The burden of the vagina.

HinyHumoren — Iniobong Umoren
Ini Umoren

I wasn’t prepared to see the news of Iniobong Umoren’s death on Sunday morning. But then, nobody is ever prepared for that sort of thing. I told the friend I was talking to when I saw it that I had been so confident that she’d be found. I mean, the police had been involved from the beginning, members of the public had been involved from the beginning…of course, she had to be found, and found alive.

She wasn’t. Iniobong was killed…raped and killed.

HinyHumoren — Iniobong Umoren
HinyHumoren — Iniobong Umoren
Iniobong (Hiny) Umoren

Going through my Twitter, I feel a myriad of emotions. From shock to rage, to despair, to fear, to anguish. My nausea is back, and it is almost debilitating. My tummy keeps clenching, and I am very lightheaded. All I can think of is how heavy and costly this thing; this vagina is, and how many more of us will suffer on its account.

My Twitter on Sunday is not just about posts on Ini. Apparently, some media house released footage of a minor — a 14-year-old girl — being sexually assaulted by a man. My rage is intensified, but I am somewhat placated by her face being blurred out. Comments show that some people are only focused on the fact that the situation was “set up” a certain way, and not the fact that an adult was being extremely inappropriate around a minor. I am sickened.

Just last week (or so), a student executive in my faculty, the faculty of law, assaulted and allegedly raped his girlfriend at the time, who is also a student within the faculty. All I see on the timeline today, about how women are unsafe, is making me flashback to the brazenly sexist way that matter was handled, and the fierce protection of the assaulter by well, let’s call them The Guys. I’m thinking — I’m not safe anywhere, not even within my faculty.

I had begun to put statistics on violence against women into this article. This UN centre said this, the WHO said that. I removed them. Not because they’re unimportant, but because this piece is not to educate anyone. It’s just a piece written by a tired girl with a laptop. These numbers are out there, accessible to anyone. Those who care for them know where to find them. So, instead of throwing facts and figures around, why don’t we just talk?

Let’s talk about how issues that affect women, from the seemingly little ones like who does the cooking to the obviously enormous ones like acts of violence against us, are treated insouciantly until the absolute worst has happened. Then, even after the worst has happened, we are faced with pieces of advice at best and barrages of victim-blaming at worst, with little to nonexistent accountability from anyone. Need an illustration? In May 2020, Uwa was raped and gruesomely killed inside church premises. Shortly after, rumours of her being pregnant for the pastor surfaced, like that was justification for her killing. That church had to be pressured to break its deadly silence and at least speak on the issue. Till today, there is no conviction for Uwa’s murder.

Upon the announcement of Ini’s death, various posts about how women should be careful and all that emerged. Ini was CAREFUL! I have never even been that careful when going out. She shared her location, informed relevant people of where she was going to, kept in touch till it became impossible for her to do so and she was still killed. The only thing more careful than that is staying in your house. Even then, it’s not safe because they can enter your house. Another illustration? Read @ciranzube’s experience of coming home to meet a strange man in her house.

In many ways, the murder, rape and harassment of women are rationalised by society; a society that includes both men and women. When a lady is pushed out of a car injured, looking dishevelled and unable to speak incoherently, the automatic assumption is that she went somewhere she wasn’t supposed to go, they “used” her, and now they have brought her back. This reminds me of the time I almost completely fainted in the market because of heatstroke. Almost, because I could still hear. The most repeated statements were: “shey motor lo se se gbe wa?” (did a car just drop her now?) and “sho loyun ni?” (is she pregnant?). Thankfully, an old woman and a bike man came to my aid after I had been there for minutes. I had fainted, but the immediate concern was why I fainted, not how to get me to safety or even save my life. Just the morality or immorality of my loss of consciousness.

As a woman, you are not allowed to find yourself in negative situations because your circumstances may be dignified or undignified. People will either blame natural causes (or the government) for your dignified situation or blame you for your undignified, “immoral” situation. “I mean, you too how will you die at the hands of your violent boyfriend? What were you looking for? Couldn’t you leave him? Wait, why do you even have a boyfriend? Now you have died. Eyah. Anyway, women please if he is beating you, leave!”

No addressing the abuser. No accountability placed on the party that isn’t the woman.

This lack of accountability is why people meant to be law students would work together to cover up an abuser. It doesn’t matter that they are supposed to be the leaders of tomorrow, the future of the judiciary. One of their own has gotten into an issue, and everyone has to “lay low” until it is resolved. The resolution: You prevent the news from getting out, gag the victim so that the abuser can go scot-free, he resigns (although you were willing to let him continue in his position as deputy spea…oops!) and the house thanks him for “his service.” Zero sanctions for his behaviour, and very little condemnation on any level. In fact, no official condemnation of the person or the action.

Fallen effigy of justice with sword piercing its heart
Fallen effigy of justice with sword piercing its heart

Terrible national legislative systems start from terrible student legislative systems. The inability of a whole students’ body to outrightly condemn what is, in its rawest state, a crime against one of its members, has left me thinking about how deep this culture of non-accountability has eaten into everything and how maybe, just maybe, this country has no future.

To be female is to carry an extra burden of proof around. That’s why an adult will be accused of indecent treatment of a minor, and all people are interested in is viewing the footage of this indecency playing out. According to them, only after seeing the footage will they believe the claims. Then, they see the footage and the goal post shifts a little but remains in one direction. It becomes “there’s no crime here” (there is) “even if he did something this is not admissible in court” (who told you?) “why is the camera facing the sofa?” (oh please).

It doesn’t matter if you’re a girl or a woman. People will assume the worst about you anyway. This is why people will assume that a girl being molested “enjoyed it anyway since she did not say anything,” or that a grown, successful woman is “chasing clout” when she calls an abuser out. It is why two of my (female) primary school teachers had to debate (in my presence) whether or not I, as a 9-year-old, could be pregnant because I was hyper salivating. Meanwhile, I had tongue blisters and my hypersalivation was a reaction both to the blisters and the terribly bitter drug I was taking for them.

The vagina is heavy. It’s probably the heaviest part of our bodies. It comes with a burden so big it’s almost a curse sometimes.

I have no solutions to proffer to the issues we face as women. As we have seen, going into the church or sharing our location will not save us. Law enforcement will not save us. When we try to talk about these issues, often from a place of passion and genuine frustration, we acquire many tags. We are bitter, stupid, dull, cowardly. We are accused of starting “gender wars.” But what’s a gender war, really?

The Cambridge dictionary defines war as any situation in which there is strong competition between opposing sides…. Us talking about the problems women experience at the hands of men is not us starting a competition of who suffer pass. It is not us trying to outdo you. Look, we know guys also face problems. However, sometimes, we want to talk about ours and not be dragged for doing so. And if you want to talk about yours, do it on your own time, with your own resources, and to an audience with an energy that you mustered. As @duchesskk said:

There’s no gender war, only an irrational response to women clamouring for equal rights to safety, opportunities and representation.

I hope the authorities that couldn’t save Ini and Uwa are at least able to get them justice. I hope the alleged child rapist is successfully tried before a competent court. I hope things get better for us all. They probably won’t, but it’s good to hope they will.