Archive for the ‘African Feminisms’ Category

Requiem

April 28, 2017

My heart is a going pitter patter reading the letter again, reliving it all. No. My heart is racing like a jack hammer! Remembering. A sexual assault. By my manager. Samuel Musa. While working at Oxfam GB.

That was in August 2010. I wrote the letter below to Barbara Stocking in desperation more than a year later.

Just like I searched desperately for legal support in Nigeria and when I couldn’t find any I went to search the UK in 2012. I spoke to so many lawyers. Every last  one of them asked me whether I had worked in the UK.

“I was based in Abuja. The only time I came to the UK was for that country directors conference where the assault happened.”

And they all said –

“Sorry. You’re not eligible to appear before the UK employment tribunal.”

Eventually I found a UK lawyer that said she might have been able to help me  but….

…we were already just days away from the statute of limitations for sexual assault. There was no way she could prepare and file the paper work in time.

I let it go then. Focused on putting myself back together again. It wasn’t the first time that man woman palaver (as we euphemistically call it in Nigeria) had terminated my job.

So this is the letter I wrote to Barbara Stocking after they confirmed my termination, as I was facing the loss of my home – after losing my job, my dad, my cat, my dog, my self esteem, my confidence. 

I stumbled across it looking for something else all together and it all just came back. I’d pushed the whole incident to the far recesses of my mind.  (My therapist gonna have something to say about that.) At first I cringed thinking maybe I was whining in the letter but as I read it I started to feel kinda good. I wrote from my heart. I spoke my truth. That’s all. Nothing to be ashamed of.

 

 

 

April 28, 2012

Dear Barbara,

It’s over a year now since I left your employ. I don’t know if you even noticed. Oxfam GB is such a big place. I don’t imagine you could possibly keep up with all your employees and I wasn’t there long enough. It wasn’t till my orientation at Oxford office in August 2010, almost 10 months after I started working for you that I actually started to understand the organization and my role. One important lesson I take away from my experience at Oxfam GB is to orient employees quickly, capably and to install controls to make sure the system works.

But that’s not why I write you. I’m writing to you because I believe the woman I met in August 2010 is a just, fair and above all compassionate person. There was nothing fair, just or compassionate about the way I was summarily dismissed from Oxfam GB in November 2010 or the way I was treated during my subsequent appeal. I tried so hard to reach Penny Lawrence. I remember her telling us during the orientation that she was always available to help and advice us with our problems and issues. She never spoke to me.

The 2 week visit in August 2010, my first to the UK was also where my trouble started. My line manager Mr. Samuel Musa, deputy regional director for West Africa at the time sexually assaulted me in his hotel room. Worried that my job, my working relationships and Oxfam GBs reputation could be in jeopardy, I didn’t listen to advice of friends to report the incident to the police. Instead I went to Martin Knops to treat my own pain and trauma and on his advice reported the incident to Catherine Layton then in the Human Resource department. I told her I was reporting ‘just in case’ Samuel tried to victimize me I wanted someone to know..

I realize now I should have made that report for a number of reasons. After all it wasn’t sexual harassment I was reporting. I was reporting a crime; sexual assault is after all a criminal offence. Of course all of us worked for Oxfam. Neither Catherine nor Martin suggested I report to the police. Catherine actually advised I speak to Samuel. Which I did. Eventually. It was almost a month later before I was able to talk to him on the phone about it. I told Catherine about the call. Because I had asked for assurance during the call and he didn’t give any I followed up with an email. He ignored it.

It had taken a whole lot of effort on my part to talk to him about it in the first place. I wasn’t comfortable raising the issue with him again. I did discuss with Catherine how we could address institutional sexual harassment. I’ve seen and experienced a lot of behavior in Oxfam GB’s Africa offices that would easily qualify for sexual harassment in the west and UK. I wasn’t the only victim. I felt that as Oxfam GB’s gender lead in West Africa I could have a wider institutional impact on the matter instead of making it all about me. I also didn’t want to be the lone female shouting ‘rape’. I had a lot of confused feelings.

Of course I was deeply traumatized by the experience. It was difficult working with Samuel after that. I had flash backs every time I saw an email from him, or had to speak with him on the phone and when I saw him late September in Dakar. I tried to be brave and strong but I was really uncomfortable and jumpy. Still with Catherine’s question about whether he knew his attention was unwanted ringing in my head I reiterated to him again I did not want his attention and asked for assurance he would never try to ‘make a pass at me’ again. But he didn’t make a pass at me the first time, it wasn’t a seduction or a wooing or ongoing sexual harassment at work; it was a traumatic and unexpected physical attack.

I ignored my pain and stepped up my efforts at work with some idea that if I just did my best my job would be safe. With 20/20 hind sight I see my mistake. There is no way I could have spoken to him about the incident in the terms that I did that he could do other than try to get rid of me as soon as possible. Anything else would have been literally working under the threat of an imminent report from me. Still I hoped, this was Oxfam GB after all, an international humanitarian agency with rules, surely I was safe.

On November 23, 2010, a Wednesday, Samuel Musa arrived Abuja from Dakar and handed me a letter summarily terminating my contract without reason. He gave me 2 days notice to vacate the office premises and immediately repossessed all Oxfam GB equipment including laptop and handsets making it difficult for me to reach anybody within the organization. My employment contract governed by Nigerian Law says that summary dismissal is in accordance with internal guidelines. Under these guidelines I am entitled to a weeks’ notice that I am being considered for summary dismissal. Under Nigerian law I am entitled to two weeks’ notice.

The law wasn’t upmost on my mind when I received the letter of termination. I was distraught that I was about to lose my job at the hands of the man who had sexually assaulted me less than 3 months before. I was in no emotional state for the appeal and under too much emotional distress by then to focus on that. The entire process became a sexual harassment investigation rather than an appeal of my wrongful termination. At the end of the emotionally devastating process where I had to re-live my assault again I was informed there was no corroboration to my allegations of sexual assault and my dismissal was in accordance with Nigerian law. That’s all.

Kathleen McGarva who handled my sexual assault complaint and my appeal (I wonder if that was proper?) decided that the email I wrote to Samuel and my correspondence with Catherine Layton and Martin Knops were not sufficient corroboration of my story and chose to accept Samuel’s version of the story which had even less corroboration than mine. He admitted I was in his room but unsurprisingly denied the course of events or that we went up together. He further claimed he ignored my email because he didn’t know what I was talking about. After denying my appeal Katherine said Oxfam GB would talk to him to find out how he could have handled the situation better. That sounded a lot like I was the lying trouble maker.

In April 2011 I finally wrote Katherine asking about the outcome of that exercise with Samuel. Was he punished? Was he queried? Was he reprimanded? I received her response on April 6, 2011 a Wednesday and was considering my reaction to send the following Monday when I was informed on Saturday April 9, 2011 my father died. I never did get a chance to react to Katherine’s last email after that news.

