April is the month of sexual assault awareness, and while there should never be a time where we’re not raising awareness about the effects, we’re glad there’s a dedicated month to the cause. Over 10 years ago, The #MeToo movement began with the aim to give women a space to speak about sexual assault without the fear of unfair consequences. In the last three years, the movement has gained enough momentum, become an outlet for women to hold abusers accountable for their actions, and also done a fair bit to dismantle silence culture and victim-blaming.
Over here in Nigeria, misogyny and systematic oppression of women and children is the order of the day, and the stigma attached to being assaulted leaves women who experience this trauma wanting to keep quiet about their experiences. UNICEF says 1 in 4 Nigerian girls are victims of sexual violence before they turn 18, and according to a national survey carried out in 2014, only 38% of those who experienced sexual violence as children told someone about it, and only about 5% sought help.
Something that ties all women together, from any walk of life is the fear and anxiety of attack from a possible abuser. Anywhere in the world, you will find that women are walking around in survival mode and taking measures to avoid attack or prepare of the possibility. It should be noted that black women suffer more from domestic and sexual violence as this study shows and this is why it’s important for us to have our voices amplified in any form possible, and music has proven to be one of the most effective.
Black women have always used their music as an outlet to speak up against the injustices they face, from recounting their own personal experiences to just serving as a socially conscious mouthpiece for other women who have been in similar instances. Ludacris’ 2006 single “Runaway Love” which featured Mary J. Blige was a powerful depiction of this, although the song focused on children who run away from abusive homes, the accompanying video showed the violence that women withstand in the home at the hands of abusive husbands.
Other anti-assault anthems have been Asa’s “Murder in the USA”, one of the lead singles off her last project, which deals with the realities of toxic romantic relationships that are physically abusive and lead to the death of one of the partners involved. ‘I shot my lover and I run away/committed murder in the USA’ she solemnly croons over the tracks hook, as the Sesan-directed video plays out a situation in which a woman in an abusive relationship wishes to end the life of her lover who has physically hurt her but we painfully watch as he gains power and leaves her for dead.
Asa takes an active role in the video, playing the police officer who arraigned the murderous boyfriend, but she also plays the role of every person who uses their music as a vessel to channel pain. We see Asa fully clothed in a bathtub as she submerges herself in water with the intention of drowning herself, this action is a bold metaphoric stand with women who feel so choked up in their relationships or marital homes and a clear message that we see you, and we mourn with you in solidarity.
There is a long history of music putting women down – particularly hip-hop and rap which has a track record for being entirely misogynistic and glorifying violence against women or depicting us as accessories to their stories. This is why the unified strength of women who come together and speak out against these injustices through different mediums such their music is extremely necessary and powerful.
Beyond positive empowerment, with songs such as Beyoncé’s “Brown Skin Girl” or Lil’ Kim & Christina Aguilera’s “Can’t Hold Us Down”, artists like Kelly Rowland have also released powerful tracks about their own experiences. Back in 2013, she shared a single “Dirty Laundry” which was a cut-throat candid track where she laid herself bare. touching on numerous topics but more poignantly recounts her personal experience with assault. ‘Hitting the window like it was me / And still it shattered. He pulled me out and said ‘Don’t nobody love you but me / Not your mama / Not your daddy’ she sings recounting her abusive relationship and also revealing her mental struggles of wanting to leave despite being warned by loved ones. This trope of women blaming themselves for staying with physically and emotionally abusive men is not uncommon, and Kelly vulnerably gives us an insight to her truth, which will be sure to inspire someone who is going through something similar.
Feminist anthem “For My Sisters” on Ko-jo Cue’s album is another worthy noteworthy mention, which speaks out about women seeking allegiance against the injustices they face. Ms Fu, Raphaela, Anae and Dzyadzorm feature on the highly illuminating song, where they angrily stick it to the men who continue the cycle of silence and harm. The track begins with ‘Listen to the stories, you can’t see the pain in our eyes/do you call yourself an ally just to keep your mind satisfied’, imploring all who listen to reflect on their own actions and strive to do better within their own communities and groups to protect and empower women.
Although we’re a long way from how people viewed the danger women face back in the days, there have been great strides and effort to punish perpetrators (shout out to Harvey Weinstein & Bill Cosby spending the rest of their lives in prison). Music is a powerful tool that has a wide reach to everyone all over the world, and you never know what can inspire you to either speak up or help someone who is in need out.
Men have used gangster rap as a tool to empower each other and let the world know about the struggles they had to overcome and the violent conditions of the hood they grew up in. They have used music as therapy to deal with their mental stress, whilst making enough money from it to get out of their situations, and this should be the case for women too. By always speaking up and becoming irreverently loud, we can reduce the chances of being ignored, and increase the chances of making our society a safer and saner place for everyone – especially us women.
Tami is a lover of women, music and astrology. Tweet your fave female artistes at her @tamimak_