If you have paid attention to the Nigerian news circle in the last few days, you must have seen the reports about the over 70 women that were accused of prostitution, abducted and then a number of them sexually assaulted by policemen in an illegal raid carried out in restaurants, bars and nightclubs in Abuja city center.
As it is quite common in Nigeria’s largely discriminatory and gender biased culture, men were not arrested and women wearing wedding rings were freed because an outward ‘proof’ of being attached to a man can temporarily protect you from mob male assault.
As a Nigerian woman who lives the experience everyday, being seen as ‘attached’ or ‘belonging’ to a man can make all the difference. From being able to rent an apartment to being treated with respect at a restaurant.
The wedding ring is a Nigerian woman’s badge of honor. Without it, she has no voice, no personality, and certainly no access to human dignity. You think I’m exaggerating?
Between January and March 2018, I tried to get a one bedroom apartment in Lagos. It was an eye opening experience. The estate agents or as we like to call them; ‘agents’ were happy to show me around all empty apartments they think I would like, and I did like some of them; but the conversation always goes downhill at instances where I have to meet the landlord.
I remember one who called the agent aside to tell me that he’s not comfortable renting to a single woman especially one who says she works in the media. His reason for being uncomfortable is that ‘I’ll constantly bring all sorts of men home’.
You see, being a single woman and working in the media industry also has it’s own issues. If single women living alone are ‘loose women’, the ones in the media are practically sex workers in the minds of the average Nigerian mind. Oh No they won’t tell you to your face or acknowledge the bias, but you’ll see it in the way you are addressed and it will come out in times like this.
My apartment search took a different turn when I started bringing a male friend along with me. Agents started treating me with deference, listening to what I had to say, and of course, turning squarely to the man I brought along with me to discuss money issues. The way they automatically turned to the man for money, their immediate conclusion that he is the one paying made me see what I already know clearly.
I’ll need to beat these people at their game if I want to survive and live my life in relative peace.
I bought myself a ring.
Not a wedding band, but an ambiguous silver ring I wore on my left finger (the one you wear wedding bands on).
The transformation has been an eye opener. I wore the ring to sign my rent agreement with the caretaker and I have been ‘enjoying’ the benefits since. If there are issues in the apartment, my phone calls get answered, my complaints are addressed relatively on time with apologies. (Not so for my immediate neighbor who is a single woman and lives alone like me)
I have noticed the difference elsewhere too. Uber drivers are respectful. They address me as ‘madam’.
Security men at banks and other public places are differential. Some attempt to help me with bags if I have a lot I’m carrying.
When I check in to hotels, I no longer get side looks from hotel security and the receptionists are not dismissive. And when I stroll into the bar alone, I am left alone to enjoy my drinks in peace.
When I go to the market, vendors don’t drag me, pull my clothes or attempt to touch me anyhow. I am addressed as ‘madam’ by shopkeepers.
And on facebook? It’s been crazy funny. Ever since I started sharing photos with the ring showing, the trolling has considerably reduced if not non-existent. The sexually inappropriate inbox messages have vanished.
My posts are still as provocative as usual, but somehow, the presence of a ring on my finger now shows I must know what I’m talking about. Suddenly, I have a right to speak my mind.
I now deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. Because of the illusion the I ‘belong’ to a man.
This is bullshit.
We cannot continue to live in a society that devalues women this way. Everyday I go out and notice how people treat me because of the stupid ring on my finger, I seethe with rage and somehow shake my head at the foolishness. I wear the ring because it’s my own coping mechanism but I will never in a million years ask all single women to do the same in order to be treated in the way they deserve.
I’ll rather call out this foolishness and injustice.
A woman is human. She doesn’t need to be attached to someone else before her humanity is respected.