Katherine’s April email suggested that Oxfam GB were not interested in getting rid of a sexual predator in their employ much less how his actions had affected me or what I was going through personally. Oxfam GB seemed more interested in protecting themselves and I was the villain not the victim but it happened to me so I know what happened. In August 2011 I came to the UK and filed a criminal incident report with the Thames Valley Police accusing Samuel Musa of criminal sexual assault. They believed me but needed corroborating evidence to successfully prosecute. They also said if I had reported earlier there could have requested the hotels CCTV footage for corroboration. Still there is an incident report and number that it may serve as evidence should anyone else report Samuel for a similar thing.

I’m sure I wasn’t his first sexual assault and maybe not his last. Maybe he has been sexually exploiting women he managed? It is interesting that the Africa leadership teams have so few women. It was curious that Samuel resigned abruptly shortly after the police investigators visited the Oxfam GB offices. It may have been a coincidence. Did somebody else report him? What could HR have done differently? The fact that there was even a hint of criminal sexual assault in which the preponderance of evidence, thin though it was nevertheless was on my side should have raised enough doubt to make him justify his reasons for summary dismissal.

After my experience with Oxfam GB I really didn’t want to work for any other organization. This is not the first time I have had to make a career move or lose a job because of man woman trouble as we call it euphemistically in Nigeria. I had thought that I would be safe working with an international organization that had rules about such things. I have been sadly disappointed, in the time since my dismissal I have met and spoken to almost a dozen women with similar experiences. Male managers at INGOs are getting away with sexual abuse in the workplace, women are wrongfully losing jobs, some get stuck in court for years and exhaust their savings, others just don’t want to talk about it in public, still others are too busy trying to make ends meet to fight a foreign Goliath.

I’m a lawyer by training. I opened a small law firm instead of getting another job in the international development field. My 1 year experience at Oxfam GB was exhausting both emotionally and physically. I figure that being my own boss will reduce my vulnerability to sexual assault in the workplace. My practice focuses exclusively on women’s right and expanding legal protection from violence through litigation and legal precedent. I’m building a social enterprise to sustain the practice and my reputation as a writer. Kathleen was right; Oxfam GB didn’t break any Nigerian laws. I was the one that sent that legal opinion on Nigerian labor law to Samuel in October 2010.

Still I found the internal procedure for summary termination on Oxfam GB site confusing. My contract says internal procedure will apply in dismissal yet the site refers back to ‘local laws’. Meanwhile, my contract already says Nigerian law applies. Without knowing the in house rules for summary dismissal that clause of the contract is misleading. When I read it while negotiating my employment terms I reasonably thought it meant rules other than Nigerian law applied. I thought I was protected from unfair or wrongful dismissal and sexual victimization a common enough fear in Nigeria under our poorly applied and interpreted laws. Apparently I was wrong.

Why am I writing to you now?

An executive coach and consultant I worked with advised me to write to you personally and let you and Oxfam GB know exactly what is going on with me before proceeding with any further action. He is optimistic that Oxfam GB will do the right thing. I am hopeful that you Barbara will. I feel I was bullied by a big bad corporation, except Oxfam GB is supposed to be a ‘humanitarian’ organization, one of the ‘good guys’. How could they preach global love and charity and leave me out in the cold like this? Are Oxfam’s values just corporate jargon? I still wonder how I can possibly engage in a legal battle with a corporate behemoth like Oxfam GB that has more money and more lawyers than I can ever hope to. I’m intimidated from even trying but feel the injustice keenly.

I’m sitting in the eye of a hurricane right now. I have suffered terribly because of the assault and even more during and after the loss of my job. I’ve lost almost everything because of Samuel Musa and Oxfam GBs actions; my job, my health insurance, my father, who was my dependant and couldn’t continue diabetes treatment after I lost my health insurance and now I am about to lose my home. My small law practice is young and growing but even that is under threat.

If Catherine Layton, or Martin Knops or any other Oxfam GB employee had advised me to report to the police as soon as I described a sexual assault there may have been CCTV footage showing us arriving and me leaving his room and maybe corroboration of my ‘allegations’. There may have been witnesses available for trained questioning by the police. Dozens of Oxfam GB people were in the lobby that night when we left. Samuel Musa himself would have been available for the police to interrogate. If Samuel Musa had not been allowed to dismiss me without reason after sexually assaulting me I may still have my father, my house, my cat and my life.

I am writing this to you now because I was grievously injured by your employees and former employee’s actions and summarily and wrongfully dismissed without reason from my position as CD Nigeria programs and I feel that Oxfam GB my employers did not do enough to protect me or prevent the injury and subsequent suffering. It has taken me this long and many hours of consultation with lawyers and counselors to get here. While I’m still suffering the fall out of that injury, emotional, physical and financial, I finally have the mental and legal clarity to seek the rdress I believe that I deserve.

I hope this letter speaks to the humane part of you and not just the corporate goddess. I only seek justice, for myself and for my silent, disempowered or disenchanted African sisters. We are also a humanitarian cause. We’re also humankind. Barbara please show me that we are safe working for foreign agencies, even the BINGO’s and that the same rules that protect our female colleagues in head office will protect us in our work spaces scattered in the dark spots for gender rights on the continent too. Do not unilaterally listen to our kinsmen who fill your senior leadership positions in Africa and tell you African women will lie against them about rape or sexual assault or sexual harassment in the workplace because that is the excuse our men give for not tightening rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment laws.

I was a good employee; innovative, result oriented, driven, participatory, nurturing and above all ethical. I was one of few in the region that understood the implementation of the SMS. I was planning a fast track career development in the sector. I was systematically rooting out graft and corruption in the Nigerian program. I was also under systematic attack by the forces of graft and corruption. I wasn’t only working for you, I was also working for my country, for your donors and especially those little old English ladies that have a standing order with their bank to deduct GBP20 every month from their pension check and send to Oxfam GB, even if they are no longer your biggest contributors. I don’t deserve this. It feels so terribly wrong to be dismissed so nonchalantly and left so broken and devastated.

I appeal to you Barbara as the Chief Executive of Oxfam GB with whom all decisions finally rest for some sort of justice, relief, closure, damages and permission to move on. I hope you consider my appeal with wisdom and compassion.

I look forward to hearing from you. In the meantime I remain;

Yours sincerely,

LesleyAgams

Lesley Gene Agams Esq.

 

 

 

This was her reply

 

 

 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012, 10:32 AM

Dear Lesley

Thank you for your letter of 28th April 2012 concerning your period of employment with Oxfam GB.

I was aware of the circumstances surrounding your departure from Oxfam and am deeply saddened to hear how you now feel, and that you attribute this to the way that Oxfam handled your complaint. As you are aware, Oxfam is very concerned about gender inequality and committed to putting poor women’s rights at the heart of what we do. With this in mind I can assure you that Oxfam did take your complaint seriously and followed internal procedures carefully to fully investigate the points that you raised. Unfortunately , like the police, we found that there was insufficient evidence to corroborate your allegation of events that had taken place, some 3 months earlier. The allegation of sexual assault is an issue which we take very seriously and although we could not find evidence to confirm that the assault did take place, the matter was followed up and appropriate action was taken in line with our procedures. I appreciate that you were disappointed by these findings.

