BY ABIOSE A. ADAMS

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Naffy wore no make-up because she believes make-up was for women who still wanted to be attractive to men, and she was by no means in that category. In her own eyes, she is a liberated woman, a nonconformist to traditional social norms, who dress freely and acts at her whim.

It was two weeks after my resumption at Garrison for the Defense of Girls and Women Rights, and I was at her desk where I report every morning. I was surprised to see her without a scarf (for the first time). She had all the hair on her head shaved, and she wore what society would normally call male colours- brown khaki suit and a red tie.

My first rift with Naffy was that I used sexist language in my writings, therefore I must be sexist. She said she gave me the job, not because I was overly qualified, but because I am a woman and she would not hesitate to fire me if I refused to unlearn my sexist ideologies.

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I stood in front of her partly trembling, watching her stare into the laptop, pointing out my errors to me, one by one. One of my job duties was to write weekly reports of our activities.

And I had written:

‘So and so is the grandfather of the human right movement.”

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She said I should have written ‘founder’ of the human rights movement rather than ‘grandfather’.

I wrote ‘his and hers’. She said I should have written; ‘hers, his and others,’.

When I used the word, fraternize, she said I should have used socialize.

“Stop using gendered language,’ she said, struggling to control her rising temper.

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‘I’m sorry, Mrs. Salami,’ I answered.

“There you go again….Mrs. Salami,’ she mimicked. ‘….did I tell you I am married? You don’t presume every grown woman you see is married….’ she lectured widening her bulgy eyes which had bags beneath them.

My first two weeks of work were full of nitpicking over issues of sexism, gender neutrality, and biases. I had thought the organization was about empowering girls and vulnerable women about their rights. I loved the idea and I wanted to be a feminist especially after suffering at the hands of Tunbi. I wanted to be a strong woman— strong for my baby, strong for myself, strong for other vulnerable women. I want to prove to everyone that without the father of my child, I would succeed, but I was beginning to wonder if this is the organization of my dreams.

I would later learn that Naffy was married, but preferred to be addressed as Naffy and not Mrs. Salamiclaiming she doesn’t want to lose her identity by changing her name to his. She preferred to call him her partner rather than husband. She has only one child (a son) who bore compound names—Naffy’s mother’s maiden name and her partner’s name (Okigbe-Salami). She was filing for a divorce, not because she was in an abusive marriage but because she regretted the concept of marriage. According to her, getting pregnant and having children renders a woman temporarily disabled— one of the worst things nature permits a man to do to a woman!

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Oh my goodness! Should nature also permit a woman to impregnate a man in the name of equality? How was I to, in a space of two weeks, unlearn all the traditional ideologies of genders I had been raised with?

Every day I went to the office with my heart in my mouth— afraid of being sacked for being labelled as sexist, and afraid that she might discover my pregnancy— or that I had been rendered temporarily disabled!

While still trying to cope with Naffy, AnwuliOgodo, a twenty-something-year-old front desk officer, with whom I shared the same space told me I should always ask how to address her because she was neither male nor female.

I was confused because I thought she was the author of the confusion. I took a second look at her; she looked female by natural construct but claimed to be neither male nor female by the evolving social construct.

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Every now and then, I kept forgetting her face as she was always changing looks. She was as fluid as water; changing in states and forms. Her hair was cut low and tinted in gold, but wigs made it possible for her to have many looks. One moment she changed to a blonde with rough curls, at other times, she wore skull caps that gives her the gorimapa (bald) look, or she wore a thick afro that made her small frame thicken and stern.

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One day, in my report at the end of that week, I addressed Anwuli as ‘she’, because, in my eyes, she is a woman.

“You are disrespecting my rights. I told you before that you should always ask me whether I am he or she… or simply address me as ‘they’.”

They?  “I find that very confusing…how can I use the pronoun ‘they’, when I know I’m addressing one person? It sounds grammatically incorrect to me….this is all strange to me,” I replied in all honesty.

It was a Monday morning three weeks after my resumption and she was wearing a skullcap that gave her a bald, man-ish look. She tucked in a white shirt into a red short and wore white socks on black trainers. I believe it was one of those days she was identifying with males.

“It’s not about grammatical correctness, but about political correctness! By the way… that’s what you signed up for when you accepted our employment contract,- to abide by the organizational policies to respect the rights of your colleagues.’’

“I thought the HR would have handed me a policy handbook or at least Naffy would have briefed me. I don’t know about this. This is all strange to me,” I was sounding apologetic to myself yet Anwuli was not even my immediate supervisor, so why was I pandering to her?

