A magazine for Africans and friends of Africa...Our Voices, Our Vision, Our Culture

Letter from Lagos: Vagina Chant
By Rolake Odetoyinbo-Nwangwu
I have been giving a lot of talks in recent weeks, but the topic which always took the cake was gender pride. As you must have guessed by now, I'm unashamedly feminist. One of my greatest assets is my gender, and I totally, completely, absolutely relish and love being female.

I'm big. And have been told I look like a man when I wear trousers, especially with my hairless head. But don't be deceived; I'm every inch a woman, praise God! The first time I mention sexual anatomy in a talk, almost everybody in my audience cringes. The ladies shift in their chairs, thoroughly embarrassed and uncomfortable because this isn't what they are used to hearing in public.

The organ has been called the canal of life because more than 99 percent of us were conceived and came into the world via this beautiful vault. Sadly however, it can also be the tunnel of death, as more than 80 percent of my African sisters and children living with HIV got infected passing through the tunnel or being passed through.

If this is true, it seems to me like one sure way of reducing the spread of HIV is for men to respect the canal of life and the women to take ownership of what is rightfully theirs. Isn't it amazing how our most important body parts don't really belong to us? It's either considered as belonging to your man or to your baby if you're birthing.

Our main girl is tucked away in hiding, and we never think of her as a living being. Men are different; they see theirs staring at them every time they take a trip to the urinal. You can imagine how many times a day that journey is made! We cleanse, steam, tone and moisturize our face, hands and feet to protect them from the elements, but refuse to use protection and guard the most important part that can make a difference between life and death.

We spend a fortune on dead outgrowths called hair and nails which can easily be chopped off by a pair of scissors, but ignore the main girl herself. Most of us can't spread our undergarments in a shared bathroom because they are faded, full of holes, or just downright ugly. You wouldn't be caught dead with smelly hair, but your girl stinks to high heavens! I can't understand why we won't treat our girls like the treasures they really are.

Maybe we should learn from guys who, even though they came out from there, spend the rest of their lives trying to get back in. While we, the real owners, give it away to opportunistic ingrates because we lack self-love, self-respect and battle with low self-esteem.

Why is it that the first time a guy smiles at you and tries to make intelligent conversation, we automatically think he's gunning for the girl downstairs? Wake up! Or are you telling me that's the only interesting thing you have to offer? Just maybe the guy likes your voice and carriage or, God forbid, maybe you do have some brains he'd like to interact with.

Why should he be considered queer, slack, action-less and maybe gay just because he hasn't jumped you? Let's just say no to infections, unwanted babies and continued disrespect. Let's protect the young ones amongst us and give them a chance to prove themselves, rather than wanting every woman to pay the price by going through the same pain and suffering we went through.

--Odetoyinbo is the project director for Nigeria's Positive Action Treatment Access.