Sunday, February 17, 2019

#ArewaMeToo: A Hausa Normalised Culture Of Abuse

In Solidarity with our sisters fighting the good fight with the #MeToo movement!

A friend was lamenting late last year about how the sanctity of marriage has been bastardised. "Our hausa communities are rife with divorce." he cried. Fortunately or not so much, he came to me.

This year started out for me with the #MuteRKelly documentary. It is a crime documentary like no other because it is still on going, and then this nightmare came home. Over the last few weeks, harrowing details of abuse experienced by women/girls at the hands of men hit the twitter streets. All of the perpetrators of these violence against women have been people who claimed to have "love" for the victims. Trusted people even within homes. This shocked Hausa twitter. The verses for and against hitting women from the Qur'an were shared (we are still debating the autonomy of women). It was not the occurrence of the abuse itself that was so shocking, it was the why, the who, the i cannot believe it, the what did you wear, the why make it public.
One twitter user shared her story about the abuse she experienced at the hands of a previous lover. This began a domino effect on the streets of twitter which is still gaining momentum. To first of all understand the magnitude of this twitter user, Khadija's (@the_brown_one) story, is to understand the gravity of what she had done. The story came out to slap us in the face. To slap me in the face. The stories we keep hearing and sitting on top came to glare us in the face. We all knew her abuser, Lawal Abubakar (since deactivated his account), be it on twitter or in real life, that was the wave. What we did not know were the brutal details of how he turned Khadija into a property to be owned and destroyed if could not be had. Khadija is not alone. The outpour of support from women who shared her pain was a sight. These stories started vomiting out of accounts we have followed for years and did not know the trauma the humans behind the handles were living. It shakes up your idea of reality and you are left questioning who is around you.

I have never felt safe. Be it in Nigeria, be it abroad. We were often told as children that men are dangerous. My mother's fears involve us getting attacked by men, killed by men, raped by men, abused by men. I do not remember a time when these worries did not follow my mother everywhere. I remember telling her one time about getting attacked while in University and she was ready to end my education and bring me back home. The fiction is in the belief that my mother can protect the four of us when there are billions of men out there everyday getting taught to take up space in a woman's life. These men are never taught to take responsibility for their actions and you can see it in almost ever other nigerian household. Hausa people love image. Maybe it goes the same across other cultures but i am only aware of the culture i live in. We are often more concerned with the illusion of normalcy than normal itself. It is best to make it look like everything is fine than to invite the gaze of curious eyes and wagging tongues. So we accept the culture of abuse that allows and normalises the men we have allowed into our lives to unquestioningly commit acts of violence against women. (Abusers count on the silence of their victims to continue terrorising victims.)

When you hear stories of abuse in hausa communities. LOL, you don't hear stories of abuse in hausa communities. You hear whispers, a word hear and there. The tears are often washed and dried behind closed doors. He beat her once. It happened once. He raped her. You hear them take her back, marry her off to him. She goes back because she has nowhere to run. We assume these things do not happen because we do not talk about them. They only happen in the "west". That is why the abuse of women is so prevalent within hausa communities. When Khadija reposted her story (previously published in 2017 on her blog) on twitter, i saw bravery and i wept for her pain. The thread was riddled with a lot of women asking her what took her to his place. As Oh Captain! My Captain!,  Chimamanda Adichie Ngozi said, we all breathe misogyny. From all the stories, all the abusers were enabled by friends and family that did not see the cause for alarm because well, it is a woman being "corrected"---probably. One common trend by enablers is to claim women are influenced by western agenda. We have normalised abuse so much in Nigeria and the statistics of the abused becoming the abuser are out there. Not too far from reach. There is so much abuse in the homes, in the schools, in the streets. The discussion must never center around the circumstances of the victim. Trusted family members violating young boys and girls and threatening them into silence. I dropped out of Islamiyya because my teacher flogged me for going to a boarding school and forgetting some of my memorised Qur'an verses. I never went back and i never memorised the whole Qur'an. The abuse is endless and these all shape up our lives. We carry these burdens with us.

