Photo of writer Ijeoma Umebinyuo

We are writing
for our mother’s mothers
and
their mothers
we are writing
for our daughters
and
the daughters of our daughters
we are writing
for our ancestors
and
generations to come.

 

 

 

 

Ijeoma Umebinyuo is a woman with something to say, and this intrinsic knowing solidifies her commitment to the written word. Her first published book Questions for Ada is igniting and inspiring tens of thousands of people around the world. Challenging the global disease of patriarchy is a common theme in many of her poems, and she does this from her perspective as a Nigerian. “I have known two countries,” says Ijeoma, who was raised in Nigeria until her late teens and spent a large amount of time in the United States. Much of her writing focuses on abuse and depression, along with cultivating resilience in spite of, and because of it all.

 

I did not know
the bodies of women
were meant to be
a museum of tragedies,
as if we were meant to carry the ocean
without drowning.


Ijeoma pushes back on the culture of silence regarding the abuse of women in her homeland. “As Africans, we avoid discussing these issues. We don’t want to acknowledge that abuse is a problem.” She admits that she didn’t have a traditional upbringing, “I think I was raised as a man, whatever that means. I say that because growing up, a lot of times I overheard my uncles being chastised for not telling me to be a bit more quiet and less curious about certain issues as a girl. I wasn’t told you should not be opinionated and outspoken because you are a woman. Never.” Instead, Ijeoma was encouraged to use her voice, but many girls in Nigeria aren’t afforded the same opportunity.

Lagos is Africa’s largest city with a population of 21 million people, yet there is only one rape crisis center in the entire city. Moreover, according to a 2014 poll conducted by NOI, “Almost 7 in 10 Adult Nigerians (67%) think there is a high prevalence of child rape in the country while 3 in 10(31%) personally know of a victim of Child Rape in their local communities. ”

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What fuels this culture of silence is victim blaming, as if the girls who fall victim to rape somehow provided the men with an invitation. According to Umebinyuo, “If a society refuses to acknowledge that abuse is a problem, that society will not enact laws to protect victims of abuse; that society will silence and deny children an environment that acknowledges their plight. That society will not create centers, laws and an environment needed to address these issues. That society will use culture and tradition to stifle survivors. That society will continue their political culture of silence.”

I am woman enough to know
you do not force
womanhood out of girls

That you do not shame
the bodies of girls
forcing them
to carry themselves like an apology,
to hold sorry on their lips

Dynamic women such as Umebinyuo are using their voices for the vast number of girls who are unable to use their own. The ways patriarchy impacts women and girls in Nigeria, in particular, is inexcusable; however, it is a ubiquitous form of oppression that has no country of origin. Some forms of patriarchy may be quieter than others, but all forms systematically work disempower the women. “Feminism is equal opportunity for men and women in politics, education, and economics. We have seen over and over again that when some women have been abused and stay in an abusive environment, they think, ‘why would I leave him? Where would I go?’” says Ijeoma.

 

Some women are broken
not ready to be healed,
some women are broken
not ready for love
and that’s all right.
Let her find herself.
Let her crawl if she must.
Let her tear herself apart.
Let her question all she knows.
Let her become her own sun.
Let her.

It is clear that we have much work left to do.  Wherever sexual or domestic abuse can be excused by blaming the victim, we must work. Wherever a woman or girl who suffers from abuse is afraid to seek help or acknowledge the crime out of fear of scrutiny or shame, we’re doing something drastically wrong as a society. The only way we will break this cycle of oppression is if we kill the silence that surrounds it. We can do this by advocating for ourselves, and on behalf of the women and girls who are unable to do so. “Owning our stories and owning our narratives and using our voices to get in power is necessary” asserts Umebinyuo. Transformation begins with one voice, which turns into a few, then many, until an undeniable paradigm shift occurs.  Transformation begins with us.

Start now.
Start where you are.
Start with fear.
Start with pain.
Start with doubt.
Start with hands shaking.
Start with voice trembling but start.
Start and don’t stop.
Start where you are, with what you have.
Just…start.

All poems in this article are authored by Ijeoma Umebinyuo from her book Questions for Ada, which can be purchased on Amazon. You can also follow Ijeoma Umebinyuo on Tumblr 

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