By Ekene Odigwe
Ifeoma is the oldest of five siblings. She does not go to school, as she helps her mother raise her younger ones because of her poor background. To do that, she was sent to “Aunty Regy” who lives in the big city. She works for Madam while madam sends her wage to the mother. Throughout the day she moves around with a bowl of fresh fruits, calling on passers-by to patronize her. In all of this Ifeoma is scared not of the fast cars or some careless drivers nor the kidnappers; but the 16 year old is terrified of entering the market to hawk her wares or standing by the bus stops. Why, you would ask?
Each time she tries entering the market to hawk her wares, it is either she’s groped by some men or she is verbally abused by these men when she tries to fight back. To compound her situation, she has to finish all her wares, as a help, otherwise her aunty will beat her up and she wouldn’t have anything for dinner.
Poor girl, this is the story of many women and girls who dare to fight back when they are dragged by the hand, cat- called or objectified right in public spaces. The air of entitlement some men feel when they touch, cat-call, grope, bully and intimidate women and girls is utterly shocking. Consequently, on Saturday 15 December 2018, a group of women led by #MarketMarch founder, Damilola Marcus (@OmogeDami) staged a march at Yaba market in Lagos to protest the sexual harassment and somewhat derogatory sexual slurs that accompany it. That march sparked conversations about what women and girls like Ifeoma pass through.
Mixed reactions followed the march, Baba Folarin explains that sexual harassment and assault to the average Nigerian is normal but if you resist it, you are a prostitute and as a woman who is chaste, you must love sexual harassment, he concluded.
Kemi Lala Akindoju feels that that the girl child/woman in Nigeria already has the odds against them for just for being a woman and reminded all that there’s so much work to do because of how we were raised.
Babajide Sanwo-Olu, the governor-elect of Lagos state, in a tweet, praised the bold and powerful move by this group of young women who took sexual harassment advocacy away from just social media but to the actual streets, he also reiterated how Social media allows us to come across many powerful stories and how the vision and message of the #MarketMarchYaba team is one that needs to be spread around world.
His words resonated beyond the shores of Nigeria that iServe2050, a volunteer and leadership platform focused on raising and empowering a new generation of IGBO Youth leaders for the fourth Industrial Revolution era and Young African Leaders Initiative, (YALI) Enugu state hub partnered with Market March to have this sensitization march in Enugu, South East Nigeria.
Now, the significant thing about this movement is that it is gradually spreading to other markets across Nigeria and strong allies and advocates are coming together to lean in on Ms. Damilola’s idea that it is possible.
Market March Ogbete became a reality on the 23 March 2019, with many organizations now supporting through their resources, BBC Igbo, Radio Nigeria Coalcity FM, Solid FM, Pulse NG, Urban radio, Coal City Blog, News Agency of Nigeria, The Ogbete Market Traders Association and Youths across the state. The Team in Enugu led by iSERVE2050 founder Juliet ‘Kego and YALIEnugu Programme officer Iheanyi Igboko rolled out from Polo Park Mall and marched through the streets of Enugu to the Market. This second march was still met with some resistant parties but not as much as it was in Yaba, that can only mean one thing, the traders are becoming aware and the organizers are strategizing better.
At the end of the march, it was clear as the message was passed because the whispers of #NwanyiBuIfe team and what they can do if anyone harasses anyone was indelible in everyone’s hearts. As the words “I am not your colour, I am not your size and don’t touch” became the next anthem for all.
Ella Igboko said her #MarketMarchOgbete Experience is a traumatising one as the way some men threw slurs at them were unbelievable. She ended it with a message urging men to stop harassing, groping, touching women at the market or public spaces!
@Ekeneodigwe is a SDGs content creator, Social media Strategist and Multimedia Personality.