“Welcome to the 10th Annual African Women’s Rights Matter Conference. Our keynote speaker for this year’s event is a renowned author, speaker, philanthropist, human rights and gender advocate, right here from Ghana. Ladies and gentlemen, with a resounding round of applause, let’s welcome Mr. Kafui Doe Gasu,” boomed my voice through the tiny mouthpiece attached to the back of my dress, connecting all the way to my mouth.
Kafui elegantly mounted the stage of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology’s Great Hall, amid the cheers and claps of the august audience of men and women, young and old, present there.
“Good morning, lovely ladies and gentlemen. It is with great pleasure that I join you here today as your keynote speaker for this year’s event. Over the years, this conference has been held all over the African continent, in countries like Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Kenya, Uganda and many others. And so to be a part of this first edition to be held in Ghana, my own motherland, makes me truly proud and honoured. Thank you once again for having me.”
The audience erupted into another applause. Kafui smiled and took a sip from the glass of water on his podium.
“Before I begin my speech, first and foremost, I would like to thank the organizers of this wonderful program, my very good friend, Elizabeth, included. You are doing a great job Liz,” he said, clapping and smiling in my direction. I nodded my acknowledgement, smiling too, because it felt wonderful to see my friend and colleague in the limelight, getting the recognition he deserved, for his enormous contribution in the fight for women’s rights here in Ghana.
Kafui continued, “So as the theme of this conference purports, we are here because of our women and their rights. African women; the ones to whom this continent owes a great deal of praise as well as apologies. Sadly, I do not bear good news as my topic today is on a growing, cankerous pandemic that threatens the rights and freedoms of our women in this continent-that is, the right to live and to have full autonomy over their bodies. Rape. Following the news these recent days have traumatized my heart, and particularly as a male, I have felt so much shame. I therefore stand on this platform to render my heartfelt apologies to you, our precious women, for failing to do enough to protect you from the few bad nuts among us.”
Another wholesome applause echoed through the arena while Kafui paused and waited for it to end before continuing.
“Few months ago, the story of Vera Uwa, the twenty-two-year-old Nigerian, university student, who was raped and brutally murdered by four men in a church, hit our screens on all social media platforms. The horrendous news appalled and outraged many of us, as I sought to question whatever could lead our men into doing these things. Lots of people had lots of comments to make but I was particularly intrigued by a certain group of commentators. Mind you, I wasn’t surprised, for these, were not new to me. They are the reason I stand here today to make this speech. I am going to talk about rape, but I did not come for the rapists. I came for you, the rape apologist. Hence the title of my speech, ‘You Rape Apologist!’
You rape apologist! You are as much a problem in the society as is the rapist. When news of a barbaric, dehumanizing rape act, that has left another, broken and discombobulated, sometimes irreparable, hits the streets, instead of speaking up against the injustice that has been caused another human, you take it upon yourself to defend the rapist. You cook up excuses and talks of provocative clothing, and home training, and all other sorts of nonsense you claim are factual. As though, somehow, these can ever be justification for the harm done. But you forget one thing, which is the fact that men get raped too, and these your ‘facts’ would not hold when applied in such situations. Also, you forget that babies, as little as two and three months old, have suffered at the hands of these brutal beasts you defend. So in the end, it is never about clothing, or training, or what you do or do not do. It is about a human being who feels entitled to the body of another human being and we all know where the entitlement points to, discerning from the statistics at hand.
You rape apologist! You say you are not a rapist and that you would never do that. But you forget that your words and questions fuel the drive of other people to rape. Because after all, they know they have their backing gangsters who will rise up to their defense even before they have asked for it. Do you not know that if your words inspire somebody to harm another, then you are equally as liable as the criminal?
You rape apologist!; always finishing your sentences with ‘but’. I know rape is bad but what if she hadn’t gone there? I agree rape is evil but she shouldn’t have provoked him. We all hate rape but what was she doing alone, at that time, in that part of town? Your sentences evoke a feeling of vomit in my throat. You speak as though you hate rape but the reality is that you do not hate it enough. Do you not realize that if you begin a sentence and end with ‘but’, the first part of your sentence becomes irrelevant in the face of the second? That it takes away the focus from ‘rape is bad’ and places it on the rest of the gibberish you will spew after the ‘but’? So in the end, is rape really that horrible for you? The answer is a simple no!
