David-Chyddy Eleke writes that Dorothy Njemanze, a women's rights advocate, who doubles as an actress and radio personality, through her foundation, has continually championed the cause of women's rights, especially for the under privileged
Severally, she has been branded prostitute, arrested, criminalised and made to suffer trauma because of her fight against the violation of rights of commercial sex workers in Nigeria. Welcome to the world of Dorothy Njemanze, a women's rights advocate, who doubles as an actress and radio personality.
In Owerri, Imo State recently, where was was a media trainer during the gender reporting project for media professionals, an event held by an NGO, TechHerNG, she shared about her Dorothy Njemanze Foundation and the daily struggle she faces.
According to her, on a daily basis, the rights of women are violated, either by individual male or by state actors. "This menace is very high, and these are some of the reason we decided to float the Dorothy Njemanze foundation, because we needed a group that is a legal entity, that can sue and be sued. This is the only way we can fight this injustice squarely.
"You may not know the depth of the damage that police and other state actors do on our young girls every day. I have people who have been picked on the streets of Abuja, right infront of their houses in the name that the police is fighting prostitution. I have been a victim severally, and I know how it feels, that is where I derive my power to fight for the injustice against women. I have personally been raped over 20 times, and I have vowed to fight this.
"There are women who have taken their lives because they do not wish to live with the stigma of being identified as rape victims. Not all women are as strong as myself, emotionally, but what we are doing is to find them, strengthen them with our own stories and if possible, seek redress for them where we have to."
Addressing the branding as a prostitute a typical male gives to a woman she asked, "Is there any woman that has never been branded a prostitute or called one before? Just do a Google search of my name, and all that you will find to it is prostitution because of what people branded me because I am fighting for my right and the right of other women. If you search my name on Google, the first result you will find is that I am a prostitute. I have severally been branded, so much so that people now withdraw from me.
"I suffered also suffered huge trauma because of such branding because people did not want to associate with me any longer. You know the interesting thing? The branding was done by your fellow journalists, either because they are not very competent in reporting gender issues, or because they out rightly set out to do so because they are induced.
"You know Ann Njemanze, Officer Sankey in the movie TV soap opera, she is my sister, and she almost lost her job because of my ordeal. The company producing the movie simply told her they don't want controversies in their production, especially as my name was already everywhere as an arrested prostitute. She is an actress, and I am an actress too, so people may mistake us as the same, and the TV production will come under controversy, so I do not blame the company for thinking that my travail may affect their production."
Speaking on her 2012 travail which triggered the controversy she said: "It was 2012 at about 8pm, and I just parked my car behind a bus in a street in Abuja, not knowing that the bus belonged to a task force from the Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB). I had one woman in my car, and she had just been featured on my television programme as a victim of violation. As I parked my car, stepped out of it, going past the bus, I was arrested by some officials who said I was a prostitute, and they had mandate to arrest prostitutes. I did all the explaining I could, but they ignored me.
When the lady I had in my car came out to explain to them that I was not a prostitute, but a journalists, and that she had just featured on my show, they ordered her back into the car with the threat that they will arrest her too, if she did not.
"I suffered a lot of trauma because of that because I insisted I must be freed, and that further aggravated my troubles, and I was published in several newspapers as a prostitute, locked up and denied many things. I had my certificates, I had skills but I could not get a job because my name had been so smeared all across the country. Even journalists helped to injure my reputation with their reports. Journalists must learn how to report gender issues correctly.
"Do not sensationalise your report. There are some terms that should not be used in your stories. For example, it is not right to refer to a woman as a 'victim' because she was raped. By merely addressing her like that, you find out that it will evoke more emotions in her if you do. Why not try referring to her as a 'survivor'? That will make her feel strong. Again, instead of referring to a woman as a prostitute, why not call her a commercial sex worker?
"Many journalists are killing women with their reports, but they do not know, and everyday, the violation against women keeps increasing because the state actors think they can get away with everything. Through our advocacy, more women are now aware and ready to stand up for their right. When I led a protest against the raid of some women in Abuja in a strip club last year, all that our media could report was that - prostitutes protest arrest of their colleagues in Abuja.
"During the last year protest, after the raid of night clubs and arrest of strip dancers, I led a march, against security operatives and the way they were treating ladies. Because of the 2012 incident, I didn't think up to 30 ladies would show up for the march, but behold, we had over 2,000 ladies who turned up for the march. What does that tell us? I found out that more people were being violated by our security operatives on a daily basis, and that they were ready to come out and be identified, and let their voices be heard, unlike before now.
