Violence against women & indecent dressing codes

There is much silence around gendered violence in Nigeria particularly in the Niger Delta region.   Whilst the Nigerian government, military and militants act out various layers of theatre around amnesty, bunkering and continued militarisation, women continue to face daily violence. No one knows the numbers of women and girls  raped and sexually assaulted over the past 15 years of military occupation.  Even those rapes which have been filmed on camera such as in Choba in 1999 and in Ogoniland which women have spoken of, no one has ever been arrested let alone brought to trial.   So it comes as no surprise that a young woman , Grace Ushang, serving in the Youth Corps in Maiduguri was raped and murdered and nothing has been done and doubtful anything will be done.  On the contrary the response from the government is that they cannot protect women in the NYS so they will have to do so themselves!

The cavalier brutality of this morbid tale of criminal vigilante action is compounded by the official response to it. The director-general of the NYSC reportedly travelled to Maiduguri ostensibly to discuss this crime with the state’s law enforcement authorities. Rather than denounce this for the crime that it is and reassure our young graduates on national service that their wellbeing preoccupies the highest levels of decision-making, the director-general merely advised youth corpers to ‘take their personal security seriously because whatever we provided is not enough. They must learn to be security-conscious.’ Pray, how?

Writing in Pambazuka News, Asma’u Joda and Iheoma Obibi make the connection between violence against women and the proposed law which if passed will dictates dress code in Nigeria.

The bill proposes to grant intolerably dangerous powers of arrest and invasion of the most intimate privacies of the woman’s body imaginable to both police officers and ordinary citizens to undertake vigilante action against women they merely perceive to be ‘indecently dressed’.

Senator Ekaette’s bill covers any female above 14 years wearing a dress that exposes ‘her breast, laps, belly and waist … and any part of her body from two inches below her shoulders downwards to the knee’ (such as the much-admired Fulani milk maid). Also liable to become a criminal if this bill were to become law is any person dressed in ‘transparent’ fabric (such as lace) as well as men who expose any part of their bodies between the waist and the knee (such as men relieving themselves by the roadside). All these people and more would presumably attract arrest from zealous policemen. If this bill becomes law, there will not be enough prisons or mortuaries in Nigeria for its victims. It will licence vigilante violence against women, leading to fatalities like the fate that befell Grace Ushang.

The proposed Bill is part of a movement in the country towards increased Christian and Islamic fundamentalism which is invasive in all aspects of behaviour in both the public and private spheres and which impacts particularly on women and girls.   In this environment, security forces as well as religious leaders and zealots will have the authority to hand out immediate punishment for offenses of “indecency” such as with Grace Ushang who dared to wear the NYS uniform of khaki shirt and trousers – which is deemed as male dress.  Any woman over the age of 14 found wearing jeans, showing her shoulders or ams, legs etc would be criminalised.  We have a president who was never elected, a war involving 20 million people, no electricity or water and now rather than criminalise violence against women we have a proposed law which will criminalise women by virtue of how they dress and leave them vulnerable to even more violence.

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