The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission recently confirmed reports of the rape of four Nigerian lesbians in Calabar in September of 1994. The four women had sought refuge at a feminist center, when an unknown number of men attacked the center and raped them at gun point. Just a few days earlier, one of the critically injured survivors had published an article on lesbianism in Nigeria in which she traced the advent of Nigerian lesbianism and condemned previous attacks against the center.
The reporting of these September 1994 attacks sheds crucial light on the often undocumented regularity and impunity of anti-lesbian rapes in Nigeria. The rapes of these four women were directly linked to an earlier attack against another woman in the town of Eket in Akwa Ibom state, who reportedly was also gang raped at gun point by the same men. She was undergoing medical treatment at the feminist center when the rapists attacked the center.
Since General Sani Abacha's military regime annulled national elections in June 1993, repression has escalated to unprecedented levels, raising serious human rights concerns. These most recently include treason charges against Nobel Prize Laureate Wole Soyinka and 15 others on Wednesday March 12, 1997, the March 13, 1997 raid of the offices of the Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law (IHRHL), and the infamous execution of environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa and his colleagues in November 1995. These reports illustrate the political climate in which these rapes occurred.
Not only lesbians have fallen prey to this rash of violent attacks against women. On November 9, 1996, the Saturday Punch, a local Nigerian daily, reported the 10 man rape and consequent murder of a market business woman in an Owena boundary market, which is the nerve center of trade between Osun and Ondo states.
Nigerian feminists have contextualized the increasing incidence of rape as manifestations of male-domination and subsequent female exploitation. According to a recently published concept paper by a group of Nigerian feminist activists, "Christian and Islamic religions brought by the colonialists introduced new roles [for women] that reinforced traditional [patriarchal] provisions, and new areas not covered by tradition." Add to this the current deteriorating political and economic climate, and endemic violence against women is only intensified.
The human rights violations reported here can only be addressed by a government which is accountable to its people. International communities in general need to pay closer and constant attention to events within African states so as to increase our viability and effectiveness as concerned agents. The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) continues to monitor the situation closely, and shall follow up with detailed directions on how to respond in support of Nigerian lesbian initiatives.
Published on March 1, 1997 | OutRight Action International an LGBT human rights organization