Since forever, for one reason or another, I have stayed “woke” in regards to all forms of oppression and social injustices; in my personal life, my professional life, and society generally; as if I have been primed for them. I am unsure whether it was enrolling in a Gender and Development course for a year during my undergrad studies that deepened this social-consciousness or whether I had already started becoming more sensitive to them by mere observation. It seems that every day something new, different, and often worrisome arises and I just can’t look away.
It may seem the steam that erupted during the Otiko Djaba brouhaha might have settled, but that is only because “those of us who really care,” do not have as much power and influence like she does. While the controversies centered around Otiko and her current role as protector of the feminine realm in the country, it also exposed our society in very unsettling ways.
This past week, in particular, I have heard and read many cases of child sexual abuse, which has triggered, on my part, a very critical reflection into our cultural setting to identify other ways to steer the discussion on sexual harassment and child sexual abuse. I have noticed and mentally catalogued, over the years, the various disturbing ways in which grown men address not only adult women but also teenage girls and children with terms of paternalistic endearment.
“My wife….. “
“Ei me yere ketewaa, (my small wife) how are you? When will you come and cook for me?”
“Ei my wife, I’ll marry you, ok?”
And the child will often respond with an innocent nod of approval.
Here, methinks, is a prime example of unassuming, subtle everyday-sexism mining its heels deeper and deeper into our collective subconsciousness. With every saying of “my wife”, there’s not only a reinforced gender stereotype in our cultural lexicon, but also, a perpetuation of a culture of polygamy, patriarchy and ‘chattelisation’ of women as items and objects, that a man can just have at his beck and call. This goes to influence a woman’s sub-consciousness that it is OK to be a little wife, a second wife or the side Chic when the big madam is indisposed.
A very mundane picture in our society is being painted here. The sexualization of girls from a very early stage is one cancer we cannot afford to miss. This statement is also one we’ve heard come from our uncles, family friends, neighbours, etc. It is for this simple fact that statistics show that majority of rape victims actually know their rapists on a personal level.
It starts as simple “flattery,” or “compliments,” as I suppose these patronizing monikers would seek to achieve, but really what it does is give a false sense of intimacy to relationships that are in truth built on nothing more than mere cordiality. And because it is largely overlooked by even parents, the perpetrators are able to get away with it because obviously, they are people “we trust.”
We might have all heard this statement in some variation before. Adults who should know better, shamelessly say it to freshly born babies. They say it to toddlers. They say it to teens. They say it to adult girls.
Now here are a few things to note:
Please, men, listen up. Erect a thick wall of boundary that reaches to the highest heavens when it comes to girls. Don’t admire, don’t flatter, don’t propose marriage. Let teenagers remain teenagers and children, children. Keep your favours and endearments to yourself.
If the only thing you have to say to a little girl is ‘my wife’; then you should give yourself a befitting hard knock on the head and STOP, because it is no endearment. It is totally INAPPROPRIATE.
Also, young girls are not your playmates. Desist from sending little girls and boys on errands; you were blessed with legs too. Truth is, people notice these things and more often will not complain openly or call you out until something terrible happens to that child.
If the child goes missing, they will mention you. If the child gets raped, they will point fingers at you.
Why? Because you chose to treat the child like an adult and made marriage proposals to little girls in jest, while sending them on errands as if they were born to serve you.
Many dangerous people are clad as family and friends. The perverts are not strangers. Even our sons and baby boys are not spared. Some of these pedophiles are also females. There’s no gainsaying that evil in itself has no gender!
Parents, please pay attention to your daughters (and sons); listen to them. Don’t beat them into silence. DON’T BLAME THEM. Listen. Believe the child. He/She may only reach out once.
Also, pay attention to the people they get close to. Rape and child abuse did not die yesterday – it will be here with us till the conversion of the Jews.
Don’t make a sexually abused child lie in the name of “protecting the family” or your marriage. Cowardice at this time is not an option! Get justice for that child. Let the child trust you; let them know you are here to protect them and not blame them. Name and shame the abuser. Let the laws deal with him/her.
If you see or notice something odd, don’t look away. SPEAK UP! You have chosen the side of the oppressor (abuser) when you say nothing. Sweeping sexual abuse under the carpet won’t make it stop. Neither will it make us nor our kids safe. Break the culture of silence.
Talking to your kids about child sexual abuse isn’t scary. NOT TALKING IS!
Empower your child to identify/recognize what an inappropriate “touch” or compliment is and to boldly say NO! Teach them to SPEAK UP!!!
It is an easier task to build a strong child than to fix a broken adult.
Efua Sintim is the author of this article. She is a student of law at the University of London, and a Compliance Professional.