I understand that you did speak to both Catherine Layton (HR Adviser) and Martin Knops (Oxfam’s Counsellor) about events that took place whilst you were in the UK. At the time you did not categorise them as a criminal offence of sexual assault but as an ‘incident in a hotel room where you refused to have sex with your manager’ and indeed had asked to speak to them both ‘in confidence’. This confidentiality was maintained by them both as you had requested. Had you allowed Catherine to take this forward on your behalf as one of the options she suggested to you at the time, or indeed expressed it in the more serious language that you are now using, then the situation may have been different. This was the decision that you made at the time and I feel that it is not appropriate of you now to blame them for respecting your request for confidentiality.

With regard to your termination of employment from Oxfam, I am aware that you raised an appeal against this in line with our procedures. The appeal was heard by Kathleen McGarva, the Deputy International Director, and she was satisfied that the termination of your contract complied with the law in Nigeria which is the law that governed your contract of employment and that the termination was not due to sexual victimisation from a senior manager of staff. Kathleen is an experienced senior manager in Oxfam, based in Oxford who had no prior knowledge or involvement of this matter. I am satisfied that she considered your case very carefully in a fair and transparent manner when reaching her conclusion.

I am satisfied that that Oxfam has acted fairly in fully investigating your complaints and allegations and your request for damages is not appropriate.

Thank you for writing to me about bringing this to my attention.  I do wish you the very best for your future.

Best regards

Barbara

Barbara Stocking 

Chief Executive, Oxfam GB  

 

 

Maybe she was right, maybe it was all my fault. Except I’m pretty damn sure I DID describe it as a sexual assault, EXACTLY  as it happened, in very vivid detail too, to both Martin and Catherine.  Whatever could have given them the idea that is was an ‘incident in a hotel room where you refused to have sex with your manager’? (How sleazy does that even sound? Ugh!) Now they would have me second guessing myself!

I thought I was really over it. Just a couple weeks ago I was telling my friend that I had finally recovered from it all except the jack hammering of my heart says maybe not.

How do I feel about it now? I still feel angry. And powerless.

“Honour you anger” Martin Knops said to me all those years ago.

 

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What Lessons Can We Learn From Anna Nicole Smith’s Life?

February 19, 2017

Last week was ten years since Anna died. I guess if you’re still news worthy ten years after your death you are a cultural icon. There were stories all over the internet about her daughter and how she is doing now. Larry Birkhead the baby daddy and caregiver made a few tasteful appearances and interviews. Nothing overtly exploitative even though we all know he must have been paid. He kept on saying that Dannielynn was not inheriting any millions and that it wasn’t Anna’s estate supporting them. He said it often enough for me to doubt him. When asked how he made a living Larry said he earned money through photography and ‘flipping houses.’

Anna did not die without assets and her assets have been quietly going up for sale over the past few years. Her LA house was sold, as were some of her personal effects and memorabilia. Dannielynn remains her only heir. Her second husband Howard Marshall gave her quite a few gifts including jewellery and art work. Just before she died she was reportedly paid $1 Million for footage of her birth and an exclusive interview with Howard K Stern her lawyer and best friend.

I’m not sure if I care, I’m only commenting because Larry made so much effort to deny he is profiteering from her estate. I guess like Anna he is intent on proving that he is not a gold digger. Does that phrase even apply to men?

Anyway I was intrigued and dug into the story a bit more than I did when it was breaking. I first became aware of Anna as the new Guess? jeans girl back in 1993. She was beautiful and she was being hyped  as the new plus size super model wanna-be. As a young woman obsessed with her weight and resentful of the super thin models that bombarded me every time I opened Vogue and Cosmopolitan, Anna was a refreshing image. It was refreshing when media hyped larger models Cindy, Linda Evangelista and Naomi. Come to think about it this hyping of plus size models is becoming kinda of tired. They have been touting bigger models since the 1990’s and still present them as a new trend. So how long before its accepted as main stream?

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I was only vaguely aware of her return to the spotlight as the Trimspa spokesperson. It was a story about a woman losing weight after all, like all women that obsess about their weight those kind of stories tend to catch our attention. It wasn’t until she got pregnant and ran off to the Bahamas that I really started to pay attention and followed the story till she died.  But not so much that I can remember where I was when her death was announced on 8 February 2007.

As the drama played out and videos started emerging of her obviously medicated and frequently  incoherent my knee jerk reaction was that Howard K. Stern was an evil Svengali manipulating her. And when she finally died, 5 short months after the death of her son and the birth of her daughter, it became just another tragic footnote in celebrity history.

“Don’t make me trade one baby for another” she reportedly said.

A lot has been written about Anna Nicole. In my quest for a new angle I watched a documentary by Lisa Ling on ‘Sugaring.’ Sugaring is where younger women hook up with older men with the understanding that the men take care of the women financially. Dr. Phil asked them “Are you hookers?”

“No more than a woman that chooses to be a full time homemaker financially dependent on her husband” one of the women replies.

Lisa Ling keeps suggesting that the women are cheating at life by trying to ‘skip some steps’ or taking a short cut. She looks at them bemused throughout the documentary.

“I pay for myself, I always go Dutch” she says. I cringe for a second. I don’t. Especially not if I’m invited out.

Growing up in Nigeria it was accepted that men invite a woman out  and pay. Mostly because women didn’t just go out on their own anyway, unless they were ‘working girls’ and charged at the end of the night. It wasn’t till the 90’s that a new breed of financially independent middle class women started going out with the ‘girls’  and each girl paid for herself.

It would seem a bit cliche to rant about an invisible patriarchy that limits a woman’s opportunities for self actualisation. Or to point out the obvious differences in mind set and access to available opportunities for poor vs. rich and educated vs. uneducated and rural vs. urban women.

In my digging around I come across ‘White Trash Nation’  a 1994 New Yorker cover story by J. Friend. “Welcome to the age of white trash” he wrote. Anna’s picture accompanied the cover headline. The article is uncanny in its prescience. Reading it I realise that Trump is the new White Trash Hero. And deja vu, in a 20/20 show they dredge up an early quote from Anna admiring Trump and suggesting he become president and make her his First Lady. Knowing Trump Anna wouldn’t have been his style. He likes ‘classier’ women – European women.

The parallels between her and Melania can’t be ignored.

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Both from small town lower class families, both turned to ‘modelling’ to get out, both took off their clothes for money and both married rich older men that they met through their work. The comparison ends there. Melania is European and Anna is ‘white trash’ a racial slur used to describe poor white Americans that were ‘poor as slaves’ and lacked ‘social grace.’ In Europe ‘white trash’ or the most economically disadvantaged whites are the gypsies or the Roma as they are called now. Demonised, excluded, discriminated, rejected.

Anna met Marshall her second husband and ‘never danced again’. ‘My husband threw money at me’ she infamously said. ‘Its very expensive being me.’ And she didn’t curb her hard partying jet setting lifestyle after she married him. Melania on the other hand played hard to get, was discreet, financially prudent and convinced Donald that she was immune to poaching. In an interview with Larry King shortly after their wedding in 2007 Donald very proudly announced that Melania is like the  fortress in Song of Solomon. Powerful men like that kind of thing, its probably one reason Donald would never have considered marrying Anna. She was too available.

