How The Rise of Women-Only Parties in Nigeria Points Towards Lack of Safety for Women in Public Spaces

For these women, female solidarity is a necessary tool for ending a system of oppression

A new generation of Nigerian women is redefining the slogan “girls just wanna have fun” by creating spaces exclusive to women. The trend began as both a product of pushback against a deeply patriarchal society and  a way for women to enjoy each other’s company in a safe, carefree environment. The parties feature activities that cater to women, from fashion shows to performances by female artists from across the country, while fueling stronger female solidarity and promising freedom from harassment or violence that’s common in regular parties.

“The party no go sweet if girls no dey” is unfortunately not a sentiment that is appreciated by Nigerian women when it comes to co-ed partying. The catchphrase, which was popularized by Nigerian artist, Falz, on his 2019 hit song, “Girls,” suggests that men are more inclined to attend parties graced with the female presence; which many would agree with. As a result, most mainstream parties inadvertently place men as their primary customers, and women as a source of entertainment and/or pleasure. For example, the popular “no entrance fee for women” policies are intended to attract more women into expectedly male-dominated spaces; and this include house parties, many of which have become a series of horror stories for women, with testimonies of over-sexualization in the form of games like Truth or Dare. 

This fear of being caught in predatory situations has prompted a desire for spaces where women can have fun without being preyed upon. And in response, Nigerian women have created women only parties, such as Hertitude by Z!koko magazine – described as the biggest women-only party in Nigeria – that cater to and center women and the activities that they enjoy. 

The editor-in-chief of Z!koko Magazine, Ruth Zakari, describes these spaces as a place for women to have a good time and find community. For many others, women-only spaces are a place to let loose while avoiding being mocked or sexually harassed. These parties feature not just an all-female audience, but also female performers, to prioritize women in the entertainment industry.

Ending the Female Enmity Stereotype

“I just feel safe,” says *Chioma, a regular attendee of women-only parties. “There’s no one groping me or looking at me like they’re planning something sinister or refusing to let go of me simply because I decided not to dance with them.”

Apart from the sense of security that they offer, these parties are a place where women can socialize and find like-minded friends, especially, as *Peju admits, making friends in adulthood can be difficult. “In those parties, women are always pushing other women to be happy,” she says, adding that women-only spaces have helped her navigate how to form new relationships with other women. 

Despite their clear benefits, the idea of women-only partying has not escaped criticism, most of it coming from men who claim they are being excluded from spaces that they feel entitled to and women who believe that men are being unfairly demonized. Some critics have gone as far as maliciously describing women-only parties as lesbian parties, purposefully endangering partygoers in an anti-LGBTQ country where violence against queer people is rampant.  

In even more worrisome cases, some men have attempted to infiltrate these parties by surrounding the venues or waiting at the entrance to harass attendees, and have also taken their harassment online, making a mockery of the parties on social media. “The peeking and insults some women got as soon as they stepped out of the gates just further proves why we feel unsafe among men sometimes,” says *Chelsea, an attendee at HERtitude 2024.  

This behavior further proves why these spaces are so necessary. Aside from reinforcing the fact that women are much safer with each other, they also help defy the notion that women are each other’s worst enemies, an often-regurgitated patriarchal trope that is intended to make women wary of each other. “I’ve never actually believed that women hate other women,” says *Peju, “I think that’s just a thing men cooked up for women to be at loggerheads, because when we are, men have the upper hand.” For these women, female solidarity is a necessary tool for ending a system of oppression. 

Where “All Women” Excludes Trans Women 

When it comes to women-only parties, there is one main rule – no men allowed. So when the attendees at Femme Fest 2024 (the annual event put together by Femme Africa, an organization that provides a platform for female entrepreneurs), poured in through the gates and guests realized that some of them were men, it killed the excitement of women who attended with the hopes of only being around other women. Femme Fest, based on its name and advertising, had been mistaken for a women-only  event. The confusion led to online backlash as people demanded an apology and clarification for future events. “I think the title was a bait,” says *Josephine, an attendee who also works in advertising and marketing. “I’m aware that it implies celebrating women, not necessarily a women-only party, but everything about the [fest] was targeted at women.”

To set the record straight, Ayomide Dokunmu, founder of Femme Africa, stated that the event was created for the purpose of platforming female artists and business owners. “We want to expand [female artists’] reach and we don’t want to limit their audience to one section of society,” she says, adding that while Femme Fest is marketed specifically towards women, the festival is open to everyone. 

Acknowledging the need for women-only spaces, she reiterates that Femme Africa hosts other events for an all-female audience, however, Femme Fest is not one of them.

“There would be a clearer marketing for the next [festival] but the point has always been to have an increased reach for the artists that platform our stage and for the female businesses to get as many customers as well.”

In a disappointing turn, the same critique was thrown online at Z!koko, a popularly queer-inclusive magazine, for making HERtitude inclusive of trans women, who many claim make cis women feel unsafe. “Trans women find it harder to navigate spaces with cis people,” says *Liber, a trans woman who was at HERrtitude and was bullied viciously online when photos of her at the event made their way into the hands of bigoted social media users. “So, if a trans woman is in a space with cis women, it’ll be harder for her.”

Liber said that she did not feel any hostility while  at the party, but only met shocking vitriol online. “The reaction I got on Twitter was different from what I got at the party,” she says. “There weren’t any men [at the party], but on Twitter there were a lot of men propagating transphobia towards me,” she added, suggesting that the difference in both experiences was due to the lack of male presence. 

Unfortunately, men were not the only ones pushing this agenda. Some cisgender women also expressed that by making women-only parties inclusive of trans women, it gives way for cisgender men to infiltrate these spaces disguised as trans women, a statement which not only holds trans women accountable for the actions of men, but also stigmatises all women who don’t present in traditionally feminine ways.

So, while women-only parties were created to be a safe haven, it is evident that more work must be done to protect women from harassment both online and in real life, and that awarding safety to only certain women defeats the core purpose of all this; making safe spaces for all women. 

[Featured Image Credits/Zikoko Mag]

In order to protect their identities, we only referred to certain speakers in this piece by their first names.