In October of 2017, #MeToo Challenges Taboo Against Admitting Sexual Abuse in Africa was released as a brief conversation around #MeToo and its “success” as a campaign in west Africa. While the movement does suffer negativity in its western presence (that is, within the U.S.), even more backlash and controversy surrounding the conversation exists in its west-African locales. In African and African-cultural discourse, it has been argued that the imposition of western ideals – and, indeed, the terminology employed in its expression – seeks to imply the continuation of colonial and occidental practices as “proper” among non-industrialized communities. Through this concern, a dialogue regarding the understanding of cultural and religious practices within those bodies finds its genesis.
This article elaborates over particular concerns of the #MeToo campaign within Senegal and Nigeria. As a community of sociologists-in-training, and as a generation that is growing to pride itself as the catalysts of social justice and reform, it is critical that we understand the breadth of the religious and cultural practices that influence our positions on justice and reform in certain settings. Though the U.S. does waiver often in its understanding and, subsequently, its conviction of sexual misconduct cases, the populace and its government have sought to outline what defines such instances. These definitions are established through our cultural understanding of what is “sexually deviant” or “sexually unacceptable.” In this regard, most of those definitions chiefly exist as the result of some religious conviction that determines what is irregular among society–this especially holds true within the U.S., where a nation has rallied around the concepts of Judeo-Christian ethics and their meshing with law. Yet, in Nigeria, where indigenous religious practices have been hosted long before the advent of Christianity, the comprehension of sexual misconduct is informed by its traditional values.
The #MeToo campaign – in such settings – may forget the significance of cultural and religious taboos that impact its purpose; this results from its formation within a nation that cannot (or, rather, will not) identify with the indigenous needs of such places. How do we translate such campaigns in places where the language of expression is accompanied by misguided nuances, or is altogether unidentifiable with the environment’s unique, culturally-charged plights? In a campaign that lives in an effort to unify victims of such terror (both nationally and internationally), we must recall the implications of using westernized language in broad, general senses. It is not always applicable, and too often we forget that the same ethos that drives our reasoning does not indefinitely guide all reasoning, universally. We cannot apply such limited considerations to campaigns that expand beyond our borders of conversations.
In keeping with the theme that culture and religion largely influence the salience of such suffused causes: the local populations must be involved in such processes in order to ensure success. With particular emphasis on this article, the taboos associated with sexual assault or harassment within those cultures stigmatizes its victims–it is not beyond us to understand why the stigmatization of those victims (by their family, their community, etc.) would prevent their coming forward. Removing the colonial, westernized relationship with such instances, we must push for the conception of their fears as they have been founded by their cultural and religious traditions. It is futile to assume that those experiences in our environment are equivalent to all other experiences. Perhaps allegorical in some senses, this article contributes to these foci; it argues that greater issues exist for those individuals (especially women) who are the victims of sexual misconduct in regions that are not governed by the decidedly Judeo-Christian legal foundation that hallmarks the United States.