Op-Ed | It’s time for Africa to be the change

Her name was Vera Uwaila Omozuwa. Uwa was a 22-year-old young woman and a first-year microbiology student at the University of Benin in Benin City, Nigeria. Uwa went to the Redeemed Christian Church of God parish in Edo State to read her books, but was left brutally assaulted, raped and left stone cold in her own blood.

Sexism in Africa has grown into being part of daily life. Young women in schools are taught to not dress a certain way or look at men a certain way as to avoid enticing them. This teaching perpetuates the ideology of victim-blaming, placing the victim at the source of their turmoil. It pains our hearts when we hear of stories of black women being exploited, tormented and abused at astonishing rates. With our continent being run into the ground by corrupted leadership, predators and less-than-Godly ideals, we are left with few places to turn for safety and sanctity. Uwa’s story is the one we speak of today. But there have been many before her, and we hope that she will be the last.

Rape is a manifestation of the patriarchy. Until the system is challenged and ultimately dismantled, women’s bodies will continue to be exploited and pillaged by vile men abetted by a despotic system. Regardless of a person’s appearance, there is never a situation where rape is justified. Enough is enough! The law enforcement in Benin should hold the person who did this accountable for their actions. Leadership all across the continent should not only recognize rape and sexual assault as heinous crimes, but meet these actions with harsh, tangible consequences so these issues do not escape unresolved. These perpetrators stole a daughter from her parents, a wonderful person from her friends and a sister from her siblings — they should be punished.

These instances of sexual assault litter our minds and make us feel inferior. As members of society, we will no longer remain idle as our fellow African brothers and sisters are brutalized by our own kind. We need to set the standard and place the end to the assimilation of rape culture in our generations. We will no longer live in fear of our own safety, or look over our shoulders as we travel through our various cities. We are beautiful, we are worthy and WE DO MATTER. We must highlight the pursuit of black excellence all over the Diaspora.

On our own campus at Pitt, we have learned of many instances of rape and sexual assault, both reported and unreported, that have occurred. We plan to use our influence and resources to educate our fellow students, especially our black students, on this unfortunate culture. We must learn how to report these instances and how to protect ourselves as men and women. We will continue to pour ourselves into and invest in efforts that support the reconciliation, rebuilding and revitalization of those who have been violated and assaulted.

As members of the African Students Organization, we stand in solidarity with the victims of rape, sexual assault and sexual abuse. We as an organization stand with the family of Vera Uwaila Omozuwa, and we demand that the perpetrator of this abhorrent act be brought to justice. We stand in one accord asking for peace and healing for the victims and families of loved ones who have been struck by rape and sexual abuse. Most importantly, as Africans, WE STAND WITH AFRICA. It is up to US to be the change.

In solidarity, calling for justice.

Rahmat Obanikoro is a rising sophomore undeclared student and WAZOBIA Logistics Chair of the African Students Organization.

Nana Gyabaah-Kessie is a rising senior molecular biology major and the president of the African Students Organization.