Oluwabamise Ayanwole’s Brutal Murder Highlights Horrific Plight of Women in Nigeria
INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY 2022: Only Struggle and Socialism Can End Oppression of Women
March 8, of every year is celebrated as international women’s day all over the world. On the eve of the event this year, the brutal murder of a 22-year-old woman, Oluwabamise Ayanwole who had been missing for days after boarding a Bus Rapid Transport (BRT) in Lagos, was reported to a shocked public. Police and witnesses are suspecting ritual killing. This would not be the first time. In the first two months of this year, there have been numerous reports of ritual killings with girls and women as victims. This incident highlights the horrific plight of women in Nigeria.
By Temiloluwa Ajetunmobi
March 8 is now a day set aside by the United Nations (UN) to celebrate and appreciate women of noble achievement who have impacted in economy, science, cultural and political aspect of our society, despite all the limitations imposed on women by some societies. It is also used to highlight the value of women and their capacity to contribute more to the progress of humanity. The theme given by United Nations for this year international women’s day is “Gender Equality Today for a Sustainable Tomorrow” #BreakTheBiasa recognizing the contributions of women and girls around the world who are leading the global voices on climate change mitigation and response to build a more sustainable future for all.
A brief History
However historically, the International Women’s Day was first celebrated 111 years ago as a day to protest against the oppression of women, especially working class, peasant and poor women, under capitalism and to discuss how to improve the struggle for the liberation of women. These socialist ideas contrast with the prevailing idea of what the day is generally set aside for today. Unfortunately, just as the 8-hour working day, much of the marking of this important has been taken over by the capitalist state, humanitarian institutions and NGOs thereby neutering its real revolutionary significance. The United Nations did not start celebrating international Women’s Day until 1975 – several decades after the day had become an annual day across Europe and the US. The origin of the International Women’s Day is closely associated with workers and suffragettes struggles in Europe and America and then the 1917 Russian revolution. The first national women’s day was marked in the United States in 1909 and it was a day for working women and their supporters to organize militant marches and demonstrations calling for better wages, shorter working hours, better working conditions and the right to vote.
In 1910, German Socialists proposed at an International Socialist Women Conference for a “Special Women’s Day” to be set aside annually. This was what gave an international character to the women’s day as we know it today. Since then, the international women’s day has become a rallying point for women and activists to organize to fight against gender oppression and capitalism. It was this day in Petrograd, 1917, that women textile workers left their machines to march to the Tsar’s palace demanding food for their children and an end to the devastating war. This became the beginning of the 1917 Russian revolution which ended nine months later in workers taking power for the first time in history and began to construct a new society based on common and democratic ownership of wealth.
Women played an important role in this revolution and the Bolsheviks, the party that led the Russian revolution, had a robust and uncompromising policy to abolish the oppression of women in the new workers’ state. Summing up in “The Revolution Betrayed” the accomplishments of the revolution in addressing women oppression, Leon Trotsky, one of the main leaders of the revolution, writes: “The October revolution honestly fulfilled its obligations in relation to woman. The young government not only gave her all political and legal rights in equality with man, but, what is more important, did all that it could, and in any case incomparably more than any other government ever did, actually to secure her access to all forms of economic and cultural work. However, the boldest revolution, like the ‘all-powerful’ British parliament, cannot convert a woman into a man–or rather, cannot divide equally between them the burden of pregnancy, birth, nursing and the rearing of children. The revolution made a heroic effort to destroy the so-called family hearth–that archaic, stuffy and stagnant institution in which the woman of the toiling classes performs galley labour from childhood to death. The place of the family as a shut-in petty enterprise was to be occupied, according to the plans, by a finished system of social care and accommodation: maternity houses, creches, kindergartens, schools, social dining rooms, social laundries, first-aid stations, hospitals, sanatoria, athletic organisations, moving-picture theatres, etc. The complete absorption of the housekeeping functions of the family by institutions of the socialist society, uniting all generations in solidarity and mutual aid, was to bring to woman, and thereby to the loving couple, a real liberation from the thousand-year-old fetters.” (Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed, p. 144.)
