (previously published in 2017 on her blog) on twitter, i saw bravery and i wept for her pain. The thread was riddled with a lot of women asking her what took her to his place. As Oh Captain! My Captain!,  Chimamanda Adichie Ngozi said, we all breathe misogyny. From all the stories, all the abusers were enabled by friends and family that did not see the cause for alarm because well, it is a woman being "corrected"---probably. One common trend by enablers is to claim women are influenced by western agenda. We have normalised abuse so much in Nigeria and the statistics of the abused becoming the abuser are out there. Not too far from reach. There is so much abuse in the homes, in the schools, in the streets. The discussion must never center around the circumstances of the victim. Trusted family members violating young boys and girls and threatening them into silence. I dropped out of Islamiyya because my teacher flogged me for going to a boarding school and forgetting some of my memorised Qur'an verses. I never went back and i never memorised the whole Qur'an. The abuse is endless and these all shape up our lives. We carry these burdens with us.

Returning back to my friend, he spoke about how young Nigerian women were not ready to stay in committed relationships anymore. "Women are not patient anymore", "Women don't want to marry anymore", "Women want rich men". As impassioned as i was, i wanted to have a conversation.
"Can you blame them? women are tired?" I asked.
He could not understand it. Tired of what? he asked. At my cousins wedding, the most prevalent unsolicited advice that was dumped on her by well-intentioned aunties were "Bari, na bari" (stop, i have stopped, in literal English). These 3 words have been drilled into the skulls of Hausa girls since time immemorial. The husband is supposed to be able to "discipline" his wife. Men are told to "control" their women. Women are asked to "ask for permission" from men to simply be. He could not understand it. We are all poster boys for the patriarchy,  I continued.
Our communities are rife with the romanticisation of the subdued woman. The woman who takes it all and does not put up a fight, like our mothers. Men are often told at a young age, that the world is theirs for the taking but the woman is a homemaker. Even between children, male children are allowed to be aggressive and often times, violent while female children are often raised to be empathic and patient so they are less likely to be violent and aggressive. Consciously or unconsciously, these indoctrinations shape up our outlook on life and who we decide to become. The words we encounter daily take up plenty space in our lives.

The age of information is a beautiful age. What a time to be alive, really. The male and female dynamic has been defined right before we were born. The roles carved out. Our mothers found it that way. Women are often forced, to settle into roles that do not in fact benefit them. Education came to change the face of the game. Young hausa girls and women are connecting with each other and other women across the world. What we found is that we share a common suffering as women. Violence against women is prevalent across the globe. A UN publication in 2018 reported, "Approximately 15 million adolescent girls (aged 15 to 19) worldwide have experienced forced sex (forced sexual intercourse or other sexual acts) at some point in their life. Out of these, 9 million adolescent girls were victimized within the past year. In the vast majority of countries, adolescent girls are most at risk of forced sex by a current/former husband, partner or boyfriend. Based on data from 30 countries, only one per cent ever sought professional help". The age of information threw at us tools to detect the problems in our society yet, the solutions have taken up so much time to actualise. The age of the subdued woman is dead, I tell my friend. He thinks women are against men and i tell him to begin asking the women around him why they "suddenly" want to change the status quo. What is the status quo? Who wrote the status quo?

There are many angles to look at the normalisation of the oppression of the hausa women from, especially when religion and tradition have been used as a weapon to keep women quiet. That is why i find much bravery in the #ArewaMeToo stories. Whenever these stories break out, the outrage and fake concern is usually towards the victim. Every female victim has been asked, why were you there? what did you wear? what did you say or do or did not say or do? When men are abused, nobody asks what were you doing there or what did you wear?
We have to change the narrative. As long as men are not taught to not be abusive, violence against women will continue within our communities. We must teach empathy and compassion. We must respect that women cannot be owned and if we must, we will keep fighting for our autonomy until we cannot. These stories will follow us and haunt us. We can choose to close our eyes to the menace that traditional values have instilled into us, or we can choose to keep expressing fake moral outrage whenever these stories hit home.

I say to the victims sharing their stories. You are not alone. We are all in this fight together. To the ones who cannot speak out, healing happens in waves. Take your time. Forgive yourself. It was never your fault and it is still not your fault. If you need help or need to talk to someone, there are plenty of us out there rooting for you.


