Nigeria: Man, or Bear?

Addressing the Pandemic of Sexual and Gender Based Violence against Women and Girls.

Social media especially TikTok is buzzing with the "Man or Bear?" trend with over 65,000 responses so far asking if women would prefer to be left alone in the woods with a man or bear. Interestingly and equally worrisome, many women chose the bear because they can predict the actions of a bear to either kill them or leave them alone but couldn't say the same for a man who will most likely abuse them and kill them in the end all the while enjoying the torture.

This hypothetical question has sparked heated debates online and offline about women's safety at home, work, school, and leisure and raises questions about how safe women feel around men. Equally worrisome, many men when asked the same question about their wife, daughter or sister in the same circumstance chose the bear. One man chose the bear because according to him, the beast will just eat his daughter but appeared mortified about what the man would do to his daughter when left alone. Women aren't even safe with intimate partners as intimate partner violence is one of the most common forms of gender-based violence against women and girls.

According to a Forbes article, women say the bear will either kill them or leave them alone but there are hundreds of other horrible ways a man can hurt them with satisfaction. Other women say when attacked by a bear, no one will ask them what they were wearing when the bear attacked them. Some women say that if they do survive the bear attack, they will not have to see the bear at family reunions, the attack will not be filmed by the bear and shared to his friends, and no one will question if the bear attack really happened. Afterall, the worst a bear can do is kill them because a bear is by nature savage but can't tell on sight what a man can or cannot do.

To understand why many women will choose a dangerous animal over a man, one needs to take a cursory look at the statistics and facts around GBV globally and in country.

Numbers Don't Lie.

Violence against women remains devastatingly pervasive as the WHO says one in three women, around 736 million, are subjected to physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner or sexual violence from a non-partner. On average, more than five women and girls are killed every hour by their partner or another family member, according to UN Women.

UNICEF reports that every minute, 28 girls under the age of 18 are married, totalling at least 12 million girls globally each year. Women and girls in Sudan and Haiti are being raped. South Africa and India have the highest rape figures in the world. The United States is on track to surpass last year's femicide rate while that of Spain has more than doubled since the COVID-19 pandemic. A 2018 Reuters Poll ranks Nigeria the ninth most dangerous place to be a woman and so-called honour-killings are still widespread in Iran. Every country in the world has unacceptable rates of violence perpetrated against women and girls.

However, according to the North American Bear Centre, the most common bear in the US kill less than one person annually. The U.S. National Park Service (NPS) says bear attacks are incredibly rare, and most are done out of a bear's interest in "protecting food, cubs, or their space", "most bear encounters end without injury", and "most bears do not want to attack you; they usually just want to be left alone." There are an average of 40 attacks on humans by brown bears each year, according to a study published in Nature, about 11 of which occur in North America. This figure pales in comparison to the millions of instances of violence perpetrated against women every year.

According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN), one out of every six American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime. RAINN also says on average, there are nearly 450,000 victims of rape and sexual assault every year in the U.S. In Nigeria, while there are no recorded bear attacks, one in three women have or will experience GBV in their lifetime.

There is a genocide of women occurring around the globe that we are not doing enough to stop. These figures are of pandemic proportions and both men and women, policymakers, lawmakers, and social justice advocates need to be worried about it and urgently take actions that will reverse the trend.

Why Are Women Afraid of Men?

Gender based violence is a pervasive phenomenon globally and throughout Nigeria due to social norms that permit such violence, resulting in a lack of accountability for perpetrators. These social norms reflect deep patriarchal beliefs about the roles and values of women in broader society that encourage violence.

Of course, those who are quick to blame feminism as the cause of this disturbing trend have started to do so stating that feminists just simply hate men and are using this debate to further their agenda. However, according to Justin Musk, the enemy of feminism isn't men. Its patriarchy and patriarchy is not men. It is a system, and women can support the system of patriarchy just as men can support the fight for gender equality.

Men should be offended when someone claims that women should prevent rape or sexual harassment by not wearing certain things, going to certain places, or acting in a certain way. That line of thinking presumes that men are incapable of control, that men are so base and uncivilised that it takes extraordinary effort for a man to walk down the street without raping anyone. That men require women to maintain a certain dress code, that certain behaviours be employed so that maybe today, just maybe, as a man, they won't rape someone. It presumes that the natural state of a man is rapist, and men of good will should refuse to agree with this analogy.

What men fear in a dark lonely alley or a kidnapper's den is what women and girls live with daily just walking on the streets, at work, in the market, in a place of worship, in school and even at home. So, while this comparison is rather brutal, its a reality check for men to see how the actions of a deranged few and the inactions of good men have influenced the perception of women and girls about the male gender.

Changing the Status Quo

The Man versus Bear debate is a challenge for good men to upturn the status quo which gives the impression that women and girls are not safe around them. We need to urgently address social norms, cultural practices and religious ideologies that tacitly encourage behaviours and attitudes that sanction violence against women and girls using a comprehensive approach involving various stakeholders.

Education and awareness, legislation and policy, support services, empowerment of women and marginalized groups, engaging men and boys, community mobilization, media and culture, data and research, and personal accountability are the multifaceted approaches to tackling GBV through sustained effort and collaboration across sectors and communities. It's a complex issue that demands a holistic and intersectional approach.

Perhaps in another decade or less, women and girls will safely choose to be with a man all alone in the woods, assured of their safety and protection, than with a vicious beast. Until then, we need men to prove us wrong!

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