Anna was actually the more successful of the two in their chosen career. She made the cover of Playboy, was Playmate of the Year and landed a multimillion dollar ad campaign and even appeared in a couple of movies before her hard partying ways crashed her career almost as soon as it took off. She also seemed to think she could have her cake and eat it; marry Marshall and claim half his estate without actually cohabiting with him.

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Watching Melania I can’t help think she played her cards well. She never contradicts Donald, doesn’t nag, massages his ego and infantalises him. ‘My boys’ she calls him and her son Barron. Its like watching Carla coo at Nicholas. It’s weird to watch. Beautiful women confidently and brazenly patronising powerful men. It’s like watching public sex, too intimate and uncomfortable.  A display of power, a challenge to all those morality stories about the evils of leveraging your feminine charms in relationships with powerful men and the world. And a validation of all those other stories about ‘bottom power.’

I think a lot of violence against women might be fuelled by suppressed male rage against this reported male powerlessness and vulnerability to female sexuality. Even Anna’s second husband Howard Marshall is quoted as saying that a man in love does stupid things. Adam, Samson and Julius Caesar might agree. And while Anna may not have seen any better options for upward mobility she doesn’t strike me like a victim as some people would like to portray her. No more than Melania is a victim. These are women that made choices and exercised agency.  We all have to face the choices we make.

When I left my first husband and became a single mom in the city of Lagos in the late 1980’s I was about Anna’s age. But I was also a graduate. I came to Lagos to study for the Nigerian Bar exam and never went back to the village I spent the past ten years in. I never overcame my personal values against transactional sex of any kind.  This often brought me into conflict with female members of my clan who considered male patronage (of the financial kind) just one more perk of being a pretty woman and what a waste of pretty and yellow if you didn’t cash in on it.

“I won’t look this way forever” one of the young women tells Lisa Ling. The young women all express sentiments I heard often growing up in the village.

“Why waste your time on a poor, abusive and inexperienced boy who will not appreciate you or treat you well, when you can be with an older richer man who will take care of you and spoil you?”

In Lagos I declined offers to be a cocktail hostess, the fourth wife to a 70 year old polygamous millionaire with a penchant for ‘half castes’, some bad-o’s mistress and the Venus De Milo campaign girl. Venus De Milo was the biggest skin lightening  brand in Nigeria at the time and the Venus De Milo girl was bigger than Miss. Nigeria. I declined the campaign offer because the fee wasn’t big enough, not because I had anything against modelling.

“What do I care about the fee?  I’d do it for the exposure” one of the strippers Anna worked with in Houston said about after Anna’s Playboy and Guess campaign appearances. The fee I was offered for the Venus de Milo campaign felt inadequate for the massive exposure it would have brought. I wasn’t looking for a husband or a sugar daddy, I wanted to be a successful lawyer. I wanted to be appreciated and respected for my mind. I was excoriated by friends and family.

I tried to talk to my oldest aunt about love once. She was unable to grasp the very western concept. Women married for security, not love. Another aunt regularly and vocally upbraided me for ‘giving it up for free.’

“Since you’re giving it up at least get paid for it’ she always said. ‘Free’ sex was the height of irresponsible. And inconsiderate. “After fucking all those men you expect me to give you money?” she asked her daughter. And once her daughter became sexually active she never gave her another kobo. Her daughter made her proud eventually. I’ll never forget the last time I saw my aunt. She took delight in recounting for me all the things her daughter, who eventually became the not so young fourth or fifth wife of a rich polygamous Nigerian man, had bought for her.

“Two freezers, two refrigerators, a generator, a pick up, a washing machine.”

My aunt owned a beer parlour.

The marriage didn’t last.

“At least she got a lot out of it before it collapsed. What did you get out of your own marriage? Foolish girl.”

It wasn’t that a man was a woman’s only opportunity to a better life. Rather it was the waste of a good opportunity by a beautiful woman. You could fry chicken and flip burgers for minimum wage all your life or you could land yourself a rich boyfriend, sugar daddy or husband and live easy. What’s love got to do with it?  Or appearances?

While Anna’s and Melania’s rags to riches stories are cliche they might not draw the same criticism in Nigeria they do in the west. In Nigeria they might be seen as symbols of feminine success. It’s Anna’s hard partying ogbanje lifestyle that forms a cautionary moral lesson for women in Nigeria and Africa. Melania on the other hand is, for a certain type of woman, the epitome of how to do it right. Get the man, and keep your head down.

Ask Bianca Onu Ojukwu, Halima Diende Fernandez, Shola Okoya, and Frances Iwuanynwu or even Emir Sanusi’s new teenage wife.

😉

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Yay! It’s Official. And I Am Celebrating!

November 22, 2016

First morning I woke up dreaming I’m a caterpillar in a pupa becoming a butterfly. This morning I woke up I was dreaming I’m a lady iguana about to make a mad dash through the valley of snakes to my bae.

It’s the powerful drugs they have me on. They’re treating me for malaria, thyroid and food poisoning. The drugs are so powerful every time  I close my eyes I feel I’m in some sort of vortex doing back flips with dolphins, swimming with mermaids, or dancing on the water in the moonlight with Ganeesh

It all started on Friday. I had a really bad tummy ache Thursday night. I knew it was the dinner I ate but optimistically wished it was just indigestion and did some yoga breathing exercises. I was exhausted from the battle in the morning. By noon I was in agony.

“Eddy!”

“Ma!”

“Eddy. You got to take me to the hospital now. This is it. I’m dying” I moaned to my bewildered and now alarmed son.

He is my angel. Somehow he has been with me during my last two medical emergencies and the look in his eyes makes me fight to stick around, if you know what I mean. Yeah. I know, I’m a drama queen. And pain brings out the drama.

In my head I’m thinking – ‘I’m dying! My bad habits have caught with me there is a god and he is punishing me with a slow painful death” (because hey that’s what they taught us in Sunday School. Nasty shit)

Anyway we get to the hospital and they give me those kinda pain killers that make you feel goofy while they start diagnostics. I’m super relaxed by now so I let them prod and poke me without too much drama wondering what they will find. Cancer? HIV? Multiple sclerosis? Death?

During the abdominal scan they check my liver

“Liver is fine.”

“Right kidney is fine, no stones.” (Most of my abdominal pain were coming from that side and the provisional diagnosis was possible kidney stones.)

“Gall bladder is distended,” says the sonographer.

Alarm and panic.

“Have you eaten?” he asks.

“No.”

“Ok, thats it then. Gall bladder is in a state of fasting.”

Alarm subsides.

“Spleen is normal. Do you have ulcers?”

“Why? Do you see any?” I’m alarmed again.

“No,” he responds. Alarm subsides.

“Left kidney looks fine. Wait a minute. It looks bigger than the right kidney.” Alarm as he and his assistant measure and compare both kidneys then decide the variation isn’t abnormal.

“Ok, now lets look at your womb.”

Why? I wonder but what the hell take a look.

“Womb is ok, proper placement and size but no endometrial tissue growing.”

“Whats that?”

“The tissue that grows and sheds during your period.”

“You mean I’m not going to have a period?”

“Yes.”

“Good. I’m fifty.”

He does a double take.

“You’re the second woman I heard say that.”

“Say what?”

“That she’s happy her period has stopped.”