Resources

HELP HOTLINES
  • Lagos State Hotline (08137960048) for Domestic and Sexual Violence
  • Women’s Rights Advancement and Protection Alternative, (WRAPA) +2348188699961, +2348172125692, +2347063807887

References

1) UN, Ending Violence Against Women, 2018.
http://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/ending-violence-against-women/facts-and-figures
2) Olu A, Temitayo I. O .Gender and political participation in Nigeria: a cultural perspective. Conference: 3rd Toyin Falola Conference, At Durban, South Africa. 2014
3) https://darknessandblues.wordpress.com/2017/08/20/that-day/
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Sunday, November 18, 2018

Almajiranchi



Almajiranci, we can all agree is one of the evils that beautifies Northern Nigerian streets. The Almajiri system is a system of oppression that takes away the fundamental human rights of the most vulnerable members of our society, children. You can be rest assured to walk into the streets of any state really in Northern Nigeria and you will be welcomed with a sight of children holding rubber bowls and begging in traffic stops.
These children often range from as young as ages 3 to as old as ages 18. Yes, I have seen children as young as 3 begging in the street. There is no strict age criteria or any standards, one simply has to be willing to forcibly snatch childhood away from a child before sending them out to the streets to become statistics. You would often see these children walking about with no sense of personal hygiene and if you talk to one of them, you would often be met with a lack of hope. One would wonder where these children are coming from. Are they orphans? Does nobody care for them? People care.

According to a Wikipedia definition, “Almajiri is a system of Islamic education practiced in northern Nigeria. We'll go with that. Almajiri is gotten from an Arabic word "Al-Muhajirun" which can be loosely translated to mean a person who leaves his home in search of Islamic knowledge.” The sight of these almajiri children often times evokes a feeling of social responsibility/spiritual obligation on the everyday Hausa man/woman. We were all raised with the belief that "da na kowa ne" (a child is everyone’s responsibility) so you would find people who would always give these children money and food. This sounds good in theory, but it is not.

The Almajiri system, in the northern Nigerian context, is a system of traditional education which involves sending children to live in what we would call boarding houses with a “Mallam” who takes up the responsibility of teaching the child about Islam and The Qur’an. This is not an entirely terrible system. These informal institutions of education have existed across northern Nigeria from a very long time. It was a system which fascinated white colonizers whom came to Northern Nigeria, expecting savagery and barbarianism but instead, found a people well versed in the teachings of Muhammad (S.A.W). Arabic and Islam fused neatly into the northern Nigerian culture as it paved a way out of alleged darkness. Islam brought about emphasis on learning to speak and write the language of the Qur’an. The community was included in funding these schools and maintaining their standards. Through the teachings of the Qur’an, the Sokoto caliphate was established which successfully ran these systems of education in conjunction with the Borno caliphate until the colonial wars which ended up killing prominent Emirs in the north. The system fell apart. These schools now have to rely primarily on alms and farm outputs by the students as the system has since been abolished and hence, does not receive any funding from the state.

Ideally, leaving the moral upbringing of a child to the parents and the educational aspects to the schools is a system that works. Today, according to a report by the National Council For The Welfare of the Destitute, nearly 7 million Nigerian children have been failed by this system. Children are still sent into the almajiri system in large numbers. With a growing population and farms to be tilled, these Mallams often set the children to work, forcing them to work long hours on the farms without any monetary compensation. The Mallam sells his outputs in the market to feed his family and cater to his immediate needs and sometimes produce enough to feed the children. Often times, the children’s nutritional requirements do not make it on the Mallams list of priorities. The direct effect of this is children begging on the streets. Whatever they can get, they take it back to the Mallam who uses the money however he pleases.

