As a global problem, it is known that 35% of women have experienced one form of sexual harassment or another, including rape, in their lifetime. Unfortunately, the world headquarters of rape today is in Africa, South Africa to be precise, which has 132.4 incidents per 100,000 people. Indeed, a survey recently conducted by the South African Medical Research Council revealed that one in four men studied admitted to committing rape.
Given the relationship between South Africa and Nigeria as well as the socio-economic influences they have on each other, it is high time we declared a national emergency on rape lest it reaches that unenviable proportion. Definitely, no amount of justice or punishment meted out to the rapist, if and when he is found, can restore the honour and dignity of the woman violated. This is why serious and preventive measures have to be taken to confront this menace head-on. It is an open truth that Nigeria is over-saturated with sexual sounds and sights, messages and images, online and offline.
The preventive measures against rape, in my view, are broadly primary and secondary. The primary measures lie in proper parenting and cultivation of traditional and religious education in the children and youths. That many young ones are products of poor parenting is a national disgrace as many parents, unlike the situation in the past, ‘outsource’ their responsibilities to domestic aides and schools. Since they are busy chasing money or career, parents fail pathetically in raising socially responsible children and the society pays for it.
With the ‘busyness’ of the parents comes the absence of traditional education through which societal values and mores are cultivated in the younger generation. Children who are not outright brought up on the street are products of foreign and destructive cultures or practices where females are commodified just as sexual objects. This trendy foreign culture is popularised by the secondary measures, which require serious attention.
The secondary measures here are the media, especially the entertainment industry – the movies and music as well as some games. Hardly is anything on the ubiquitous media platforms deemed successful until it excites people sexually, including advisement of cigarettes. From the implicit mode of the past, nothing is left again for imagination as sexual images and codes are part of our daily life with negative impacts on the impressionistic minds of the young and old alike.
Therefore, there is a need for action on the messages, or sounds and visuals, that are rolled out to the youth especially and Nigerians in general on the various media platforms. The National Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB), whose functions include regulating and controlling cinematographic exhibitions in Nigeria, has to be more conscious of its responsibilities by forestalling and sanctioning socially destructive contents. The truth is that many Nigerians watch certain movies and cringe if there is any regulator in place.
The same supervisory deficit accounts for many unsightly visuals in music and films that are seen on television despite the presence of National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), though there is a limit to which it can do where the internet is largely uncensored. Yet, we can still not be helpless if there is leadership with regard to access to morally destructive materials on the internet.
Despite its huge benefits that are well known, it is the same internet that is used for sexual predation, cybercrime and other forms of negativity that have given Nigerians a bad name. But there are ways through which countries sift or sensor what can be seen or viewed in order to safeguard their cultural heritage and values from erosion. Nigeria cannot just be powerless and watch the rape culture spiral out of control by assuming that the situation will change without putting in place some hard preventive measures.
Though it is trite that decently dressed people have been victims of rape, that doesn’t detract from the fact that indecent dressing tends to provoke or excite men sexually, hence promote harassment or rape. It was the need to tackle rape frontally, when it became a national issue of concern, and prevent more sexual harassment that made the Government of Uganda, through its Ministry of Public Service, to set guidelines in July 2017 for public servants. The guidelines directed female staff not to show any cleavage, wear brightly coloured nails, braids or hair extensions, sleeveless or transparent blouses. On their part also, men must wear long-sleeved shirts, jackets and tights with trousers that are not tight-fitting.
That policy came even after the Ugandan parliament had passed the anti-pornography law, which barred women from wearing mini-skirts, in 2014. That year, the Ethics and Integrity Minister, Simon Lokodo, had canvassed the arrest of women of who wore “anything above the knee”, a development that generated ripples in some quarters.
It is either we take decisive action or we continue to lament and waste words. The hard way appears to be the only way.