In Nigeria especially, the most insulting words to hurl at a woman is to call her a harlot or ashawo. Coined from the Yoruba word, “asewo,” connoting one who receives pittance in other words, who “breaks down money” into bits. It was believed that prostitutes, being the dregs of the society, didn’t deserve to be paid any substantial amount for their services, instead only just a piece of what is left in the man’s pocket is given to her…hence, he breaks down even the little he has and gives her, just a bit of it…
And yet, she is in business because the man has a need!
But I don’t even want to go into that convo right now.
Now, if a woman leaves her husband…on whatever grounds, the husband or people calls her ashawo.
If a woman is climbing fast the ladder of success, she is labelled ashawo as it is believed she is sleeping around to climb.
If a woman confronts a fellow driver on the road, he winds down his glass and calls her ashawo…meaning she slept around to get the car she is driving; in his mind, there’s no way she could have worked hard enough to earn enough to buy a car.
If a woman complains about male junior’s insubordination, she is labelled ashawo.
If a divorced woman gets into another relationship, she is called ashawo…
In fact, my friend was called an ashawo because she asked why a petrol attendant neglected to attend to her when she came first before filling a commercial vehicle that zoomed right in front of her parked car!
So for demanding her right, a woman can be labeled ashawo and here’s the thing, much as we women have come to understand that small minded men only say this, it still hurts, especially when it comes from someone she’s shared a bed with.
Last week, I read the story of a woman, one Nkechi Ononiwu, in Igando paprt of Lagos state, who appealed to a customary court to grant her separation from her live-in lover, Bright Ononiwu. Nkechi she cited battery, infidelity and neglect! But the one most vexing thing to Nkechi is the fact that her partner, Bright usually called her “ashawo…” and “public toilet.”
This was coming from a man she has a son with; a man she lives in the same home with…who also hasn’t done the proper marriage rites to make her his wife but yet, she called her husband…but calling him husband or not isn’t even important.
What is, is the fact that Bright, at the least suspicion of his woman, calls her names, like ashawo because he believes she sleeps around, incidentally, she accused him of same, infidelity!
But before I even go too far, another story between another set of couple intrigued me a few weeks back.
I was in a hospital visiting a relative on admission when I overheard a convo between the other patient on the other side of the room and her visitor. The patient, I had seen days before, had been in an accident; a motor accident. She developed car trouble on the Lagos/Ibadan expressway and stopped on the side of the road to check her engine. A road side mechanic came by to help her check, from nowhere, another vehicle crossed the median and smashed into them, killing the roadside mechanic on impact and flinging the woman far, with a broken arm and badly bruised body.
This patient and her visitor were loud, despite the fact that they knew we could hear them even through a curtain partition; the male visitor, I gather is her partner, he was accusing her of sleeping around; according to him, someone in his dreams made the revelation!
Now, from the convo, I also gathered that the partner knew the woman had an estranged husband and yet…
It was almost hilarious for me but the man was very adamant, very serious about the truth of his dreams. His woman had been cheating on him and if not for mercy, she would have died. So he had come to ask her to confess, so that she could live long!
The patient of course was angry, she refuted the accusations, calling the man names I am even ashamed to repeat. Well maybe he deserved to be so called, especially as I thought he should have been more circumspect before accusing the woman. She was recuperating from an accident that almost claimed her life; she was still at the hospital and there were foreign ears, like mine and two others in the room!
He repeatedly called her “ashawo,” meaning prostitute! To each jab of the word, the patent howled; it was like, of all the insults to hurl at me, “ashawo” is unforgivable!
Who remembers Hannah Saliu? The sex worker who was killed in Lagos for possessing a Quran? Her killers, who had probably enjoyed her services before, turned against her, a common ashawo. They couldn’t believe she was worthy of Allah’s mercy, Allah’s help, Allah’s redemption, in their eyes, being a harlot or ashawo is the worst a human being can be and yes, that is why many women hate the insult!
Can there be an ashawo though, if there were no buyers of her trade?
When a man calls a woman ashawo, isn’t he saying he is equally as bad as she is? If not worse, encouraging her to continue a trade he despises?
This to my mind is the height of hypocrisy but you see, this kind of hypocrisy has been from of old; remember an account of the Bible in John 7:53-8:11, when Jesus prevented the stoning of another so called “ashawo.” Her accusers said she was caught in an act of adultery…where was the man she was committing same with?
Jesus then asked if there was anyone of her accusers without sin to cast the first stone… and none could.
These days, I tell women, there’s no need getting pissed at being called, ashawo, just look your accuser in the eye and call him “the son of an ashawo!”
Two things will happen, he’ll stop the name calling or attack you, in the event of the second, be sure to have an escape route or go stand at a distance and yell back!
I have said my own!