We have heard the numbers and we have all cried outrage but why does this system still exist? What can we do to fix it? Well for one, we need to stop giving these children money and empowering the Mallams.
Every Friday afternoon is a day of chaos on my street. This is because an Engineer who lives opposite my family’s house shares money (500 naira, most times less) to a group of elderly men and women. I am not sure when this man started this and why. All I know is they keep coming back every single hot Friday afternoon to sit and defecate in front of my father’s house, begging until the sun goes down. Almajiranchi has become synonymous to begging. We would now call any person begging in the street or from door to door an almajiri. Why do you think these people keep coming back to beg for alms? Because we keep giving. As long as we keep giving people who beg on the street, they will always keep coming back to the street. Giving Zakaat is one of the fundamental guiding principles in Islam. Islam, the foundation of the Almajiri system of education. One is required yearly, to give a portion of his profit to charity. However, encouraging almajiranchi is not giving out Zakaat. Giving people who beg on the street money is not empowering them, if anything, we are taking away power and agency from them by reinforcing their belief that as long as one begs, he/she is entitled to receive. It is a toxic culture which no child should be intentionally sent into.

The Almajiri system is in desperate need of reform. It is a system that failed, post-colonial invasion. Begging became a natural trickle effect of poverty, which a lot of the children in this system are products of. Poverty often pushes parents to send their children off for an education. It is almost a win-win if the system worked. Families can afford to cater to other needs while the educational system took care of one extra child to feed.

Almajiranchi is not a system that can entirely be abolished as a large population of Northern Nigerians still adhere to and defend this practice. We can improve it. Both Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa and Sir Ahmadu Bello, Sardauna of Sokoto were educated through this same system of education. Historically, this system has worked once. It educated some of the founding fathers of the Nigerian Republic.

Through rigorous reform tactics, this educational system can be liberated. Schools need funding, the responsibility of catering to the children’s basic needs, including feeding and housing cannot fall solely on the shoulders of the Mallam. A strict curriculum that includes basic hygiene, human rights and western educational components can better prepare the Almajiri for a life far from destitution. A child who is educated and aware of his rights would not be gullible enough to fall into the traps of groups like Boko Haram who are always looking for innocent naïve children too manipulate. Insurgent groups benefit from this failed system because it is easy to recruit children born into poverty with the promise of a place to sleep and hot food in their bellies. For a price of course.

The truth is people have always cared. Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, HRH the Emir of Kano has repeatedly called for reform. I remember growing up in Kano and we would be stuck in traffic with my mother and she would talk to these children no older than her own children. She would often scold them about hygiene, tell them to go and take care of their clothes but ultimately, at the end of the day, she would give them some spare change and they would pray for her as she speeds off into the world. Her social guilt and the belief that da na kowa ne have been satisfied. She experiences a spiritual fulfilment and the children will walk up to the next car and have a similar interaction. They will keep tapping on car windows until one of us winds down and says, enough is enough.

Children do not belong on street corners doing god-knows-what to survive.
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Thursday, October 11, 2018

Burned Tree


Did you think
You were made of blood and bone,
Daughter of the sky,
When the women you came from,
Dug the ground with their nails,
And gave life to the stars?

Do you forget,
How your mother raised,
Lions and jaguars,
Slept of her feet,
To break the ground in two,
So you could walk?

What wonder,
Within a woman’s chest,
When she can stand on her feet,
Feed the world with one hand,
And balance the universe,
With the other.

Like the burned trees,
With the blackened skin,
Still standing under desert suns.
Even in death,
The mushrooms find life,
Within her womb.

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Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Dull Area Between Rape Culture and Dating Culture


2017 is the year a lot of us would remember as the year women spoke out. It is a start. For many women, #MeToo was not just a hash tag, it was re-living certain painful moments over and over again. It was a striking number of women living the same experiences. We must acknowledge and appreciate these women who spoke out. It is nothing short of courageous and brave to be able to stand firm in the face of oppression.

The past year didn’t just slap us in the face with the realization that even seemingly nice men could be predators; it also made us aware of our shortcomings when it comes to addressing these issues. We built a society that revolves around sex yet any conversation around sex is almost taboo. That is what makes the situation with Aziz Ansari so peculiar. Once the story of Aziz’s misconduct broke out, a lot of us were faced with the realization that our society is crumbling. The intersection between rape culture and dating culture is the reason why we must find a way to discuss these situations without labels.

To start of, I would like to point out that what Aziz did in no way makes him a rapist as he believed what they had was consensual however, Aziz is a predator like many men. Sexual coercion is a common occurrence in dating culture. Right from childhood, a lot of us are taught that persistence is romance so a lot of women and men grow up with distorted ideas towards dating culture. Based on twitter opinion, a handle I will not name tweeted at me “Women like it when you try a little harder.” The ideology that women’s No, lack of interest and excitement is a call for men to find a way to coerce a woman into engaging in sexual relations is toxic. It is what brought us here and what put Aziz in the position he was put. Little girls in school are told that boys pick on them because they like them, this is the most tragic ideology I had to unlearn.