“Mind your language. We don’t use such words as ‘strange’ here,” she said, strutting back to her desk.

“I think you should mind your business here. If anyone is to tell me about political or grammatical correctness, I think it should be Naffy,” I retorted, unable to hold my misgivings back.

“Oh…in that case, let’s see,” she sniggered.

For the rest of the day, neither of us spoke to each other.

The following day I clocked into the office and the ambiance was like that of a disco party. Anwuli was playing music from her computer with the speakers blaring, in a place that is supposed to be an office.

“Can you please turn down the volume of your speakers or at least use an earpiece? I asked after a long period of keeping silent about it.”

“Well, I have turned it as low as I can, I think you should just try to concentrate on your work. Everyone should be free to do what they like.”

“I think you should try to consider other people. You are not the only one here.”

“That’s exactly what I think too…that you should consider other people of different gender identities apart from the traditional gender classification. You should respect my rights as to how I want to be addressed. I believe my freedom is my right, but do you consider that?

“You know what, Anwuli….you think about yourself only. Your rights, your feelings only. What about the more important rights of girls who were raped, or vulnerable women who were abused? How do we defend their rights which is what I thought this organization is about?”

“So I am less important?”

“I never said that. I said the more important rights.”

“How dare you trivialize my rights, or talk down the organization which employed you? You don’t tell me how I live my life. You are just a selfish and insensitive person! This is discrimination and harassment! The HR has to hear about this,” she stomped towards the HR department.

I couldn’t care less. I buried my head struggling to focus on my work, but I could not. This time, not because of the morning sickness, but something greater than nausea…the noise, the removal of natural boundaries, the social commotion and tension, all caused by that!

The following day, when I entered the office, everywhere smelt like a kitchen. Anwuli was on her desk, not in the kitchenette, eating a big diet of Ogbona soup and Garri (eba).

In the afternoon, I went to the kitchenette, made a cup of coffee, and took it to my desk.

“Hello, please you are not allowed to bring any food or drink into the hall. Please use the kitchenette.”

“And why not?”

“That’s the order I am the admin manager here. And that’s the company policy.”

“But I saw you eating here a few hours ago. Moreover, I am not aware of such a policy. Is the policy for some people and not some people? Is there also a policy for listening to music without constituting a nuisance to others.”

“I owe you no explanation, Shewa. Just do as I say.”

I stood up from my chair and walked towards her “…Anwuli, I think you should learn how to talk to people. What do you mean….do as you say…..Am I a slave here? I see you eat here, and I’m doing the same, and you order me not to! Don’t I have rights in this office too?”

“…ha…ha..ha…” she laughed…. “coming from you…that’s a joke…I think you should first preach to yourself on learning to be sensitive to and respect other people’s rights, and preferences.”

“Oh…really..” I went back to my desk and continued sipping my coffee.

The next thing, Anwuli just charged toward me, and then snatched the cup from me. The tea spilled on the computer and it stopped working. My goodness!

The following morning, I opened my email and saw a query. I was being reprimanded for working at cross-purposes with the organizational objectives and policies, using violent and discriminatory language, insensitivity, verbal harassment, and physical assault.

All these charges on me alone? Anwuli was supposed to eat on her desk, increase the volume of her music to the highest pitch, while I was to shrink to my desk in silence and fear. Anwuli has the right to expect that I pamper her eccentricity by asking her every day whether she should be addressed as he/she/they? Anwuli has the right to physically assault me and then go and report otherwise? I am expected to be sensitive to Anwuli’s whims and understand her?

How about understanding others? How about giving me the right to at least a fair hearing? How about giving me a proper orientation to this workplace. How about being honest and open about their true definition of women girl right? Is this freedom or confusion; nonconformism or chaos; feminism or female supremacy; egalitarianism or totalitarianism!

(To be continued)

You can read the last edition HERE


Unapologetically Shewa” is a story of Shewa and Sheri. Both of them are single mothers who live in a society which judges them. While Sheri keeps seeking where and what to hide behind, Shewa decides to stop hiding or withering under the condescending glare of society. She was ready to shed no more tears, but shed off the scales of self-judgement and begin a journey of self-actualization. Coming against societal norms, will she change the norms or the norms will change her?


Abiose A. Adams, a journalist, creative writer, and senior programme officer at Cable Newspaper Journalism Foundation, can be reached on [email protected]

Author’s Disclaimer: This story is purely a work of fiction. Any coincidence of the characters with real persons is highly regretted.

Photo credit: Pexels.com



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