Claiming the #MeToo and #OutYourPig movements for women in Africa


#MeToo and #OutYourPig: What about women in Africa? (Photo: Pratt.edu)


About 200 people went on the streets of Nairobi, Kenya to protest after a viral video showcased a group of men stripping a woman who wore a miniskirt. While stating that ALL African women are harassed publicly, the blanket statement is closer to the truth. As a survivor of public harrassment experienced in my country, I chose to join my voice to the millions of women across the globe who speak up through Twitter-based movements such as #MeToo and #OutYourPig. Whether they are models or aid workers, women face harassment at work in the West.

As a Cameroonian woman, not only I witnessed harassment of other women more than once, but also I endured this. And to be honest, experiencing violence is a way of life for most women in Cameroon. For instance, a former supervisor publicly stated derogatory terms about me in front of my colleagues. Some male colleagues, seeing that the former supervisor had no respect for me, didn't hesitate to treat me the same even though with a lesser intensity. My supervisor's harassment intensified after I reached out the management about the situation. Needless to say I felt alone, miserable and stressed out. While I would never want to relive this horrific experience, the latter made me stronger mentally and emotionally. I benefited from the unconditional love and support from my family members. Since jobs are hard to come by in my country, they prayed for me and encouraged me to hold on until I find a better job opportunity.

As a young single female professional, I didn't meet the social expectations of having a child running after me or a ring on my finger. No number of degrees will give me respect because I wasn't married and I hadn't given birth to a human being. I was clearly a threat and the weakest link to my male colleagues. How dare did I think I could speak up for myself?  Well, that's what the derogatory statements and actions of these colleagues reminded me every day for months. The harassment was not sexual, yet other Cameroonian women cannot say the same.

African women, who received an education and a job, often have to deal with conforming to sexist dress codes and more. While men are allowed to wear whatever they like, African women can be banned from public spaces (including schools). In my opinion, it's an insult to African boys and men to assume they can't control their sexual urges. It's absolutely ridiculous to tell them girls and women can control them. Is it because a woman wears a miniskirt she deserves to be beaten and stripped naked? The miniskirt  and its 50 years of controversy have only helped to oppress girls and women and to empower abusive boys and men.  The politics of mini-skirts is sexist because traditional African clothes can be tight and revealing, exposing female bodies. So what's the big deal?

Unfortunately, governments often get involved in policing women's attire. In her World Pulse's blog titled Sexual violence fast getting legalized in Cameroon?, Cameroonian blogger Mallot Tabot  talked about harrassment in Cameroon. According to Tabot, Cameroon's Minister of Women's Empowerment and the Family Marie-Therese Obama stated in a national press conference that "Young girls in Cameroon should avoid indecent dessed so as to avoid rape and other forms of sexual violence." The message was clear to Cameroonian girls and women: if you get raped, it's your fault. The message is still true today in other 53 African countries such as Uganda, Kenya, Swaziland, Zambia to name a few. In Zambia, citizens could be arrested for wearing miniskirts, ripped skinny jeans, lace and attire outfits.

Abusers, who are overwhelming men, are not always held accountable for their violent acts even when they abuse or murder their spouses. Grace Ogiehor-Enom, the executive director of the National Association of Nigerian Nurses in North America (NANNNA) explained to Aljazeera that she created  a hotline to stop men from murdering their wives "after 10 Nigerian women - eight of them nurses - had been killed in the US by their partners between 2006 and 2008 - shot, stabbed or bludgeoned to death." The New York Times also reported that wife-beating also named as domestic violence in the West is an "epidemic" in Africa .

And please don't think religion makes a difference. Cameroonian-based women's human right activist Ngw Berlyne Ngwalem made a comparative investigation of Muslim and Christian cultures regarding public harrassment in Cameroon. Ngwalem found that Cameroonian Muslim women are still sexually harrassed. One man explained to her that "certain type of dressing in the Muslim culture signifies that a woman is single, so when she goes out men will likely sexually harass her because they are aware she is not married." The biblical verse of Ephesians 5 v.22-23 is misused to keep married Christian women submissive to their husbands even in abusives relationships. The bottom line is that religious leaders must do a better job in addressing issues such as domestic violence in their communities, and ensure their female members are protected and male members are held accountable for their abusive acts.

I wish that men in Cameroon have never harrassed me because they knew they will get away with their behavior. I wish that the media and the police will be used to stop the harrassment of Cameroonian girls and women. I wish that stress harrasment on Cameroonian girls and women will be seen as an anomoly, not the norm. I wish that African governments would focus on making sure that African girls and women get an education may create as much as hype as the way the dress. In fact, 9 out of 10 worst countries for girls to get an education are Africans. Can we please talk about that? Can we talk about making sure African girls and women actually obtain their high school diplomas?

This frenzy about women's dress code is just another strategy to make sure girls and women in African remain voiceless and powerless. And this must change. If you agree with me, I invite you to listen carefully and acknowledge the stories of women who joined the #MeToo and #OutYourPig movements.

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