“What do they usually say?” I didn’t ask. I’m sick. I’m high on pain killers. Who cares right now.

 

“We can’t find anything else wrong with you.”

“I don’t want you to find anything.”

“Sounds like you had food poisoning,” he concludes and sends me back to my drug filled drip in the ward while they run blood and urine tests.

Food poisoning, my addled mind observes and wonders if I can produce a poop sample but no one asks me for one.

I doze off.

So that’s how I found out that I am officially menopausal.

Now that I’m feeling better I want to celebrate.

Its been more than two weeks and I’m back to wondering. Are there women my age out there that don’t feel happy that there period has finally stopped? I’ve been buying Tampax and bleeding every month for the past 36 years. I’m a mother and a grand mother. Hell yeah, I am glad its finally over.

No, I do not feel my usefulness as a woman is over. Because I never saw my utility as a function of my reproductive capacity anyway. And no I’m not scared by the rumoured side effects. I’ve had none so far or they have been too mild for me to notice. Then again that could just be because when I had thyrotoxicosis those symptoms were so bad they make everything else seem mild since then. Or maybe it’s the ayurveda lifestyle I use to manage my auto-immune thyroid.

So I can now consider, what does menopause mean to me and how does it change my life?  Trust me, its going to positive and fun. First of all I will fear no pregnancy. Hopefully my anaemia will abate. I guess I’ll have to watch my weight even more religiously but I’ve been doing that since I was 40 anyway which is when I noticed that I couldn’t eat like a young adult anymore ( and that basically means you can’t eat what you want without consequences.)

In many cultures menopause is a significant and positive change of life, like puberty and marriage and childbirth and parenting. In India women that have entered menopause can finally come down from the women’s quarters and talk with men for instance. And there is a significant body of research that suggests the severity of symptoms is directly linked you cultural expectations and values.

Since I create my own expectation anyway I think I’ll be fine.

Bring on the KY Jelly!  We are not afraid.

My Type Of Feminism. It Has To Be Fun. 

October 24, 2016

Michelle is the star of the Obama’s last weeks in office. The media focus has been on her.The accolades have been perfuse. I’m not sure how I feel about her image tough.

“(S)he had to flatten herself to better fit the mould of first lady.” Chimamanda Adichie says.

“Because she said what she thought, and because she smiled only when she felt like smiling, and not constantly and vacuously, America’s cheapest caricature was cast on her: the Angry Black Woman. Women, in general, are not permitted anger — but from black American women, there is an added expectation of interminable gratitude, the closer to grovelling the better, as though their citizenship is a phenomenon that they cannot take for granted.”

Michelle is my Stereotyoe of the Cool Mom. She’s cool like that but she’ll NEVER get drunk and dance on  the table at your 21st birthday party (thank god!). Or do anything to shock your friends like walking around the house in her lingerie or bringing out a bong when your friends come over. She cast herself as the Black Mother – solid as a rock. Even with the world on her shoulders. She’s got a strong back. And she has fun doing it.

She is so different from the stereotypical White Mother. And the White Feminist. Whose feminism is a performance. Black women never had to perform feminism.

‘Ain’t I a woman?’ Sojouner Truth asked.

Michelle is everything I fantasise a Black Madonna to be. I can’t help think of the Mammy in ‘Gone With the Wind’. A vegetable garden in the White House? How much more Black Mother can you get? Thats the sort of thing your Aunty Ngozi or your Aba grandmother did when they visited you in America (Much to your mortification. Gardens are for ornamental flowers. Duh.) But it’s poignant to see a vegetable garden in the White House built by slaves. The legacy that black Americans have to live with is heavy indeed.

Will Obama be the 44th President of the United States of America or will he be the 1st Black President of the United States of America? In 100 or 200 years time what will that mean? How will we keep score? Who will keep score? Why must we keep score? Because if we don’t we will be excluded again? Is that like saying that breaking the glass ceiling really doesn’t break anything at all because you have to come back next year to break it again? Why do we still have to fight for the 2nd, 3rd, 4th – black, female, or gay CEO/president/princeling?

Is there a point at which we’re good and have achieved the equality we seek? Then what? Consolidate? Hold on to gains and ground? Sounds exhausting. And never ending. If we were hoping to reach a tipping point of enlightenment by now Buhari’s and Trump’s emergence as leaders proves that there are still way too many ignorant mischief makers in the world.

Suddenly this whole fight within feminism seems tedious. Why are we differentiating feminisms? I love Chimamanda but as soon as I read the headline of her other story – My Feminism Is Different From Beyonce’s – I skipped the article. And didn’t come back to it till it had caused a shit storm online.

‘Feminism is the belief in the equality of men and women.” – Chimamanda Adichie.

It doesn’t matter if we preach this equality in the 20% of the moment we are not talking about men. It doesn’t matter if we do it while showing our crotch to a room full of paying gawkers or wearing elegant  block colours and addressing the UN. Nobodies feminism is the same. Even our personal feminism can and should change and evolve during your lifetime.

I’m also ambivalent about this new ‘feminism lite’ category that apparently puts men so centrally in women’s lives. My own brand of feminism used to be ‘feminism lite’. When I was 15 in between reading of James Hadley Chase all I could think and talk about were boys. (And the sort of bad boys I was reading about in James Hadley Chase. They just had to have that attitude.) And when I wasn’t thinking about boys I was thinking about sex.  (It’s what teenagers do, including your own.)

So I educated myself about sex. I read ‘Every Woman’ by Derek Llewellyn-Jones. Some progressive student sneaked it into my Catholic  boarding school. It made the rounds, it was so dog eared. I read it twice. And then bought my own copy. Boys and sex were about growing up and we were all in a hurry to grow up. The principal, Mrs Okonkwo, heard about this subversive book and gave fire and brimstone lectures during morning assembly on its dangers, the dangers of sex and especially the dangers of mkpokopi (homosexuality).

In my 20’s I got my sex education and feminism from Helen Gurley Brown and Cosmopolitan. You could describe it as feminism lite but it helped me negotiate the demands of my emerging personality.  I knew I had to work, no question about it. And not just anyhow work. Ambitious change-the-world kinda of work. I wouldn’t even think to be with a man that thought otherwise but even the most progressive men I met wanted to be ‘cared for’ – it was their definition of ‘love’. And whats wrong with that? I wanted to feel ‘cared for’ too. Who doesn’t? Its our most primal need and goes back to infancy.

In my 20’s and into my early 30’s I also spent a whole lot of time resisting all attempts to brand me a feminist. I was increasingly being called a feminist, usually by men that felt disturbed by something I had said or done. I didn’t know that much about feminists except the stereotype that they were butch, didn’t wear bras (Abomination!) and from some of the pictures I saw didn’t wash very often. So I always denied being any such thing. I had been a tom boy but now I wore bras, I had manicures and pedicures, I wore make up, I wore sexy clothes. I objectified women including myself. I was having fun discovering myself, exploring my femininity.

Then one day soon after the advent of the internet into Nigeria I decided to google feminism. I was 35. Wow. What an eye opener. Fortuitously I lived in Owerri at  the time and had access to two outstanding Igbo-Nigerian feminists – Rose and Catherine Acholonu.  Not only did I discover that indeed, I was a feminist, I discovered that feminism existed in Nigeria and in Africa long before I made that discovery.

