Yesterday morning I was almost mobbed at Masala market in Nassarawa State, less than 15 minutes from Abuja for venturing to the market in my running Shorts (that was half a thigh short). Read 3 posts down for initial report.
My first thought after I narrowly escaped the mob was to write an essay on dress codes, human rights, and what extent a person’s idea of morality infringes on another’s… and distribute copies to the market people and hope that it may influence their engagement with others in similar situations.
I did write a mini essay but I have changed my mind on distribution. Part of my reason was safety. Seeing what they were like, I didn’t feel safe to engage such people in academic debates. The other reason was that they would not understand reason. People that insists on treating others without respect and civility only understands when you speak their language and that is why this idea, though very outside the box (and I am obviously not championing this idea or encouraging anyone to do so), is what may rapidly bring the much needed debate about cultural engagement much faster in Nigeria.
First, let me tell a story.
See, both my parents (as I did) studied abroad at some time in their scholarly pursuits. My Father especially loved to talk about his experiences as an undergraduate student in London far back in the 70s. He suffered tremendous racism and discrimination there. He often told of this one time a racist spat right on his face, called him a monkey and asked him to ‘return to Africa’. My parent had no intentions of settling in the UK anyway, they returned home right after they were done with school, but till my father died he told that one story about a man spitting on his face in a racist tirade.
Once, after my father told this story, I asked him if, just like that racist guy did, that everyone around the world rounded every British citizen in all countries that they had gone to and spat on their faces while throwing racist tirades, calling them names and doing EXACTLY what the Racists do in the UK? Wont this get the government and people around the world to address this problem rapidly and bring change? My Father agreed it was one solution. I agree with his agreement.
Now back to my ordeal (actually this isn’t just mine. From research and first person accounts on my previous threads, this is apparently a very serious problem in Northern Nigeria. Women that do not attire themselves in religiously compliant dresscodes are routinely harassed and mobbed). Most of the response I received from people was ‘be careful’. ‘dress like them to look like them’. ‘become like them’ etc. But again, the fact that a person uses their idea of decency, which is that a woman (only a woman) covers herself from her head to her toes, as a yardstick to condemn my choice of liberal clothing that showed half my legs and face in my exercise geer as reason to physically and verbally assault me is wrong. I do not even need to engage my reasons here. Any slightly educated person knows this…
Now, this is the wrong approach and incompatible with sound advise but, remembering my dark response to my Father’s racists and THIS mob action ordeal suffered by non Muslim women in Northern Nigeria as I did, won’t the most radical response that gets the attention of people to have actual conversation about non harassment be harassment doled out to women wearing Hijab and veils and body length clothes suggestive of a particular religious sect? What if whenever anyone attired in these attires show up in neighbourhoods other than theirs or states other than theirs, people that are not from their religion and culture get them disrobed publicly and jeered insults at, calling them disrespectful names and shaming them, Will this get the conversation out about disrespect to people’s right to their beliefs and expression, and further, a blueprint on respecting people of other beliefs and non beliefs, and a social engagement based on mutual respect?
These are just thoughts.
A caveman understands only cavemen actions and reactions.
So the intellectual in me knows all of this hurts only women. Culture and religion sets unrealistic restrictive and demeaning guidelines for women. And however it plays out, it is women that get to suffer to protect ‘the weak and fragile men from temptation’.