Constructing Nigeria’s Future: From Sex to Masculinity

I live in a country with the 7th highest population in the world.

Compared to more developed nations, who are more likely to have a significantly older population, the demographic makeup of our country is skewed heavily towards the youth.

It’s been estimated that a third of our country’s population could be classed as ‘young’: aged 19-24 years old. The lives of these young people; their education, upbringing and the socio-economic environment that they grow up in will determine the future of Nigeria.

Unfortunately, ours is a society that has been at the mercy of immense poverty, rigid proto-religious belligerence and an uncaring government – so what can be done to ensure that the millions of young people in Nigeria not only live to reach their potential, but also have a chance to form healthy, balanced sexual relationships?

I believe that a concerted effort has to be made to invest in sexual health services in order for our country to not only survive, but prosper throughout this century and the next. So, what does this investment look like? Unlike other countries who have well structured health systems with employees from a culture with healthy attitudes to sex; Nigeria’s health system is managed and worked by people who have little or no understanding of the importance of education.

It’s important to note that before we invest money in the architects, levels, land surveyors, planners and doctors needed to construct the clinics required to teach and treat these young people, we need to drastically alter the way that our entire country perceives sexual practices and behaviours.

I grew up in Ilorin, a city known throughout Nigeria as ‘the Home of Peace’, however my adolescent years as a woman in this city were anything but peaceful. From the age of 12, I’ve had to guard myself from the eyes, hands and genitalia of the men of this city. I’ve done this through various means. I’ve dressed in shapeless clothes, avoided populous areas and spent many evenings inside my home; this isn’t becauseĀ all men in this city wish to rape me, it’s because there is an underlying culture in our country (and throughout Africa) that encourages male-dominated relationships and discourages female empowerment in all of its forms.

The notion of masculinity in our country has not changed for centuries and is defined by strength, a desire for sex and the subjugation of women in all its forms. Whilst developed Western countries are certainly not free of this kind of ‘toxic masculinity’ (as it is described today), it is the backbone of our male psyche here in Nigeria. Planning, building and opening a sexual health clinic is an easy task compared to the daunting challenge of changing the way that an entire country thinks.

Attitudes, habits and behaviours do not change overnight. They are not changed by with a single pamphlet, or a TV advert, or a celebrity-endorsed billboard. I know that it will take time for significant

Bea Oni

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