“Maybe because I’m a paranoid person I tend to imagine anything can happen,” 30-year-old Aduke Ade, a teacher starts with, speaking about her experience as a single lady living in Abuja. “Every day is like a blood sport. When I get home I’m like, ‘thank you, Jesus, I got home safe.’ You never can tell what’s going to happen, and as a lady, you feel less safe.”
Being a lady and single is an underrated baggage in Nigeria. Only those who live it understand the enormous troubles that come with just being a particular category of human, and just barely dragging through life. You are the target of all manner of unprocessed emotions from a seemingly cultured class such as those in the pulpit, the law officers such as armed cops and soldiers or the lowly dregs of society such as touts.
Compassion and sympathy towards the single lady is never an impulsive offering. Ade recalls an incident in April 2019 in which the Police arrested and detained between 70-100 single ladies while they were in a public recreational spot in Abuja.
“There’s this popular lounge in Wuse and the police just raided the place. They picked up random girls and tagged them prostitutes. They picked them based on their clothes and took them to the cell. If you were married and said you were with your man they would leave you.
“But if you were single they would pick you. Some of these girls, the police released if they could bribe them. It sparked a lot of reaction in Nigeria. I felt bad because I’ve been there a couple of times to have drinks with friends. What if I was one of those girls?” Some of the victims reported they were forced to trade sex for their freedom or stay in jail.
Often, the victims do not survive to tell their story. There was the story of Linda Igwetu, a National Youth Service Corps member who on her discharge from the national service went with friends to a party to celebrate. When she had had enough at the party and was going home with her friend, the police accosted them and shot her. She died shortly afterwards. The nation was rightly outraged and saddened but it changes nothing.
Ade shares her travel itinerary with friends and family, making sure to be at home by 11 pm. She, like many of her friends, employ this tactic to keep safe.
HumAngle surveyed 50 single women in Abuja about their security experiences. Many of the women reflect Ade’s sentiments about having a high level of security consciousness to assuage the growing uncertainty that they may not receive protection. The age when someone is most likely to have experienced sexual assault is under 25 years old, and many of the women who filled the survey are ages 18-25. Most of the women were either students or unemployed with median income set at 30k a month.
85% said they do not feel safe when travelling, particularly citing that travelling alone at night was an added risk. The top three things that made these participants feel unsafe were security officials, police checkpoints when travelling and possible kidnapping or robbery when taking a shared cab (registered or unregistered).
The data highlights a latent fear of authority among the surveyed participants. Perhaps this is why many have felt it best to use self-protective measures to ensure their safety. All of the women said they share their travel itineraries and many spoke of traveling in groups.
In the survey, many listed the assumptions they have heard about single women, especially single women who choose to live alone. Some of the most notable are that single women were likely to be persons of easy virtue who keep sugar daddies, or are too independent. The stigmas such labels carry make the single lady status more precarious. As Ade puts it, “there’s more respect for the Mrs.’ than the ‘Miss.’”
Although there are laws designed to protect marginalised populations, violent cases against women go largely unreported and unattended to by judicial levers. The Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act of 2015 was created to address gender-based violence in Nigeria.
The United Nations Population Fund (UNPEA), released a 2019 report studying women in Northeast Nigeria. It was reported that 28% of Nigerian women aged 25-29 had experienced physical violence since fifteen. Of these, 15 % experienced some form of physical violence within twelve months of taking the survey.
25% of married women and those living with a spouse had survived a violent altercation and the number was nearly double for single women with 44% experiencing violence at a much higher rate.
In northern Nigeria, the cultural values around modesty and one’s appearance are important. Both men and women, across all religions, adhere to this cultural standard. Additionally, Nigeria as a whole struggles with the idea that a woman has a right to her body or any human right at all.
Amidst the global #MeToo movement and other campaigns where women have bravely told their stories, many nations and institutions are challenged to grant women the right to enjoy full economic, social, and political empowerment, no matter their status.
On a macro-level, we see how these cultural movements open dialogues and create solutions. Yet, the micro-level shows there is much more ground to cover to shift practices that cultivate silence, shame, and sacrifice for the single lady.
In a culture where the laws are there in theory rather than practice, and women are often blamed for their own lot, a disconcerting rationale emerges to navigate such a precarious reality. “If I won’t be protected, then I have to protect myself.”
Women are often questioned about what they could have done differently if a violent encounter, particularly a sexual assault, happens. Such sentiments prompt women to keep quiet while taking safety matters into their own hands. They develop a running checklist of what not to do and note potential areas of risk.
Whether it is sharing their travel itineraries, dressing more conservatively, or having a curfew, a woman does her best to be beyond reproach if anything should ever happen.
Ade expresses her disappointment at the status of women, stating, “women are not respected in this part of the world. If you are living alone it’s a problem because people say, ‘You have no man to control you.’ We have a long way to go.”
There are a litany of experiences pointing to a serious pattern that shows the average lady feels unsafe, and can even feel unsafe because of authority figures abusing their power.
Featured image source: BET