Returning back to my friend, he spoke about how young Nigerian women were not ready to stay in committed relationships anymore. "Women are not patient anymore", "Women don't want to marry anymore", "Women want rich men". As impassioned as i was, i wanted to have a conversation.
"Can you blame them? women are tired?" I asked.
He could not understand it. Tired of what? he asked. At my cousins wedding, the most prevalent unsolicited advice that was dumped on her by well-intentioned aunties were "Bari, na bari" (stop, i have stopped, in literal English). These 3 words have been drilled into the skulls of Hausa girls since time immemorial. The husband is supposed to be able to "discipline" his wife. Men are told to "control" their women. Women are asked to "ask for permission" from men to simply be. He could not understand it. We are all poster boys for the patriarchy,  I continued.
Our communities are rife with the romanticisation of the subdued woman. The woman who takes it all and does not put up a fight, like our mothers. Men are often told at a young age, that the world is theirs for the taking but the woman is a homemaker. Even between children, male children are allowed to be aggressive and often times, violent while female children are often raised to be empathic and patient so they are less likely to be violent and aggressive. Consciously or unconsciously, these indoctrinations shape up our outlook on life and who we decide to become. The words we encounter daily take up plenty space in our lives.

The age of information is a beautiful age. What a time to be alive, really. The male and female dynamic has been defined right before we were born. The roles carved out. Our mothers found it that way. Women are often forced, to settle into roles that do not in fact benefit them. Education came to change the face of the game. Young hausa girls and women are connecting with each other and other women across the world. What we found is that we share a common suffering as women. Violence against women is prevalent across the globe. A UN publication in 2018 reported, "Approximately 15 million adolescent girls (aged 15 to 19) worldwide have experienced forced sex (forced sexual intercourse or other sexual acts) at some point in their life. Out of these, 9 million adolescent girls were victimized within the past year. In the vast majority of countries, adolescent girls are most at risk of forced sex by a current/former husband, partner or boyfriend. Based on data from 30 countries, only one per cent ever sought professional help". The age of information threw at us tools to detect the problems in our society yet, the solutions have taken up so much time to actualise. The age of the subdued woman is dead, I tell my friend. He thinks women are against men and i tell him to begin asking the women around him why they "suddenly" want to change the status quo. What is the status quo? Who wrote the status quo?

There are many angles to look at the normalisation of the oppression of the hausa women from, especially when religion and tradition have been used as a weapon to keep women quiet. That is why i find much bravery in the #ArewaMeToo stories. Whenever these stories break out, the outrage and fake concern is usually towards the victim. Every female victim has been asked, why were you there? what did you wear? what did you say or do or did not say or do? When men are abused, nobody asks what were you doing there or what did you wear?
We have to change the narrative. As long as men are not taught to not be abusive, violence against women will continue within our communities. We must teach empathy and compassion. We must respect that women cannot be owned and if we must, we will keep fighting for our autonomy until we cannot. These stories will follow us and haunt us. We can choose to close our eyes to the menace that traditional values have instilled into us, or we can choose to keep expressing fake moral outrage whenever these stories hit home.

I say to the victims sharing their stories. You are not alone. We are all in this fight together. To the ones who cannot speak out, healing happens in waves. Take your time. Forgive yourself. It was never your fault and it is still not your fault. If you need help or need to talk to someone, there are plenty of us out there rooting for you.


  • Lagos State Hotline (08137960048) for Domestic and Sexual Violence
  • Women’s Rights Advancement and Protection Alternative, (WRAPA) +2348188699961, +2348172125692, +2347063807887


1) UN, Ending Violence Against Women, 2018.
2) Olu A, Temitayo I. O .Gender and political participation in Nigeria: a cultural perspective. Conference: 3rd Toyin Falola Conference, At Durban, South Africa. 2014


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