Gender-based violence and Harassment (GBVH) is a pervasive issue in Nigeria, affecting individuals across various sectors and walks of life. It encompasses a range of harmful behaviors directed at individuals based on their gender, including physical violence, sexual harassment, psychological abuse, and economic exploitation. Legal frameworks and policies aimed at addressing GBVH remain weak, and cultural beliefs still reinforce the culture of silence and stigma.

Efforts to combat GBVH in Nigeria have gained momentum in recent years, with increased advocacy, awareness campaigns, and support services for survivors. Initiatives like “Mista Silas: A Tale of Unheard Voices” play a crucial role in this fight by using art to amplify the voices of those affected and raise awareness of the issue and its impacts.

Scenes from the play “Mista Silas: A Tale of Unheard Voices ” from the performance. Credit: Maigemu Studios/Solidarity Center

“Mista Silas” is a compelling stage play that explores the profound and often overlooked impact of GBVH in the workplace. It shines a spotlight on the prevalence and effects of discrimination and GBVH, brings to life the stories of those who have faced such challenges and gives voice to their struggles and resilience.

A scene from the performance of the play "Mista Silas: A Tale of Unheard

The event commenced with a panel discussion with union leaders from Nigeria’s two labor centers, the Nigeria Labor Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC), with Solidarity Center Country Coordinator Chris Adebayo. The panel session titled, “The Impact of Gender-Based Violence and Harassment in the Workplace” provided a platform for deeper exploration of the theme presented in the play. 

“We have a lot of laws in place in Nigeria, but implementation is close to zero,” said NTUC Women’s Commission President Hafsat Shuaib. “But right now, we have [ILO Convention]190, which is really at the forefront for everybody. Together, we can put it into action. Eliminating gender-based violence and harassment is everybody’s business, and so we must all come together and fight against it. All hands must be on deck.”

From left: Chris Adebayo, Country Coordinator, Solidarity Center; Comrade Hafsat Shaibu, NTUC Women’s Commission President.

“Gender-based violence and harassment is criminal. It is a crime against the individual, it is a crime against humanity, and it is a crime against God. We are valued as human beings, as individuals. We work to earn a living, and earning a living does not include [access to] our bodies,” said Rita Goyit, head of the Women and Youth Empowerment Department for the NLC.

Left to right: Comrade Rita Goyit, head of the Women and Youth Empowerment Department for the NLC; Ms. Toyin Falaiye, global labor lawyers’ network ILAW.

After the panel session, the play set the stage for a narrative exploring the toxic nature of abuse of power that fuels GBVH in the world of work by introducing Mista Silas, a perpetrator of GBVH, in his office. With an air of entitlement, he disregards women’s autonomy, seeing them merely as objects for male pleasure. 

As the story unfolds, it highlights the insidious nature of GBVH and the attitudes that perpetuates it. Mista Silas’s words and actions exact an emotional and psychological toll on his victims, confronting the audience with the harsh realities many women face in the workplace.

The women experience harrowing harassment and retaliation for refusing Mista Silas’s advances, portraying survivors’ trauma and resistance. Their synchronized movements and harmonized voices evoke the solidarity and strength found in shared experiences and illustrate the widespread impact of GBVH and the courage required to stand against it.

By understanding the experiences of those affected by GBVH in the workplace, we can raise awareness and cultivate empathy and a more profound commitment to fostering safe and respectful workplaces.

The play is a call to action. It underscores the importance of implementing effective policies and support systems to protect and empower all workers. Workplaces must collectively strive to create environments where everyone feels valued, respected and safe.

The audience responded to the performance with a standing ovation. Some wiped away tears, while others expressed gratitude and requested additional information from the Solidarity Center. Audible murmurs and gasps of shock and empathy were heard throughout the performance, especially during scenes depicting abusive experiences. The play’s power to elicit such emotional reactions highlights the effectiveness of storytelling and the personalization of the issue of gender-based violence and harassment. 

From left: Sophie Hart, MEL, USDOL, and Marie Ledan, Grant Officer’s Representative, USDOL, giving special remarks.

In their closing remarks, Sophie Hart and Marie Ledan, representatives from the U.S. Department of Labor, reiterated the importance of addressing gender-based violence and harassment in the world of work and thanked the Solidarity Center for using the arts and storytelling to raise awareness of the issue.

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