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Lagos is the 8th most dangerous city in the world for women, now what?

The day I arrived in Lagos after deciding to move here, I felt a mixture of exhaustion, excitement and disbelief; I still couldn’t quite believe I’d decided to do it.

PHOTO: Hope for Nigeria

The day I arrived in Lagos after deciding to move here, I felt a mixture of exhaustion, excitement and disbelief; I still couldn’t quite believe I’d decided to do it. As I started unpacking, my dad came into my room and we started chatting. As I started taking my clothes out of my suitcase, he looked at me in all seriousness, paused and said: “Yemisi, you’re a woman and this is Lagos, this is Nigeria. Things are different here.” As I eventually learned, he was right. Things are different here.

There are many rules, written and unwritten that govern the life of women in Nigeria, where inequality, discrimination and stereotyping is commonplace. In 2015, the viral hashtag #BeingfemaleinNigeria shed light on some of the everyday sexism faced by women in the country, but two years later, it doesn’t seem like much has changed.  The recently published 2017 Gender Gap Index, which measures gender parity across different indices, ranked Nigeria 122 out of 144, falling two places from the 2016 ranking.

Things are no better in the country’s commercial capital, Lagos boasts of its megacity dreams but according to a study by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, this dream city is a nightmare for women. The study, a first of its kind, asked experts in women’s issues to rank the world’s megacities in terms of safety for women. The four key areas considered were: sexual violence, access to healthcare, cultural practices and economic opportunity.

Of the 19 megacities analysed, London was ranked the best and Cairo, the worst.

Lagos came in as the 8th worst city for women. The four key areas were ranked on a scale of 1(best) -19 (worst). For cultural practices, which gauge how well women are protected from harmful cultural practices like female genital mutilation and forced marriage, Lagos scored six. For access to healthcare, the country’s commercial capital scored eight. In terms of economic opportunity, meaning that women have access to education and financial services, Lagos scored seven and for sexual violence, 14.

The first three indicators are not much of a surprise, given recent statistics. In terms of cultural practice, Lagos has one of the highest prevalence rates of FGM in the country at 44%.  A 2014 investigation by the Premium Times laid bare the stark reality of maternal mortality in the city, where at the time of the report a study showed 10 out of 29 primary health centres had no backup power and staff were reduced to using lanterns and torches

What was somewhat surprising was that for sexual violence, Lagos scored 14 out of 19, meaning that the city only needs 5 points to get full marks. As a woman living in Lagos, this number seems far from believable, and the recorded figures seem to suggest otherwise too. Between January and September alone, over 500 cases of domestic violence, 30 cases of rape, 11 cases of attempted rape and 123 child neglect and abuse cases were recorded. The Miracle Sexual Assault Referral Centre has reportedly seen 2, 342 survivors of sexual assault since it opened four years ago,

And these are just the cases that were reported, cases that we – the public, know about. Given the stigma, culture of silence, shame and victim-blaming that surrounds such issues, it’s likely that the true number of cases is actually much higher.

In the wake of high profile sexual harassment and abuse cases all over the world, countries, industries and institutions are pledging their commitment to stamp out harassment and abuse.

In France, the minister for gender equality has proposed a new sexual abuse law that could see men who catcall or harass women on the street fined on the spot, to stop predatory behaviour in its tracks. Is this something Lagos could do? How many women in the city have stories to tell of unwanted harassment in public spaces, like markets or bus stops? Being forcefully dragged or grabbed by strangers, while people look on? In classrooms in Nairobi, young girls are being taught self defence, while young boys are being taught how to unlearn negative attitudes towards women.  In light of the horrific story about the attempted rape of female students at an Ikoyi school, isn’t a program like this, worth looking into?

Perhaps some of these would work, perhaps they wouldn’t, but something tangible has to be done. Despite being ranked as the best city in the world for women in the Thomson survey, the mayor of London still says more needs to be done to protect and empower women. So, what will Lagos do?

The Governor of Lagos recently won an award for being a ‘gender friendly’ governor, but there has been no word from the Lagos state administration on what will be done about the results of the poll or what steps they are taking to make the city a safer and more hospitable place for women. This is not a time for platitudes about the virtues of women and their impact in the city, it’s a time to really ask and listen to women in Lagos and work towards making it a safer place for all, because for a megacity positioning itself as the gateway to West Africa, its attitude to women is just not good enough.