Apparently I been a feminist since I was a child. The memo I got said “ Anything boys can do girls can do better.” I believed in male female equality with all the simplicity of a child. Even as a 5 year old I climbed trees, swam the deepest part of the river, did wheelies, jumped off cliffs, rode down impossibly steep hills and generally risked life, limb and sanity to prove that “Yes I Can”.

I took that attitude with me into adulthood. And met real social resistance to what I could or could not do. As a child I just did it, no one stopped me.  As a woman I was suddenly blocked in every direction. What I now heard was – “You’re a women, you can’t, and I won’t let you. Because I can stop you.” Like hell you can stop me. I used to fight a lot. ) You can see the type of problems this could present in a traditional relationship or marriage.

In my 40’s I lived feminism. I was a feminist. I performed feminism. I had a high flying job in international development he bastion of gender equality and evangelised across the globe. I wrote thoughtful posts about feminism and African feminism. I supported more women. Made more women friends. Even my style evolved. I started reading Esquire for fashion tips. Explored a more androgynous aesthetic.

Now in my 50’s I’m still evolving and so is my feminism. I’m back to that childhood attitude. We’re equal. Full stop. I’ll just sit over here and get on with it. And now I’m big enough you can’t stop me anymore. And yes, it still has to be fun, just like the rest of my life.

Sorta like I learnt I was a social entrepreneur from Ashoka. I’m just there being my awesome self and someone gives me a label and a roomful of theories and academic papers to study. Well it was all very empowering since I got to explore and test the boundaries of what that means. So it definitely broadened my horizons. Thank you. Now I’ll just go back to being myself.

I think thats why so many people got mad with Chimamanda. Women love talking about men. And sex. And heart break. Men ARE central to women’s lives. The same way men say we are central to  their lives. They are the reason we wake up in the morning put on our makeup, our heels and hustle. And build empires. And dynasties. And kingdoms. Some of us anyway. And maybe we used to. When we were younger. Maybe our biology has something to do with it too. Think about it, for 30 – 35 years the female body is primed for pregnancy EVERY MONTH. She is literally a walking talking hard on.

I do not believe we are or should be slaves to our biology. Our humanity is our capacity to override mere biological urge  (or you would still be a monkey, I promise.) But people must be allowed to make an informed choice, all choices have consequences. You can’t tell people what to do. You can’t make choices for them. What gives anyone the privilege? There are no hierarchies. Hierarchies and privilege are part the problem, not the solution.

So, yes. Chimamanda can say that her feminism is different from Beyounce’s, so is her lifestyle and probably her core values. People are different. All our individual feminism are different. But I’d rather she didn’t use the 20% yardstick. Or her feminism for that matter.

I’m a mother of men and a leader of men. And women. I say to girls and young women the same thing I say to boys and young men – don’t spend ALL your time and energy on girls/boys and sex, focus on career and life and the right girl/boy will come along. And if you decide to spend all your time talking about sex or marriage remember 1. you’re an adult and adults are self sufficient and can take care of themselves 2. the ability to take care of yourself is the highest form of good 3. co-dependency can be financial as well as emotional and 4. you can do anything you want but there is a price to pay.

Just be good at whatever you do. Be an Amber Rose, a Chimamanda Adichie, a Funmilayo Ransome Kuti, A Tiwa Savage, a Beyonce, An Okonjo Iwela. Just be your god damn self. Your authentic self. Just be your best YOU. Because that takes courage. It takes a ‘Yes I Can.’ And that makes it a feminist act.

Be A person. Not a woman. A spouse. Not a wife. A parent. Not a mother.

And that brings me back to Michelle Obama. That stereotypical Black Madonna. She reminds me of my Russian grand mother. She’s even handling the transition better than Barry. I detect a certain ruefulness in him, a disillusionment. And a nostalgia. She shows an appropriate measure of nostalgia and gratitude (very important for the niggers to be grateful) but relief the Road Show is about to end and maybe now she can go back to some semblance of a normal life. Barry looks like he’ll miss the attention but more importantly that he will miss the power to make things happen. I wonder what he will be next?

Michelle will continue being Michelle, Mother in Chief. Black women (like Russian women) don’t have the privilege of a nervous breakdown. We just get on with it.

She Thought Her Pussy Would Take Her To Heaven.

July 30, 2016
wangechi-mutu-4

The Sprout by Wangechi Mutu

 

She thought her pussy would take her to heaven. That’s what she had been taught and that was what she believed but her pussy is a wasteland. Carrion birds peck away at it. Things grow in it. Nasty things. Dead things.

The beauty industry failed her. Ebony, Vogue, Essence, Cosmo are all full of advice and tips on taking care of the face, the neck, the skin, the hair. But no one told her how to take care of her pussy. No one told her it will shrivel up and die. The experts said “Ignore it till it starts to smell bad” and she looked away.

Her hands are the roots holding her to the barren earth, immobile. The world is upside down! The tree of life is inverted. The tree of knowledge of good and evil. What is good has become evil. What is evil has become good. There is no harvest. There is famine across the earth as Demeter weeps and Ani withholds her bounty.

Who is this impostor? What is this subversion? Hands work, feet walk. Her hands hold her hostage.

At least her feet still sprout new leaves. Her feet remain eager to reach heaven. And fly away with the butterflies. While her head rots. While her pussy reaches for heaven. Not her head. Never her head. Because if she thinks about it her head will explode. Her head rots and her eyes rot and vermin climb out of her mouth. The shit she says. The shit that comes out of her mouth. The shit that comes out of her rotten brain.

Reaching. Reaching for heaven with her pussy.

This is how a girl becomes a woman. Her brain rots. Assaulted with shit in fashion magazines, movies, religion, at home till her brain rots.

When a girl starts to bleed she goes skipping to Mbede, the boot camp in the middle of the forest where girls go when they start to bleed. Dancing on the way to womanhood. It is a deep secret and a shallow promise.

“Move like this, move like that. It will make him happy.”

“Be like this, be like that. It will make him stay.”

“Speak like this, speak like that. He will love you.”

“Eat! Eat it! Finish it! Men like big tits and ass.”

“Look like this, look like that. He will never look away.”

Then she finds out that it hurts. She does not know how to complain. She does not know how to say ‘No.’ A king’s ransom in pearls has been paid for her pussy. A king’s ransom in pearls has been paid for her sight.

Her life force soaks into the earth. Manure for another generation. It is a worthy sacrifice. A noble cause. Children are the future. She lies between the three mountains erected to guard her chastity, her virtue and the family honour. Nothing grows there anymore.

Her feet must grow new leaves before she can leave. Before she can break away. But she cannot. Gangrene eats her flesh, it is dying tissue on a living host. This is the cause of her death. This is what kills her.

 

From My Archive: Women Can’t Mange Money; They’re Like Children Like That

July 30, 2016

 

A chance remark by a friend put me to mind of the importance for a woman, women, to learn money management.