You rape apologist! You sit in society and silence girls and women who come out to share their stories and experiences of rape. Afraid of being judged and stigmatized against, by you and your kind, rape victims shy from opening up and hide away forever. For you, every rape story is a hoax, a tale meticulously carved by women to destroy men and to crave attention. I came to tell you today, that although I have not met all the women in this world, the many I have interacted with show me, that the percentage of women who would like to become famous for being raped is very minimal, almost close to null. So how come for you every story is a lie and a plot to defame? Your disbelief is telling.
You rape apologist! You who sit in the midst of your friends and family and watch them make rape-suggestive comments at women passers-by and say nothing. You know it is wrong, that comments like those are triggering, but you are too scared to tell them to stop. You do not tell them that their catcalls and gestures discomfort and objectify the women who endure them time and again. You laugh wryly alongside their dangerous jokes, which may later turn out was not just a joke after all. And when you hear your friends have destroyed somebody’s life just for their five minutes satisfaction, you do not call them out or report them. You turn a blind eye and say it’s really none of your business except that, if it had been your sister or any relative, the narrative would have been different. Is that all it takes for you take action? Only when it is your relative or loved one involved? You are just a bluffing coward.”
While Kafui paused to take another sip of water, I scanned the faces of the audience. The whole hall had been quiet all along, everyone attentively listening, as Kafui ranted on and on. From where I sat as the Master of Ceremony (MC) for the event, I could see the uncomfortable shifting and reshifting of posteriors in seats, the casual glossing of eyes from one person to the other when Kafui’s words struck a familiar cord. I knew he was dropping bombshells and they were exploding in people’s minds. My attention was particularly captured by one man who had this fiercely contorted look on his face. I could not tell whether it was from guilt or anger, or perhaps, a combination of both. I smirked silently at myself, because I, like the many women in the hall, was enjoying the speech.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Kafui continued, “Rape is an evil atrocity that threatens to destroy this continent, especially our women. Men also get raped and we must not ignore that as well. As a human rights and gender advocate, I hear many stories that leave me in awe of what the world has become. Many a times, I weep in sorrow for these victims whose stories were most likely to never have been believed or told. I hear stories of victim-blaming; women being asked to shut up because it was their fault; women being made to believe they brought whatever happened upon themselves. And sadly, it is mostly women that seek to silence their fellow women. Some even go to the extent of shaming these women, calling them witches and agents of the devil especially, if there is a man of God involved.
By refusing to hold our men accountable for their own actions, we all, have collectively in our various contributions, built this rape-apologist society. We have done this through our words, our speech, and our reactions to victims of rape who summon the courage to share their stories. It is my hope, however, that in this fight for the rights and freedoms of our women, we recognize this monstrosity and do something to abate it. In the same way we criticize victims, let us divert that energy and direct it to its proper recipient, the rapist. Let our sentences be short and bold and devoid of ‘buts’. Rape is bad. Period. It is a simple message that shows that we have no place for rape and its perpetrators in our homes, societies, countries and continent at large. Africa has a knack for producing a reputable number of rape apologists and this is why rapists feel comfortable to do what they do. If rape is bad, rape apology is even worse. Let us call out sin for what it is. Let our words and actions be part of the solution, not the problem.
In bringing my speech to a close, I would say lastly, to all you rape apologists out there. Shame on you. Henceforth, I hope you do better. And in case you did not know that your words have contributed to the hurt and destruction of another, now that you know, change your ways. God bless Africa, God bless African women, and may God bless us all. Thank you.”
The audience rose gallantly to their feet, accompanied by a thunderous explosion of claps and cheers, as Kafui bowed and took his leave off the stage. I beamed with pride and joy, as I took my position on stage to offer my appreciation to Kafui, for delivering such a mesmerizing and transforming speech. Indeed, it was one of the best I had heard since the commencement of this powerful event held in honour of African women. And to have it come from one of our own men made it extraordinarily better. I hoped fervently that his speech would awaken a renewed mindset and attitude towards rape and rape culture in our societies. YA
Elizabeth Fovi Quarshie (Ghana)
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