Lasisi Rukayat wasn’t born blind. Just like every lady proud of her beauty and growth, she eyed a bustling future, dreamt of a loving husband, adorable kids, and a lovely home. But like a natural occurrence, she felt her sight was fading. As a mother of three, she couldn’t have bothered much. For all she knew, it could just be stress from the daily activities, smoke effect as a result of the time spent in the kitchen or the harsh weather. In fact, she might just need to cut back on her consumption of carbohydrates. But that was needless a thought; Rukayat lost her sights and all her dreams came falling like a pack of cards. It was the beginning of a harrowing journey through life.
That she became blind should be a sufficient cross to carry, but more was to come. Despite living with disability, the responsibility to fend for her three kids fell on Rukayat’s shoulders. She was still struggling to find her feet when she realized she would be carrying her fourth in nine months’ time. As she struggled with this reality, the man who she called her husband connived with a nurse to help with her medications. How could she have known she was being fed drugs to abort her pregnancy. Yes, she escaped that evil machination, but more hurdles await the Kwara-born woman. Yes, she toiled day and night washing clothes to raise capital and start a small business. Yes, customers flocked her shop and she took delight in the huge patronage. But it was a signal to her crack of doom. If only she knew all along, that many dropped N200 note for her and claim N800 change, lying to have dropped N1000 and purchased N200 worth of product.
Now that the business is history – having run bankrupt – and survival becomes crucial, Rukayat could only point at her fourth kid and the only son, after the first three daughters’ hands were given out in marriage without her consent. according to the family members, she was blind and couldn’t be entrusted with the survival of the children.
For Hajia Alima Ibrahim, her trouble in life has nothing to do with her need. Although, retired, her monthly stipend in addition to what she makes from her small store is enough source of livelihood for her and her grandchild. For the 63yr old woman, life took a different turn in 2015 when her only daughter got admission to study Health Law in a Norwegian University, but on getting there, forthwith, decided to cut ties with anything Nigerian. The reason behind Ajoke Ibrahim’s steely decision wasn’t lost to the widowed mother anyway. It all started on a bright Tuesday afternoon. Ajoke was on her way from the University of Ilorin after her A’ Level’ class, when she got a free ride to town. It was a norm from the university premises to flag down private cars for a lift. The young boy, with a harmless smile, had a stop-over along the way. He said he wanted to drop a load in a house by the roadside and sought assistance.
The mistake that will forever haunt her was that she heeded the plea by the young innocent-looking boy. Little did she know that behind that facade of virtuousness lies an incorrigible craving for carnal abuse. The hour that followed must have been the most harrowing of her entire life, a moment she detests to remember. She heard the door slam behind her and felt a strange hand grab her from behind, stroking her invasively. Like a lingering pinch, she must have struggled to free herself and flee. She shouted at the top of her voice for help, to no avail. Such unholy act does not go down without some battery and assaults. Unable to fight it through, with no help forthcoming, she caved in and cried her heart out as the stranger she met just few minutes ago forcefully had carnal knowledge of her.
That single act was to define a stint in her life. Then, 16, Ajoke must have felt that was all, but there was more; She took in! Suffice to say how devastated her parents were to hear what transpired. This is a teenager the father takes so much pride in, a daughter the mother looks forward to her wedding day. A stranger has put her in the family way unwillingly. The parents could not think of any other thing but to see the face of the man who has done to this to their dotting daughter. They rushed down to the house where a destiny had been punctured, but the devil incarnate had fled. Law enforcement officers were invited to intervene, but it was a little too late; Olawale (not real name) had disappeared into thin air. Funny as it was, Ajoke’s family received emissaries from the fugitive’s family, pleading to put the matter behind. Even religious and community leaders intervened, asking that they accept the ignominious act as God’s wish.
Ajoke had to put her academic career on hold until she gave birth. She carried her cross and bore the burden of pregnancy alone. She fended for her baby boy alone without a known father, who was not to be seen until after four years. He had travelled down to Ilorin, his hometown to celebrate the Muslim’s Sallah festivity when they held him. Olawale owned up, pleaded for forgiveness, promised to take responsibility, but disappeared again without he or his family looking back for their son. In 2015, Ajoke made that trip to Norway. It was to the delight of everyone. But for her, it was good riddance to an unpalatable past. She lived a bitter life for several years and now sees that foreign land as a haven for a fresh start.
However, Hajia Ibrahim is worried. Temitope (not real name) is now 16 years and in Senior Secondary School 2, with no biological parent in sight to call his own. The older the sexagenarian gets, the more troubled. What becomes of Temitope after her demise?
These are some of the numerous tales of woes by many women. Civil Society Organisations in kwara state on Wednesday, 28th July, 2021 gathered to brainstorm on the various challenges confronting the women folks with a view to discussing collaborative solutions towards improved security in Kwara and Nigeria as a whole. At that dialogue, held at the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development, women from across Kwara shared first hand experiences of insecurity to include herdsmen attack, armed robbery, assault, harrassment at work, fraud, gender based violence, rape and many more. Of all, sexual and gender based violence were prevalent. As the women in different age categories filed out to share their experiences, not just the organizers and stakeholders, but other victims with their own travails betrayed emotions. At that sob-laden event, Madam Rasheedat Aremu looked forlorn, not knowing how to take care of the four boys left behind by her younger sister who for years suffered battery and domestic violence in her husband’s hands till her death.
Nigeria has a long history with sexual and gender-based violence, with 30% of women and girls aged 15-49 having experienced sexual abuse at a time or the other. According to statistics, from forced and early marriages to the physical, mental or sexual assault on a woman, nearly 3 in 10 Nigerian women have experienced physical violence by age 15 (NDHS 2013). The 2018 Thomas Reuters Foundation Annual Pool, ranked Nigeria 10th on the list of the most dangerous countries for women.
This was worsened by the lockdown occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced many to stay indoor and led to loss of economic power. Research from the Ebola epidemic in West Africa shows that loss of livelihoods is a huge factor that drives women to engage in negative coping mechanisms such as transactional sex. That in turn increases their exposure to further sexual exploitation and abuse, unwanted pregnancies, and contracting STDs. As stated earlier, during the COVID-19 pandemic, over 80% of women in the labour force were employed in the informal sector with little or no social protection.
No doubt, rehabilitation of women and girls who have been abused is sacrosanct in a bid to help them overcome their ordeal and reintegrate them back to the society. But overriding, is the mechanism put in place to prevent exposure to such untoward experiences. There must be proper coordination amongst key stakeholders as well as a legal framework to ensure culprits are made to face the music to serve as deterrent. One of the efforts channeled towards ensuring this is the enactment of the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act (VAPP) which was enacted in Nigeria in 2015. Shockingly, 23 states are still yet to domesticate the law. Gender discriminatory norms must be a thing of the past if we hope to walk the talk. Indeed, the female folk deserves a better life.
Taiwo Adediran is a practicing journalist based in Ilorin, Kwara State.