Right from the moment we are born, the demarcation between gender roles is drawn. We are taught to normalize sexual aggression as a comfortable part of dating culture. The objectification of women, which begins from childhood, reinforces and allows for the continuation of rape culture. Women are seen as pretty objects that need to be kept safe and pure until marriage while men are advised to take the reigns of the horse and ride into the night. This childhood socialization allows male children to grow up with a sense of entitlement and women as meek creatures. Sex is often discussed as something that is done TO women and not WITH women so a lot of us grow up with this warped idea of dating culture. Often times, sex is seen as something that can be taken from women. Rape culture is not only victim-blaming, it is anything that reinforces gender-roles stereotypes. So dating becomes problematic.
How do women let lose while constantly safety conscious especially when alone with men??

When the Aziz Ansari story broke out, too many of us were forced to face the reality of sexual assault and coercion. To successfully deconstruct the system of patriarchy, we have to start by addressing issues that fall into the gray area.
What is consent?
What is appropriate consensual behavior and what is not??
Is reluctance followed by mild/severe coercion into engaging in sexual activities predatory or not?? It is.
Any sexual engagement that occurs as a result of little to a lot of pressure from a partner is predatory and borderline abusive.
To accept this reality is to accept that many of us have been assaulted in one way or another. We have.

When rape culture, which is the normalization of toxic sexual violence, intersects with dating culture, the lines become blurry. Many women are left wondering what is what.

A lot of women usually find themselves in a bind when it comes to reacting to forced/coerced sexual advances from seemingly nice men who take them on nice dates and treat them well. Are these men exempt from the rules of morality and respect for personal choice?? They are not.

Often times, consent doesn’t come in verbal responses. When two people are ready to get intimate with one another, body gestures and excitement are the normal queues any person should look for.
Is my partner comfortable?? Does my partner want this? Many women are not able to verbally say NO because we know that men usually have more physical power so fear plays a big factor. How will he take my NO? Will he force me if I say NO? Will I be in danger for saying NO? These are all valid fears. More than half women killed in the US are killed by their partners, so this fear that women feel towards saying No is rightly justified.

Consent comes in different forms and once mutual respect for one another exists, picking up on body language queues become very obvious and easy.

Until men are forced to have to consider sex as something that happens WITH women not TO or FOR them, we will still be faced with the issue of these blurry areas. However, we can discuss them, we can find ways to provide support for victims. Men must be held accountable for their actions against women. We cannot keep normalizing sexual aggression as consensual sexual behavior when too many women have to live with the psychological trauma that ensues.
Dating Culture and Rape Culture are seemingly at a cross road but it does not have to be. We can discuss this issue as intellectuals and find a way to better our societies. 



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Monday, September 25, 2017

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The Thing Around Your Neck

They say sorrow looks good on me,
Her silvery pearls accentuating my neck,
They say she dangles sweetly from my lobes,
Like diamonds found deep within African soils.

I am acquainted with sadness,
Like long lost lovers.
She and i fit perfectly like pieces of a puzzle.

She nests her heavy head on my ample chest,
And i generously pat her icy back,
Singing her songs of a once upon a time.

They say sorrow looks beautiful on me
The way her selfish fingers clutch my throat.



Note: Title is adopted from Chimamanda Adichie's novel titled, The Thing Around Your Neck
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Saturday, June 17, 2017

A June Poem

This is the poem of a night in June
When the song that sung
Was a saddened ode
A prayer on the tongue
For a fire that burned
From darkness to daylight
Under the watchful eyes of God.

Love is a wicked friend
Who grips a heart
With hands made of roses and thorns.
"Mourn your loss"
The old friend begs
Only the lover understands
The pain that is felt.

You with the vizer over your eyes
Refuse to see them
The sons and daughters
Lovers and friends
All with the smell
Of death on their feet.

Do you not see how a night in June
Has stormed their worlds
A thief in the night
Now gone with the wind.
Let us leave this darkness
And find the light
Maybe, one morning in July.
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