As a feminist my demands for equal rights include a demand for equal responsibility. Then maybe I won’t have to fight for the right to participate in family decisions because the Golden Rule is still that ‘He who has the money makes the rules’. Anyway…

Feminist rhetoric aside women need money management skills, every body needs money management skills! Man, woman and child! It is after all a ‘money economy’. While possibly agitating to change it we cannot afford to ignore ‘reality’.

My paternal grand mother and great grand mother too were financially independent of their husbands. They even lent money to other women in the village. Their men did not provide money for food and they did not pay their ‘bills’ what ever type of bills they had back then! Men just ‘contributed’ once in a while and on certain ritual occasions.

Christianity must have seemed like the great revenge for the women of Africa! ‘Finally we can demand that the little pricks take more responsibility for the children.’ And they signed right up for ‘house duty’ all in the name of finding a piece of heaven! Pun fully intended!!! Go figure.

It’s all about possibilities and look it just makes more ‘common sense’. Whose ‘common sense’ I hear you ask, you see that’s just it, I guess for some it does make common sense to sit at home and let the nigger hustle in the sun. Why die early huh?

In which case put up with it and stop asking for equal rights would you already! Its hard enough to make a case for equal rights without the armchair feminists muddying the waters!

You know the ones I mean! The ones whose idea of equal rights is the right to turn a man into a money machine while they mange his money!(Did I say women need money management skills? Hmmm. I think 8 times married Zsa Zsa Gabor would disagree! Accused of being a bad house keeper she says ‘Of course I am a good housekeeper I divorce the man and keep the house’!)

Or the ones whose idea of equal rights is the right to fuck like men fuck. Which begs the question, how do ‘men’ fuck? Like you feel horny and you go and fuck the first person that your hypothalamus responds to? Or is that how women ‘fuck’?

Mind you I have nothing against armchair feminists, heck I’ve been at those stages myself. I have grown and I have learned. I believe it was Alanis Morrissette that sang ‘You Live You Learn’. Next please.

So I guess all the armchair feminists will also grow up and learn so I guess that’s cool then.

Long ago I read ‘The Cinderella Complex’ in which the author argued that women retreat into domesticity to escape responsibility, and the competitive world. ‘The weaker sex…’, ‘the fairer sex…’, ‘the princess…’, Cinderella; as a metaphor.

True or false? In this po-mo world who knows and you know something, who cares? There is such a cacophony of opinions out there all struggling for dominance that maybe your own opinion really is the best right now.

As for me, I think I want to be like my numerous grand mothers, Russian and African; strong, financially and emotionally independent, efficient and self-sufficient women that raised their kids to be responsible adults but with a twist; 50/50, equal rights, equal responsibility.

Now if you will excuse me I got to go get me some money management skills…right after I speak to my significant other about this adorable pair of shoes that I just must have! Oh baby baby,  I will sit at home quietly and bear your children just keep me in the gravy!

No they are not glass shoes…

25 March 2006

From My Archives: African Feminism

July 28, 2016

From my Yahoo360 Archive: April 25, 2006

My friend and I were sitting in the garden having our morning coffee and cigarettes when we noticed a van pull up to the cabin across the street. Next thing a woman gets down and they start offloading luggage; suitcases, blankets, a mop, groceries. Three men have been living in that cabin for almost a month now without any of these things!!!?

It occurred to me how dependent men actually are on women. I started wondering whether we women are really the oppressed ones. These men can’t live well without a woman and that is true for so many men I have met in my life, especially here in Naija, in  America most of the men were actually quite self sufficient in that department at least most of the ones I met and knew well enough to judge.

I can’t deny that women suffer from discrimination and exclusion etc. etc. etc. but it would appear that men are in there own ‘prison’ so to speak. Have you ever watched one of those movies set in a prison and felt amazement at the fact that the prison guards are their own kind of prisoners really, even though they can go home to their families in the evening? And I wondered whether their brutality is a reaction to their situation?

It would also appear that the African woman knows her power and for this reason jealously protects her position as mother and matriarch. Could this be why African feminists reject western feminism so vehemently? Could it be that they believe that they are in a superior position of power? Is there a link? I have often wondered whether female genital mutilation isn’t part of this exercise of power, after all the procedure is usually performed and controlled by women and they have actually been the staunchest resisters to it’s abolition in Africa.

Could it be that removing the clitoris as a site of pleasure was initiated not by men to control women but by women to control men? Presumably, after the procedure a woman would be more difficult to arouse and therefore less inclined to have sex for pleasure as opposed to sex for manipulation. ‘You want some? What you gonna do for me?’  Just a crazy thought.

I can’t ignore the fact that sex is very much a transaction in some tribal philosophies that I have encountered. I have heard having sex with a woman and not paying her be in it cash or kind described as a theft and the belief is that such a woman’s curse can ruin a man’s life especially if she prays naked in the middle of the night.

Many incidents of rape and sexual abuse are settled financially. The victim’s family doesn’t always insist on marriage. Outcomes usually depend on the social status of the abuser vis-à-vis the victims.

Chinweizu in his book The Anatomy of Female Power certainly implies as much although he never directly accusses women of sexual manipulation and seems to suggest that its not about the vagina (i.e. sexual pleasure) but more about the womb and man’s need to procreate and beget heirs.

Catherine Acholonu implies that female power is about ‘motherhood’ as an institution and not just a biological function. Motherhood was elevated to a cult in many parts of tribal Africa. The assumption in western feminism is that motherhood only benefits the patriarchy but according to Acholonu C. motherhood also benefits. She argues that in Africa motherhood has a value and that women are far from powerless. She also argues that Africa was not patriarchal in the classical sense of the word.

Rose Acholonu shares the view that motherhood is the power base and is also critical of western feminist ideology for their attitude towards motherhood and family but she is also very critical of tribal patriarchy and traditions unlike Acholunu C. and Helen Chukwuma.

Chukwuma sites women’s power in their use of their collective political leverage in the community, describes how that power is exercised and recommends that those methods be documented, reevaluated, and tested.

All these writers share a firm belief in their status and power as women, mothers and wives.

As Foucalt said, there is no person without power, everyone resists, negotiates or accepts.

What do you think about African feminism or African women and power? What is her ‘power’? Where does it come from?  How does she use it? Is it in the kitchen, the bedroom, the boardroom or the living room? Is it her womb (biological capacity to procreate) or her vagina (the capacity for sexual pleasure)? I’m being a bit blunt because I want an honest reaction.

I’d really like to know your opinion if you would like to share it.

A Review of Yemisi Aribasala’s ‘Sister Outsider’ 6: Live And Let Die?

May 23, 2016

‘We all shared a war against the tyrannies of silence’  Audre Lorde

Audre Lorde tells us its important we speak. She asks us to overcome our fears and say whats hurting us anyway because silence won’t stop the pain and we’re going to die anyway. It would appear that young Nigerian women are also speaking out – against the issues that matter to them; mundane issues like who washes the dishes and not so mundane issues like domestic violence, rape and child marriage. Its a pretty good start.

Ada Agina-Ude, journalist and self identified feminist recalled the very negative attitudes to feminism she encountered in the 1980’s and 1990’s trying to market PAN African Ms. a feminist magazine.