"Some of them who spoke to us said they came out because they cannot continue to keep quiet and be violated by police officers. One of them even said, "The body na my own, even if I want use am do prostitute, I go do because na my own, but for police people to de arrest us, make us to look like criminals, and after that, the same reason wey them arrest us say we dey do prostituting, them go still sleep with us and no go pay us sef, na that one we no gree.
"So, I think gender perception and biases is still a problem in our society. Even if one was a sex worker, is it enough to violate the person? Many ladies that I know have taken their lives because of this. It was the same with me during my ordeal, I only started feeling relieved after 'Silent Tears' documentary was produced. People now saw the true story of what actually happened and how I was ill treated. Only then did people start taking my calls again, and even interacting with me."
Addressing the issue of why daily arrest of ladies in Abuja has continued Njemanze said: "
"I know why it is like that. This a cartel that is working to cover a N5billion budget dedicated for the rehabilitation of prostitutes and they have to keep arresting women to give the impression that they are working. It is a racket, and I was working to unravel that racket when I was arrested in 2012.
"From the video footages we showed you during the lectures, you will see that some of these women from their confessions are innocent. How did I get the footages you watched? I got some from members of civil society organisations who reached out to the AEPB people on the guise that they wanted to help them in exposing the prostitutes by taking video recordings of them, while they are being arrested They didn't know that these people were working on something different.
"This people got the video recordings, unknown to the Abuja Protection board people that they were working with us. That was how all the atrocities these police people perpetuate in the name of fighting prostitution was unraveled.
What is funny is that even the CSO members who were female who came back in the evening and join them to go for the evening raid were arrested and branded prostitutes, so they had to start explaining that they were from the CSO and actually working with them, before they were freed.
"That shows you how the ladies are arrested. Anyone who is a woman and seen outside at a particular time is arrested and tagged a prostitute. That is why a woman who just left her house to buy something from a shop down the road can be arrested and branded a prostitute, and taken to cell and made to part with money and even assaulted too. When they arrested you, some people will come and justify the arrest and say - "What was she doing outside by that time, or what was she wearing?" What even makes it wrong for a woman to decide to go to the club to unwind? Does a woman going to the nightclub to unwind mean she is a prostitute?"
"By the way, they are people who have been arrested while going to night vigil too, how do they justify that? As for those who were in the strip club, they do it as professionals to put food on their table. If you must arrest the women, why leave out the men who came to watch? During that raid, I can tell you that even ladies who came with their boyfriends and men who came with their wives had the women among them arrested, so what is the justification in what they are doing if it is not to cover up for the N5billion budget?
"Women have been so ill treated that even when a women is raped, some people come out to ask, What was she wearing? What concerns what a lady is wearing with the action of a man which is not right? If you say that, what it means is that you are justifying the action of the man by raping a woman. These are some of the rights that have been denied women, which we are asking that it be addressed. That is the reason for this workshop, so that journalists like you will report women fairly.
"To this day, they is an average of 45 to 100 persons who are arrested on a daily basis in Abuja. Even at that, no one is speaking up, and when you dare speak, you are branded a prostitute, and they unleash the media against you. They are media people who have also been co-opted into this racket, and if you dare try to fight against the regular raids, especially for women like us, they start saying you are a prostitute and that is why you are fighting for your people. You cannot fight them because they have all the money. If you speak to one radio station, they have the money to speak to more than 10 stations. They do all these to justify the N5billion budget mapped out for the rehabilitation of prostitutes."
Noting that there is still a long way off in terms of equality between men and women in Nigeria she shared her personal experiences in that regard.
"Let me tell you a story - I derive a lot of joy driving myself around the country, it is something I enjoy doing, and the adrenaline I derive from it helps me to heal from my past traumas. But because I am a woman, Policemen will stop me along the road and ask - Where are you coming from? You say Abuja, and they ask you, where are you going to? And you say Lagos. The next thing you hear is - are you not afraid driving along on this road?
"How many men have they asked that question, or is it because I am a woman? At every point in time, society always tries to make the women feel that they are less, compared to the men. That is why I usually say that it is wrong for journalists to ask a female politician how she hopes to cope with family and office. You will not ask the man that, so why ask the woman?", she added.