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Can women truly negotiate sex?

Written by Yetunde Arebi - Nigeria

The callous and unscrupulous behavior of Mr. Bayo Senayon knew no bounds. As Manager, Human Resources and Administration of a big manufacturing company, his notoriety brought the department to disrepute so much that almost all workers, at least those who had not been caught by his tentacles, held his person and office in disdain and tried as much as possible to stay out of his way. This was because he had the ears of top management, such that several reports against his conducts were flung into the waste basket.

At the peak of his ignoble reign, he was responsible for the mass employment of his tribes men as well as several young girls, many of them, young school leavers and OND certificate holders who had found their way to Lagos in search of the proverbial green grass. However, his preference was not out of love for his kinsmen but for the fact that he found in them, desperate and willing preys, many of whom would danced to his tune. For Bayo was alleged of extortion, offering them the meager jobs at a commission. A certain percentage of their salaries would be given to him for a certain number of months before they could be free to enjoy the fruits of their labor.

For the young girls however, the stakes were higher. One of the many infamous stories had it that during an interview for the opening of the post of a secretary, two young ladies were shortlisted and called to his office for briefing at the end of the exercise. He was alleged to have told the two ladies that though they were qualified for the job, the company had only one vacancy. It was therefore up to them to decide who would be the lucky one to clinch the coveted position. Since he reserved the prerogative to give the job to whomever he chose, all they had to do was please him by sharing his bed. The willing one should indicate interest by going to wait for him at the bus stop. As he’d suspected, one waited and the other went away with her dignity intact. Unable to comprehend how such injustice would go on unchecked, she allegedly made another visit to the factory and reported to one of the top managers. And though no disciplinary action was taken against the HM manager, the lady was offered a job for all her trouble. Ironically, this other lady would finally succumb to pressure from her supposed saviour after comfortably settling down at her desk. For these two women, it was a case of no victor, no vanquished, even as the senior manager could not call Bayo, the HM manager to order as he was guilty of the same offense, perhaps, only in a more decent manner.

Though internationally, there appears to be not one definite definition of what constitutes sexual harassment, however, sexual harassment is broadly a form of violence against women as well as a form of sexual discrimination and hostility against women. Sexual harassment may therefore be viewed as a set of prohibited behaviors of a sexual nature which are unsolicited and unwanted by the victim and that such behaviors are capable of causing harm to the victim.

Reading through the story above, one might readily conclude that the two ladies were presented with options and were never forced to accept the men’s advances. However, this is not entirely true if you take into cognizance the circumstances that the offers were made. These are two young women in need of jobs for sustenance of their livelihood and their prospect of achieving that was being obstructed by the whimsical ideas of the managers. By calling the two ladies to his office and presenting the supposed offer to them at the same time, Mr. Senayon was wittingly setting the stage for a very unnecessary, unwholesome and unhealthy hostility, rivalry and competition between the two women. Since both of them needed the job, so it was now a case of compromise or walk away. In choosing compromise, you get the job, the breakthrough or leverage you have been looking for at the sacrifice of your self esteem and dignity. If you are lucky and no one discovers, then no labor lost and you are happy with yourself. If you walk away, you don’t get the job but you get to keep your dignity, honor and self esteem intact. As for the senior manager, he’d done a good job by rescuing the damsel in distress and must therefore be rewarded for his kindness if it ever was one.

As much as one may want to criticize the choices of these two young ladies, perhaps it is instructive that we take other things into perspective before we jump into conclusion here. It is easy for some of us to sit on our high horses in the comfort of what we have managed to build for ourselves or what our parents have built for us either through hard work or at the expense of others and criticize other people. The truth is that only they have walked their paths in their own shoes, not you, not me. Thus, we might never know why the other person does what he or she does.

The survival, achievements and successes of the girl child depends largely on the generosity, kindness, love and cooperation of the men in her life or those she comes in contact with throughout her life time. Her value and worth at every point is determined by what society and circumstances are willing to accord to her. As a child, her survival and future is determined by her father, brother or uncle who decides whether she is worth investing in or not. As a wife, her happiness and the general wellbeing of her children depend largely on how low she is prepared to stoop to conquer. Unfortunately in some cases, no matter how low or even flat she lays on the floor to be trampled upon, it is simply not enough. To get to leadership positions in her career or whatever level, she may sometimes have to dance to some unwritten rhythm and lyrics. Some of them as designed by the likes of unscrupulous Mr. Senayon. And at old age, God help her if she is childless. At every step of the way, the girl child competes with customs, traditions, religious and moral beliefs, and she may only be able to fly as high as the men in her life may permit her to. For those who with luck and other kinds of interventions have managed to scale the odds to find themselves at the top of their game, the story has not always been that of sugar and spice and all things nice. Many have had to pay great prices to get there, some too horrifying and condescending to mention.

In a discussion shortly before the public presentation of my book, Youth, Sex and wellbeing mid last year, my boss, Mr. Gbenga Adefaye asked me, “Yetunde, you are on ground with some of these issues, so I want you to give me a very honest answer. With the kind of society we live in, is it possible for the average Nigerian girl to go through life without experiencing sexual harassment?” I was thrown off balance for a few seconds because if you look at the indices, the picture is a very gloomy one. I recently met a family of 27, a man, his three wives and 23 children! Pray, how much can he provide for all these dependants, him, being a mare fisherman? Our own self inflicted problems can sometimes be incomprehensible too. Your guess is as good as mine on what will happen to most of these children who are already being sent into other families as ready prey for abuse.

Subu, the girl who chose to wait at the bus stop until that moment had been under intense pressure from her aunt with whom she was living in Lagos at the time. The woman had tried her best, having managed to see her through secondary school as well as the Polytechnic. They lived in a room and parlour apartment in downtown Amuwo with the aunt’s husband and their four children whom Subu had helped them raise in exchange for her keep by the couple. It was time to move on with her life as well as give a helping hand to her aunt and her own seven other siblings back in the village.

Assisting the girl child to grow, thrive, achieve the best of her potentials is not just the duty of the government or about making the most flawless legislations, it is about you and I helping her whenever and wherever the need or opportunity arise. To Mr. Adefaye’s question, my answer was no, but we can assist her beat the odds. 

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