“Feminist fundamentalism in Nigeria? Not really. It’s more like Feminism has suddenly become acceptable, and it appears, also fashionable.” she wrote “If Feminism can now sell books, and break the music charts, it calls for popping of champaign! It doesn’t matter that we’re not all in the same “aso ebi”. Diversity of perspectives is no big deal. We may each be different but we are all good. No need for the bickering.”

Pop culture feminism is a part of a Nigerian Women’s Movement and Yemisi herself is part of this movement as a female writer writing about the most feminine of Nigerian activities – cooking. When asked who are the women that she should be grateful to for that privilege she could thank Women In Nigeria WIN. One of their 1984 aims was to increase publication of female writers.

Yemisi doesn’t have to be a feminist but she could rein in her disdain. It is palpable and repulsive. It reeks of the elitist superiority that has plagued the Nigerian Women’s Movement for decades and prevented it from leveraging ‘women’s power’ for political and strategic gains. And how is throwing shade at Beyonce, Adichie and ‘New Nigerian Feminists’ NOT ‘women attacking women’?

We all have the right to ‘self determination – the freedom to define ourselves, name ourselves and speak for ourselves, instead of being defined and spoken for by others’ but we also need to work together and for each other.

Is Yemisi fighting for the right to tell her own story just like anyone else and not give it a label even if her writing is feminist? Or is she raging against the ‘mockeries of separators that have been imposed upon us and which we so often accept as our own’ both within and Nigerian feminism and global feminism? Or is she creating those separators?

We are all Nigerian women. And some of us are feminists. Some feel oppressed washing dishes and cooking, others do not but we cannot ignore the system that makes washing dishes and cooking a female duty rather than a choice – and tries to silence women that complain.

“It is absolutely maddening to have someone lie to your face about you, to distort the truth about who you are, proclaim it to the world and shout over your attempts at correction.” EBONY’s senior editor Jamilah Lemieux

There is Nigerian Feminism and There is the Nigerian Women’s Movement

May 19, 2016

 

Women’s activism within the various tribal groups that make up Nigeria goes back centuries and many groups have legends of heroic female leaders like Amina of Zaria, Moremi of lfe, Emotan of Benin and Omu Okwel of Ossomari.  Nana Asma’u of the Sokoto Caliphate (1793–1864) is a model for some African feminists to date.

The Nigerian women’s movement goes back to the 1928 Women’s War in south east Nigeria and work and activism of Funmilayo Kuti, Margaret Ekpo, Oyinkansola Abayomi, Janet Mokelu, and Gambo Sawaba throughout the 1940s, 50s and 60s. The National Council of Women’s Societies NCWS founded in 1958 to act as an umbrella organisation for a growing number of women’s led initiatives in Nigeria.  The 1995 Beijing Conference spurred even more organisations empowering women and protecting their rights.

Feminism as an organised political platform for the emancipation of Nigeria women emerged in 1982 after the first Women in Nigeria Conference in Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria. Women In Nigeria WIN  was established in 1983 as one of its outcomes. WIN was decidedly socialist and theoretical in sharp contrast to the populist state funded Better Life for Rural Women BLP set up by Maryam Babangida in 1986.

WIN criticised BLP for being elitist and not representative or helpful to rural women.  Nevertheless, BLP put women’s issues in the spotlight at all levels of the national discourse and had more popular grassroots support than WIN. Bene Madunagu, makes a similar distinction between the Nigerian women’s movement and Nigerian feminism here.

Since the emergence of WIN, Nigerian feminism and the Nigerian women’s movement have continued to develop side by side, frequently over lapping and working together to achieve legislative, political and policy objectives but never merging. The Nigerian Feminist Forum was created in 2006 and unequivocally supports LGBTQ rights and women’s right to abortion.

The Nigerian women’s movement includes gender and women’s rights activists, religious, political, professional and cultural women’s groups that provide protection, services and support to women and girls (as well as a good dose of indoctrination), women focused and women led NGOs and CBOs.  More on Nigerian women’s modern political activism here.

Fumni Kuti and Margeret Ekpo worked closely with market women. Madam Alimotu Pelewura was powerful enough to resist the colonial government in the 1940s. Today, the powerful market women’s associations found in southern Nigeria are mostly absent from the Nigerian women’s movement. During the 1984 WIN conference in Ibadan they disagreed with the more radical organisers over polygamy, a patriarchal practice they insisted empowered them as traders and entrepreneurs.

The most powerful market women associations in Nigeria have been assimilated by the male dominated patriarchal political structure.

 

Yemanja-3

Yemanja!

 

 

 

 

A Review of Yemisi Aribasala’s ‘Sister Outsider’ 5: Sister Sister Outsider

May 16, 2016

I found Yemisi’s choice of title cynical. Audre Lorde’s collection of essays titled ‘Sister Outsider’ explores alienation, isolation, fear, anger, hatred and ‘the lack of acknowledgement of differences between women that has occurred within the mainstream feminist movement.’

Lorde writes about her experience of exclusion as a black gay woman within mainstream (mostly white middle class) American feminism. Yet she did not reject feminism or the label feminist as result. Instead she is ‘claiming a difficult identity’ and asks to be heard and respected, for her point of view and experience to be recognised.

Is that what Yemisi is asking for too? She is after all not attacking feminism but ‘New Nigerian Feminism’ or ‘pop culture feminism’, the shiny bright feminism of Beyonce and Adichie that has apparently attracted thousands maybe ten of thousands maybe millions of devotees in Nigeria and globally.

But pop culture feminism is neither ideologically nor politically the same with theoretical feminisms. And while the later can and should feed off the energy of the former to achieve strategic gains against the patriarchy it cannot and should not expect or hold these pop culture feminists to the highest standards of feminist principles.

At every Nigerian Feminist Forum NFF and other local feminists gatherings women have disagreed and continue to disagree over support for LGBTQ. Yet the African Feminist Charter to which the Nigerian Feminist Forum and all its members are signatories makes clear that our definitions of feminisms includes respect and support for the rights of LGBTQ.

We rigorously debated and agreed that in order to identify as a feminist our members must support the rights of all people and as well as women to sexual integrity. Many Nigeria women and women’s organisations that wanted to be called ‘feminists’ walked away rather than express covert or overt support for LGBTQ rights. And we let them go.

They are not ‘feminist’ according to our definition but feminism isn’t mainstream in Nigeria, not yet. Feminism in Nigeria is one stakeholder in a vast body of activist women that is the larger Nigeria Women’s Movement.

A lot of the leaders in the women’s movement in Nigeria are feminists – like Iheoma Obibi at Alliances for Africa and Bisi Adeleye Fayemi at the African Women’s Development Fund but many of them are not and yet work with and for women as Zoe Williams describes here.  Likewise being a woman in power doesn’t make one a feminist.

“It takes courage to face your fears, your anger and your hatred” Audre Lorde writes in the essay “The Transformation Of Silence Into Language And Action.”

Lorde wrote women ‘shared a war against the tyrannies of silence’. Shaken by a confrontation with death Audre Lorde decided to speak out and act because, she says ‘you’re going to suffer and die sooner or later anyway. You’re silence won’t save you as a matter of fact it could kill you.’

Yemisi has named that thing she fears – and it is female power. She will not be silenced.