Horrific Plight of Nigerian Women
The issue of gender inequality has been in existence since the advent of class society. Women are seen as second class citizens or inferior object of humanity. They are subjected to hardship, torture, oppression, inequality. They are the ones directly facing the pain of environmental degradation, pollution, famine, food shortage, insecurity and lots more. Women are that part of the society that face the hardship of any disaster that befalls any society.
In Nigeria, the plight of women is ghastly. Women are being kidnapped, raped and killed for money-making rituals and organ harvesting. Foundation for Partnership Initiatives in the Niger Delta (PIND) says “150 women and girls were killed for ritual purposes between January 2018 and December 2021 … The NGO said the prevailing situation is driven by a growing demand for human body parts for money-making ritual” (The Cable 19 February 2022). Aside this, women and girls are exposed to all kinds of inhuman treatment in the numerous violent conflicts plaguing Nigeria. They are a major victim of the decade-long Boko Haram insurgency and many women in refugee camps have been subjected to rape and sexual exploitation.
In the case of banditry in the North of the country, two researchers, Oluwole Ojewale and Omolara Balogun, argue that women and girls bear the most significant burden. According to them, amidst the violence “sexual violence has skyrocketed with women frequently raped, kidnapped or commodified by families who are forced to exchange their daughters for protection. For instance, at least 30 women and girls were raped indiscriminately across five communities in Shiroro Local Government Area of Niger State. A similar act was carried out in Tsafe Local Government Area of Zamfara State in response to communities refusing to pay a N3 million levy (approximately US$5,000). Additionally, the humanitarian toll of banditry extends to livelihoods relied on by women, with markets and farms often raided. Victims’ highlight the effect of rape and hunger in the midst of rising insecurity and the desperate need of food, protection, shelter and clothes. Access to water has also become increasingly difficult in congested camps for displaced persons. In the unfolding events, bandits are also co-opting women for their criminal activities. In November 2021, the Nigeria Police Force arrested a woman for supplying 991 rounds of AK-47 live ammunition and drugs to bandits in Zamfara (Africa at LSE, January 10, 2022, https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/africaatlse/2022/01/10/banditry-impacts-on-women-children-in-nigeria-needs-policy-response-kidnappings-ssi-education/).
According to UNICEF, “Nigeria’s 40 million women of childbearing age (between 15 and 49 years of age) suffer a disproportionally high level of health issues surrounding birth. While the country represents 2.4 per cent of the world’s population, it currently contributes 10 per cent of global deaths for pregnant mothers. Latest figures show a maternal mortality rate of 576 per 100,000 live births, the fourth highest on Earth. Each year approximately 262,000 babies die at birth, the world’s second highest national total. Infant mortality currently stands at 69 per 1,000 live births while for under-fives it rises to 128 per 1,000 live births. More than half of the under-five deaths – 64 per cent – result from malaria, pneumonia or diarrhoea. Investment in this sector has been high in recent years although the proportion of patients able to access appropriate treatment remains low” (https://www.unicef.org/nigeria/situation-women-and-children-nigeria). At 27 per cent, Nigeria still has the third highest absolute number of women and girls (19.9 million) who have undergone female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) worldwide. “It is more commonly practised in the south, driven by grandmothers and mothers-in-law aiming to curb promiscuity, prepare girls for marriage and conform to tradition” (Ibid).
In the same vein, Nigeria accounts for more than one in five out-of-school children anywhere in the world. “Girls suffer more than boys in terms of missing out on education. In the north-east of Nigeria only 41 per cent of eligible girls receive a primary education, 47 per cent in the north-west. Social attitudes can also impact negatively on education rates especially in northern Nigeria. In north-eastern and north-western states, 29 per cent and 35 per cent of Muslim children, respectively, attend Qur’anic education, which does not include basic education skills such as literacy and numeracy. These children are officially considered out-of-school by the government” (Ibid).
