Inside Nigerian markets where sexual harassment is making women feel violated

Road side sellers at Lagos Balogun market (Pulse Nigeria)
  • Business Insider writes on Nigerian markets where harassment against women go unchecked 
  • Public harassment includes groping and catcalling, sexually explicit comments, sexist remarks, homophobic slurs, leering, stalking, flashing, and assault.
  • Despite calls against harassment by stakeholders, Nigerian women continue to wait endlessly for enabling laws

About 10 years after Funmi (not real name) experienced various forms of harassment at Yaba market, one of the most popular markets in Lagos, Nigeria's commercial city, the psychological trauma still lives with her.

While in secondary school, the young girl passed through the popular Yaba market to her parents' house about 2 kilometers off the market and the fastest route to her home. She dealt with groping and catcalling - some of the forms of harassment that exist in markets all over Nigeria

Others include sexually explicit comments, sexist remarks, homophobic slurs, leering, stalking, flashing, and assault.

According to a Washington D.C.-based NGO, Stop Street Harassment, most women and some men will face gender-based street harassment by strangers in their life.

Funmi shares her story with Business Insider SSA, revealing how the ugly incidents at Yaba market left psychological scars.

“Most of the time I pass through the Yaba market, I feel naked. Imagine you standing in front of someone (usually a seller) fully dressed and they are explaining what your body looks like to you.

These guys come from nowhere and start saying things like ‘indomie baby’, ‘men have started touching you’, ‘na only you carry this yansh’ (making gesture about her booty).

“I am a naturally confident person, but, it got to a point I wasn't so confident in myself because of these guys."

She said the harassment went on for a very long time due to the proximity of her home to the market.

“They were calling me names that were not mine. It went on for a very long time because I had to go to school,” and the market served as the only pathway to school,” she explained.

Corroborating Funmi’s claims, a young lady at the market, also explained the unpleasant situation women faced in the hands of traders. “I have been coming to Yaba for some time now, and each time I am here (market), I always feel harassed by the sellers.

“Some will just hug you from the back while some will not allow you to move, all in the name of trying to woo customers to buy a certain good.”

Their stories are no different from other Nigerian women who have faced street harassment, a form of gender violence and violation of human rights that limits people's mobility and access to public spaces.

Anthony Orji, Chairman of the Shoe Dealers section at Yaba market, defended his colleagues, saying it is not a ’normal thing’ to touch people to call their attention to buy their wares and not necessary harassment.

When Business Insider SSA asked about the ordeal women faced in the market, Anthony said, “That one is natural for every market. If you come to a market, the seller will draw you to check out what he is selling. That is not the embarrassment, it is a normal thing everywhere.

He linked Yaba market harassment on the 'indecent' dressing of women in society. “These girls are now doing competition on who will go naked first.

“Most of them, you will even see their pants.”

He, whoever, advised ladies to dress modestly to the market as one of the ways sexual harassment can stop.

Ike Chukwu Kalu, a businessman at Yaba market, said market or shop owners don’t touch ladies at the market.

I don’t touch people. I get close to them, tell them what I sell, if they don't want to buy from me, they let me know and go.”

“Indirectly, touching peoples (ladies) can even affect our sales. So it is not good to touch ladies, there are other ways of calling them to buy your wares.”

He explained that those who touch or harass are market boys, who sometimes facilitate trades between owners and buyers.

“Most people who touched ladies don’t have a market here, they are just struggling to facilitate deals for sellers so they can get their cut at the end of the day.”

Business Insider SSA also made it to Balogun, Lagos Island where we met Alhaja Falilat Abeni Omotayo, a market leader, at Oluwole central market.

According to her, people who patronise roadside sellers face a higher risk of harassment as the lack of a specific location makes it difficult to identify culprits when issues arise.

In February 2019, Market March Organisation, stormed various markets in Lagos Yaba market and planned to visit Balogun, Oshodi, and other markets to sensitise the traders on the implication of various forms of harassment on women folk, calling for an end to the abuse against women in the society.

The group also started a petition titled, 'Laws & Policy Enforcements against Sexual Harassment and Bullying,' to pass on the message to government authorities and it has since gathered more than 70,000 signatures as of January 20th, 2020. The target is 75,000 signatures.

Despite these calls, Nigerian women continue to face harassment from traders at various markets in Lagos. Citizens are still hoping stakeholders, governments, and agencies will wade in with enabling laws in place to combat the growing broad daylight assault.


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