Prostitution Stigma, Edo Women And Politics Of Stereotyping

Going by the accounts of the predominance of Edo women in the prostitution trade, naive consumers of these sensationalized reports tend to be largely misinformed about Edo women.

But, the cold hard fact is that throughout history, Edo women have been achievers, even in the face of odds.

And in continuation of this history of stellar accomplishments, contemporary Edo women have not deviated from the stunning legacies of their foremothers. They are the modern day Idia, Emotan and Iden.

What do the following women have in common? Mrs. Sandra Aguebor-Ekperouh, Nigeria’s first woman mechanic; Prof. Helen Osinowo, the first Professor of Clinical Psychology; Mrs. Mabel Segun, the first woman to play table tennis in Nigeria; Most Rev. Dr. Margaret Benson-Idahosa, Africa’s first female University Chancellor; Prof. Yinka Omorogbe, first African member of the Academic Advisory Group of SEERIL, International Bar Association; Justice Gladys Olotu, repelled oppressive immigration conditions for issuing passports to married women; Mrs. Ifueko Omoigui-Okauru, first woman head of the Federal Inland Revenue Service; Prof. Helen Asemota, a foremost researcher in the field of molecular biology, biochemistry and Nano technology; Prof. Francisca Oboh-Ikuenobe; a leading geologist, Senator Franca Afegbua; Nigeria’s first female senator; and Miss Anne-Marie Imafidon; world record holder for the youngest girl to pass A-level computing, at age 13. Well, the answer is simple.

They are all Edo women and they are achievers. And the world is filled with achievers and heroines of Edo origin. For example, the nine-year old Imafidon twins who set the world record in A-level Mathematics at the ingenious age of 7 are also Edo indigenes.

Unfortunately, the remarkable successes of these women often fail to resonate with the Nigerian public -as their stories and experiences have been subsumed into the prostitution narrative.
Thus, in the predominant public discourse, by being Edo women, these amazons are simply “prostitutes.”

How have Edo women been stereotyped?

With the less than profound narratives of the new age of prostitution involving Nigerian women, the politics of stereotyping ensures that Edo women have become the symbolic representation of what is morally decadent and licentious in post-independence Nigeria.

While prostitution is the “oldest” profession in the World and no society is free from it, however, no other group of women anywhere in the World has suffered the prostitution stigma as much as Edo women. In places like Thailand and Amsterdam, known as World centers for prostitution, the average Thai or Dutch woman is never stereotyped as a “prostitute.”

Why is the case of Edo women in Nigeria different? Hearing the decidedly parochial and hypocritical discourse on prostitution in Nigeria, one is almost convinced that prostitution is not triggered by socio-economic indicators like poverty, but rather, by genetic and moral defects that are uniquely Edo! Interestingly enough, the media and other social pundits never see it expedient to equally label those who are predominantly involved in 419 scams, credit card frauds, drug trafficking and so on. Why is it that what is good for the goose is not good for the gander?

The narratives of Edo women in popular culture, newspapers and Nollywood movies have been largely pejorative, with recycled stereotypes of prostitution, greed and lack of education becoming a template for regular regurgitation.
The women are often depicted as uneducated, loquacious and money hungry. In Nollywood movies, anytime a movie character has an Edo name, she is invariably playing the role of a prostitute!

The Nigerian media and government agencies often do not talk about the scale of prostitution elsewhere in the country; hence the public has no frame of reference.

Recently, one of the tabloid Newspapers in Nigeria, the Daily Sun, published a report in which the journalist claimed that Benin City is both Nigeria’s “largest sex market” and the “World’s biggest sex market.”

Ordinarily, one would have ignored such a shoddy, factually fraudulent and anachronistic piece of yellow journalism.

However, if this lies is told often enough, soon it will become fact! This story highlights the reality of the contemporary Edo woman in a Nigeria where ethnic chauvinism, jingoism and myopia are the sin qua non for the politics of stereotyping.

In writing to the Editor of that tabloid newspaper, I questioned the veracity of the claims made by their journalist and asked how the World’s largest sex market could be in Benin City when the U.S. alone rakes in over $13 billion annually from the adult entertainment industry.

Worldwide, the revenue from prostitution and other forms of debauchery tops $57 billion! I wanted to know what percentage of this market has been cornered by the pimps and madams in Benin City to warrant the City being tagged with the dubious honor of “World’s largest sex Market.” Even within Nigeria, Benin City still does not count among the top ten hotspots for prostitution in the Country.
Would the journalist have dared tagged any other City in Nigeria “the World’s largest sex market”? I think not. This sort of illogical claim published by Daily Sun further underlines the nature of the politics of stereotyping in Nigeria.

It is as a result of this pervasive stereotype that a new initiative to profile accomplished Edo women; called Voices of Edo Women was launched

To put it simply, prostitution is not an Edo issue, it is a Nigerian problem. Thus, instead of scapegoating Edo women for a problem that has wide and far reaching implications for the Nigerian society, the media, government agencies and other stakeholders should focus on finding sustainable ways to tackle prostitution involving Nigerian women: in Europe, Africa, on University campuses, on street corners in various Nigerian cities and as escorts for randy politicians and philandering men.

Every two minutes, somewhere in the world, an underage child is being forced into prostitution, including in all the 36 States of Nigeria and Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory.
This is a serious problem with dire consequences for Nigeria. The prostitution discourse in Nigeria must go beyond simplistic ethnic bashing and should be seriously examined for its social, economic, cultural and public health impact.


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