Women also suffered the brunt of the COVID Pandemic. This manifested in many forms including rise in domestic and sexual violence during the lockdown. Accordingly, data from the Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team (DSVRT) showed that in 2021, “the agency dealt with 2,584 domestic and sexual violence cases for adults, out of which women were the greatest victims with 2,349 cases… The DSVRT data further showed that 143 cases were reported in January 2021 with women accounting for 133 of the total number of survivors. Most of the women were aged between 18 and 45 years” (Guardian newspaper, 27 February 2021).
Organise and Fightback
The plight of women is pronounced in the capitalist society and this imperialist world because the exploitation and inequality and the discrimination that comes with it is so uneven, cruel and vicious. In the present times where advancement in science and technology should have helped abolish or break the inequality and discrimination that accompany women oppression in the society, women are even more seen as a mere commodity, an object to be exploited and segregated in workplaces, community, and politics.
In politics and decision making, women are often relegated to the back seat or not even invited to the decision table. This is bad to the extent that decisions are made on women’s issues without women’s involvement. On 1st March 2022, at the start of the ‘Women’s month’, Nigeria’s National Assembly voted out five (5) bills sponsored by gender advocates to improve women’s representation in politics and society. This singular incident shows how steep in patriarchy and how resistant to reform is the neo-colonial capitalist establishment in Nigeria. It would take a determined struggle involving protests and demonstrations and linked with the labour movement to win the most basic improvement for Nigerian women.
Climate change is now a very major concern in the globe but women and girl child are the ones facing its most negative effect. Our world is poisoned day by day by a system that has no regard to the female gender and the working class as a whole. It is damaging our world more and the lifespan of our earth and its inhabitants are at stake. The contest for profit and power is driving our world crazy. Women constitute half of the human population – no progress is possible without their participation. We need a society whereby women participation is seen as a key element in progressive development.
As Leon Trotsky said, “The position of woman is the most graphic and telling indicator for evaluating a social regime and state policy” (Trotsky, Writings (1937-38), p. 129.). It is not an accident that women in Nigeria suffer monumental oppression. The horrific plight of Nigerian women is another testament to the blind alley of capitalism. For a gender equal world and a sustainable tomorrow, we need to fight to win improvement for women and also build a Socialist society with a planned economy under which the means of production will be commonly owned and democratically utilized to provide for the needs of all. It is only in this kind of society that women oppression can be ended and real and genuine equality accomplished.
In terms of what difference Socialism can make, Trotsky explained in his article “From the Old Family to the New”, which appeared in Pravda on the 13 July, 1923: “The physical preparations for the conditions of the new life and the new family, again, cannot fundamentally be separated from the general work of socialist construction. The workers’ state must become wealthier in order that it may be possible seriously to tackle the public education of children and the releasing of the family from the burden of the kitchen and laundry. Socialisation of family housekeeping and public education of children are unthinkable without a marked improvement in our economics as a whole. We need more socialist economic forms. Only under such conditions can we free the family from the functions and cares that now oppress and disintegrate it. Washing must be done by a public laundry, catering by a public restaurant, sewing by a public workshop. Children must be educated by good public teachers who have a real vocation for the work. Then the bond between husband and wife would be freed from everything external and accidental, and the one would cease to absorb the life of the other. Genuine equality would at last be established. The bond will depend on mutual attachment. And on that account particularly, it will acquire inner stability, not the same, of course, for everyone, but compulsory for no one.”
As we celebrate another anniversary of the International Women’s Day, the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) urge all women and men who want to organise to fight against women oppression to join us to build a movement that fights energetically on these issues while also partaking in the struggle of the working people as a whole to put an end to capitalism which is the source of all oppression.