Protests Aren’t Tea Parties: Don’t Expect Women to Be Civil

On Sunday, June 30, Nigerian women marched to the Commonwealth of Zion Assembly (COZA), to protest the alleged rape of Busola Dakolo by the general overseer of the church. Pastor Biodun Fatoyinbo. Busola says the rape was committed when she was 17 years old.

Though I couldn’t be at the venue of the protests held in Lagos and Abuja, I took to Facebook to protest against sexual violence, call out “religious” enablers and unfriend rape apologists.

Going through comments on social media and conversing with individuals about the protest, I learned that we carried out the protest the wrong way. 


What did we do wrong? 

Apart from having the nerve to call out a man of God and not letting God be the judge;

  1. We staged our protest in front of the church on a Sunday.
  2. We booed church members who attended Sunday’s service.  

In summary, we were uncivil. 

Excuse me “church police” (for lack of a better word), how do you expect a protest against rape to be civil in a country where:

  • One in four girls and one in ten boys have experienced sexual violence before the age of 18.
  • Over 31.4% of girls say that their first sexual encounter has been raped or forced sex of some kind. 
  • The Nigeria Police recorded 1,788 rape cases and 1,827 in 2015, with the numbers still on the rise. Of these, there have only been 18 convicted rape cases.
  • On average 90 rape cases are reported monthly.

Ladies and Gentlemen, whether it’s a walk against rape or a march for reproductive rights, women-led protests aren’t tea parties-don’t expect us to smile and be civil.  Vann R. Newkirk II, writing in The Atlantic captures my thoughts on women’s protest and civility quite well.

“Protest is not often civil. It’s incivility that has served as an alternative to violent resistance, and it is what has functioned best as an antidote to the violence of oppressors”

In line with the above, the “uncivil” nature of many women-led protests is necessary in order to bring public attention to issues not often discussed such as sexual abuse in the church, shatter the patriarchy’s agenda to keep women in chains and reveal the injustice women face.

Besides being termed uncivil, reactions to women organized and led protests reminds me of the ingrained culture and social attitudes that Nigerian women face when they rise up to complain about injustice.  

You see “good girls” don’t protest. 

Those who do are body shamed, called ‘prostitutes’, mocked, advised to protest more pressing social-economic issues, harassed or physically abused. For instance, during the Market March, some furious male traders threw stones and sachets of water as protesting women chanted “stop touching us”.

While protesting the alleged assault of women in Abuja by officers of the Nigerian Police Force, a protester was threatened by a policeman who wanted to “press her breasts”. This happened in front of the police command in Lagos state.


Do our protests lead to change?

Considering the fact that change can sometimes be slow and not always drastic, I’d say yes. 

Fatoyinbo stepped down briefly from the pulpit and is presently being investigated by the police. Since Fatoyinbo has a history of ignoring rape allegations, this is progress. However, we await the outcome of police investigations.

Market March has been effective at reducing market harassment in markets. Some traders at the Yaba market where Market March was held have stopped touching women who come to buy wares.

Despite the negative reaction we receive during and after protests, and chants of us being “uncivil” one thing is clear: the era of Nigeria women being silent in the face of sexual abuse, gender inequality and injustice is ending.  Since my generation has adopted the Audre Lorde mindset of: “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own”, I predict there will be more protests to come. 

Whether these protests will be civil, depends on what side of the fence you’re on and how we’re feeling on that day. However, just don’t expect us to smile while we’re at it.

Share your thoughts on what you think about women-led protests and expectations of politeness put on women.


Adebisi Adewusi is a writer and photographer