Late last month, National Youth Service corper, Grace Ushang was brutally raped and murdered while on her tour of duty in Maiduguri. Apparently, she was metted out this sentence for wearing trousers. Yes, the same khaki trousers that have been part and parcel of the NYSC uniform since God-knows-when.
For the past few weeks, several have drawn links between the death of Grace Ushang and the proposed Indecent Dressing Bill authored by Senator Ufot Ekaette. The bill for the Act to Prohibit and Punish Public Nudity, Sexual Intimidation, and other Related Offences demands that women, over the age of fourteen, remained covered from two inches below the shoulder to just below the knees. Additionally, Ekaette has included a clause that attempts to stifle widespread sexual harassment of females in universities, workplaces, etc. Though Ekaette’s pet project failed to pass its third reading last year, the argument, largely circulated by Asma’u Joda and Iheoma Obibi of the Nigerian Feminist Forum, is that legislation such as Ekaette’s indirectly promote vigilante violence against women who are found to be violation of various number of other-imposed dressing codes. Extreme interpretations of Ekaette’s call to action could lead to several repeats of the the Ushang travesty. Some areas of Nigeria bear a proclivity towards vigilantism, and the Nigerian police force is at times a mere extension of the highest bidder. Add religious fanaticism to the mix, and quite literally, all hell breaks loose. If the connection between religious fundamentalism (both Christian and Islamic) and the endangerment of our country’s females has not yet been made through the Ushang case, I am certain it will become all the more clearer with the passing of similarly-minded bills.
A month has passed and the perpetuators of Ushang’s rape and murder have not yet been apprehended. I have not yet come to terms with the idea that at this point in time, we know the motives of the perpetrators, but no one has been arrested. I wholeheartedly disagree with the idea that Ushang’s rape and eventual death was the result of her wearing khaki trousers. Those men who attacked Ushang did so, not in the name of Allah; but rather, they acted on their animalistic urges, which looms relatively unchecked in a society where violence against women remains pervasive. The fact that there is an excuse being circulated as to why Ushang was attacked so ruthlessly is a glaring indictment on our nation’s view of rape and other violent acts committed against women. We all know, (minus Senator Ekaette), that the worn-out excuse of “her trousers (skirt, blouse, what-have-you) made me do it” is a pretty pathetic explanation for anything. However, the fact that we even try to explain away such heinous crimes is orders of magnitude more pathetic. Any explanation for rape other than the rapist is, truly, a sick bastard, directly or indirectly shifts blame to the victim. If such is not the case or intention, blaming Ushang’s khakis is some twisted means by which to rationalize the brutality of the crime. Needless to say, I don’t buy into either – blaming the victim, nor tempering the barbaric nature of the crime with some careless explanation. Let’s call a spade a spade – wonton violence is wonton violence and can only be perpetuated by the vilest of the vile.
In response to the rape and murder of Grace Ushang, the National Youth Service Director-General, has simply instructed youth corpers to be more “security conscious.” Sokari, of Black Looks, finds such a response, incredible and details in her comments that women should have the right to reject assignments to troubled areas of the country. Some report that the President has called for NYSC coordinators to not post youth corpers to “troubled spots.” However, there is no word yet on how or when such measures will be implemented.
While I am support of any endeavour to prevent the posting of corpers, particularly women, to dangerous sites, such measures fail to address a very important underlying issue. When NYSC Director-General, in the wake of the Ushang rape and murder, calls for corpers to be more “security-conscious,” he unknowingly subscribes to the belief that such incidents can largely be prevented on the part of the would-be victim. Shortly after the death of Ushang, a House amendment to create a youth corper uniform that adheres to “religious and cultural” standards was proposed. Fortunately such a move was swiftly rejected.
“Be security-conscious,” “don’t wear clothing that may arouse the interest of men,” “don’t make him angry, lest he beat you” – these statements are examples of how we as a society have come to accept that sexual assault against women can be ascribed to some aspect of the victim’s behavior. Last year, author Chimamanda Adichie penned the following about arguments against Ekaette’s bill:
“Many Nigerians have pointed out how silly the bill is when we have serious problems with power, health, education, roads, water. Still, to offer these alternatives is to give the bill a legitimacy of sorts. If we solved these serious problems, would it then be acceptable to punish a woman in a putative democracy who chooses to wear a miniskirt? (emphasis mine) ”
Similarly, if vigilantism and religious fundamentalism were not an issue, Ekaette’s bill would still be problematic. Beyond invasion of personal freedom, it silently gives credence to the idea that victims of sexual assault are somehow responsible for their fate.
There has been a foundation raised in honor of the memory of Grace Ushang to fight sexual assault. Details can be found here.