Abuse: Breaking the Culture of Silence and Shame

An important element of culture is its values and beliefs. Values are deeply rooted and critical for teaching and passing on cultural beliefs. These cultural beliefs inform every aspect of any society. It acts as the cord that binds people together. Beliefs on the other hand are the principles or convictions that people hold to be true. Individuals in a society have specific beliefs, but they also share collective values.

Our cultural belief in Nigeria is destroying us, and by ‘us’ I mean Women. These cultural beliefs offer no refuge to women, and are impeding our growth as a nation. The number of people reporting abuse and rape has been in decline, due to lack of conviction of the abusers, which indicates that something has been going very badly wrong with the system for a long time. But luckily, the advent of social media as a communication tool is bringing light on the government, institutions and the police to act.

Looking back over the past years in other countries, the #MeToo movement have enabled women to speak out. These were moments in history that women came out publicly to share their experiences of sexual assault. ‘ All of us who have been hassled, molested and assaulted, pre- and post-puberty, all of us who have felt ready to put up our hands and say “me too”, have embraced a hashtag that has enabled us to connect and show the ubiquity of rape. No more hiding, no more shame; what has been done to us hurts and keeps hurting, and there is solace in sharing,’ was the theme of the movement.

Last week, in Nigeria, the #JusticeforUwa and #JusticeforTina recent protest has triggered the latest on twitter in several waves of sexual abuse experienced by women and the lack of support from the police authorities in helping to apprehend the perpetrators. For many Nigerians, our government isn’t listening enough and these Internet streets are the outlets for protests, where taking to the streets can sometimes draw a punishing response by security forces.

How did we get to this point?

  • Our collective fear of criticism as a culture is destroying not only the self-esteem of women, but also the self – esteem of our daughters. These beliefs controls their internal monologue – Like, ‘you’re nothing,’ ‘it’s your fault,’ ‘no one will listen.’

  • Our culture of silence on rape and abuse of women and girls is causing a wave of anxiety, negative feelings, anger and depression.

  • Women are still not safe in their home and are criticised for speaking up.

  • Women are treated as bland cog in the wheel.

  • Even when the justice system is ready to take punitive actions against the abusers, the culture of silence and shame means, these women secretly withdraw the charges against their abusers, for fear of their family members being attached.

Silence has become an integral part of the communication process in our society, but not for long.

How do we move forward?

  1. Speaking up: Encouraging women to come forward without judgement from society will be a good first start.

  2. Justice for abused victims will spur other women who have been silent to come forward.

  3. Providing a safe place of refuge and support will show women that their voices can be heard.

  4. Counselling and therapy sessions in various local communities will be a good place to start with rehabilitation.

  5. Information is empowering and very key in bringing about help and transformation, especially in rural communities, where they may still be behind in terms of social innovations.

  6. Community mindset change programmes to help women move from the framework of guilt and judgement to the framework of growth.

Now is the time more than ever, for us ‘females’ to stand and refute judgements and for us to come together to support our daughters, mothers, sisters, friends and ourselves. Now is the time for a shared voice in unification of a common goal that Female lives matter too. We will no longer remain silent anymore.

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