Silence Is Not Golden
“Silence is not golden. In fact, silence can enable dangerous, abusive and threatening behaviour.”
I’m usually more comfortable being on the other side of articles. Namely, I prefer writing about how other activists and advocates use their voices to share their passions and beliefs to push for the change that they want to see in the world. Indeed, I have written about the likes of Wole Soyinka, Nimco Ali OBE, Tessy De Nassau and the late Kofi Annan. But for this edition, I decided to put myself out there and accepted The Guardian’s invitation to use this medium to share my own voice.
What is most important to me, personally, is upholding the power of free speech and sharing personal stories to inspire others. I am very passionate about the power of the voice and believe it is possibly the most powerful way to bring about change in the world. My advocacy stems both from witnessing first-hand via the lens of my late father the political oppression of free speech in Nigeria (The Guardian offices were raided and shut down in the mid-1990s after being viewed as highly critical of the Abacha regime), and by virtue of being a woman. Because women are more likely than men to be silenced and not taken seriously when trying to take a stand about causes that need to be addressed. That said, with time, the situation has improved and this is partly due to a special group of men often described as “allies”. The men who take the brave women who decide to speak up under what can be viewed as uncomfortable situations, seriously. It does not matter whether they speak up about political, societal or personal battles, like I have. What is important is that they are afforded the opportunity to be heard in the first place. Everyone should be capable of making an impact by using their voice–male or female.
“When a woman decides to speak up, the world has no choice but to wake up”-Anita Kouassigan
DJ Switch, who is now in exile after the upset of live streaming the shooting of #EndSars protesters in the peaceful rally in Lekki, Lagos in October 2020, is still fighting for the future of Nigeria. She may not be physically accessible in Nigeria, but she continues to create awareness about some of the latest displays of brutality and terror that have occurred in our nation via her social media posts and videos.
Sadly, not all people can be as brave as DJ Switch, who stood in the void to project the dormant voices of the masses by taking a stand against the injustices of the brutal chain of events that took place on that day. The rallies were intended to be peaceful, but the situation spiralled out of control and she had to highlight that we cannot continue like this, and that “something has to give”. Even in relation to topics less likely to provoke the government or police into silencing protestors – be it by tear gas or the shootings we recently witnessed – the fear of how others may react is usually the biggest obstacle people face when it comes to using their voice. Whether we use our voices to share challenging experiences we have been through and overcome, or to discuss topics that are usually dismissed for being “taboo”, speaking up can even offend others. This can also lead to persecution, and in the most extreme cases, can be deemed as criminal and even lead to death.
But we all have a part to play, and women who are often described as the “conscience” of societies are encouraged to keep on emerging from the silence. The youths also have a crucial part to play. They are the future. Not only do they present new ideas which are vital for progress, but they have witnessed what is clearly not working from the generations that preceded them. I also personally hope that more celebrities will come out and use their platforms on behalf of the masses who are powerless in comparison to advocate for change and more justice in society.
**Anita Kouassigan is the founder of Investing In Women, UK.