Pulse Chats with Omoge Dami: The feminist who wants to 'March on the Market'

#MarketMarch is an initiative she started to curb bullying, harassment and unnecessary touching of women in the marketplace.

The idea was always to give a platform to all ‘conversations worth having,’ regardless of the weight of supposed divisive or leftist ideal they might carry.

This time our Conversations worth Having have led us to Omoge Dami or Damilola Marcus — depending on which Dami you meet.

You might know her as the feminist with the unwavering appetite to voice her supposedly sensitive and equally necessary opinions on the ever-polarizing matters of gender equality, feminism, women’s rights, rape, LGBTQ and other issues.

Earlier this year, she singlehandedly facilitated Nigeria’s maiden version of #MeToo which led to some infamy. She had however made her point on acceptable bedroom behaviour and consent — which has now become ingrained.

In some ways, that underlines who Dami is. While you might not always agree with her as this scribbler does not, you cannot deny her positive impact on a generation that needs to cut ties with all forms of ingrained quasi-slavery and vices.

On most days though, Dami, an Architecture graduate from the University of Lagos is one of the two minds — alongside her partner, Seyi Olusanya — behind, according to her, “the best design studio” in West Africa.

At this time, they are a team of five, but they hope to grow bigger while bootstrapping their way with funds they make off contracts.

On a day that finally held firm after one postponement from Dami, it had just finished raining. Donning a beautiful black and white outfit, with no bottle of Coca-Cola for apology on canceling the last set-date, she strolled in.

After all the hassles and ‘systemic traffic’ towards conducting this interview, we finally got it underway upon some background chat.

We discussed her idea of feminism, her professional life, her introduction to feminism, gender equality and the entire idea behind #MarketMarch, her thoughtful initiative to end sexual harassment and bullying of women in the marketplace.

The tentative date for #MarketMarch is still December 15, but plans are in place to make that date work and while fundsraising is in also full swing;

Pulse: What does Damilola Marcus do, where is she from, what is her background?

Dami: I’m a designer, brand identity design; to enunciate, basically, logo design and graphic design, art direction, creative direction, and strategy.

We do what it means to push out a brand; verbally, visually today in 2018. I run a design studio with my partner, Seyi Olusanya.

Currently, we’re a team of five, but we hope to grow soon.

Pulse: You are known to people online as an activist and feminist than a brand designer. How did you become a feminist?

Dami: ‘The feminist thing’ has always been sort of my outlook on life - sort of my philosophy. I was a feminist before I knew there was a term like that. I’ve always believed in gender equality.

I could always sense that something wasn’t balanced. I always thought that discussions were the way forward, ‘how can we make this thing better?’ starts with this conversation.

I didn’t even know that it was something people would resonate with me for; that people were going to be sort of say, ‘Dami, Feminist.’

I didn’t want to push myself as a feminist per se, it was just something I was passionate about. I might be some sort of activist, but I just like pushing conversations about gender equality and feminism.

Pulse: You only got popular over the past 13 months. What were you doing before then?

Dami: I had a Twitter account back then (@Hisweedroller), but it was hacked, so I lost interest. Then I opened another one (@OmogeDami).

Before then, I read extensively. So, I wanted a Twitter account to express myself. When I came back, I wasn’t talking about feminism - I was talking philosophy, designs and a lot of other things.

Then, I discovered that talking about feminism made me connect with a lot of people like me and that made me like Twitter — the fact that I could connect to a lot of people.

Pulse: Is there a clash between your professional life and your personal life?

Dami: Absolutely not. I have structured my life to not make them clash, but then in my professional life, I don’t find the reason. I don’t know if energy sort of attracts energy, but I attract people who want to really express themselves.

It hasn’t happened yet. But maybe given my brand, a client will come soon, and be like 'you this feminist' (laughs), saying it can’t work, but not yet. So, I’m happy, thank you (laughs).

Pulse: Feminism is many things to a lot of people — a word, the culture and so forth. What is feminism to you?

Dami: It’s a way of life. I feel like people feel pressure to act some kind of way, but it’s not that way. We know it’s difficult, but it’s baby steps.

For instance, I and my partner, sat down one day and highlighted what was important to us; feeding into the stereotypical, patriarchal parts of us to take them out.

Feminism is an everyday thing that takes conscious efforts. I really want to encourage everybody against the virtue signaling, giving us a sense of unified expectation.

You can have an egalitarian society that impacts how you relate women. It’s not easy, but you have to unlearn and relearn till it clicks. But I applaud you if you’re making an effort, well done.

Pulse: Is feminism to eradicate male privilege or to empower women?

Dami: Empowering women is such a complicated idea. Not too long ago, a woman tweeted about VVF and surgery with young women in the North and said child marriage wasn't a cause of VVF.

To some extent, while she was empowering women in her way, her ideology doesn’t challenge the hetero-patriarchy or status quo of male dominance.

She’s basically saying, ‘how best can we help women cope with it?’ There’s a form of tokenism in female empowerment that doesn’t align with feminism (as in that woman’s case).

Feminism wants to destroy the barriers that aim to limit women; it’s a proactive idea, not a coping mechanism within patriarchy.

While feminism includes female empowerment, its core goal is to destroy the patriarchy.

Pulse: Did you set out to be a vocal feminist in your generation?

Dami: No. I set out to help women love themselves. Often times, you question your sanity and your beliefs or even your path in the face of your ideas and you have challenges from everywhere.

But then, when you have a network of strong women you can connect with, it makes it easier. That’s why I don’t like it when people say, ‘e-feminists’ as a derogatory term.

Social media is real life to an extent, and it helps us build our voice in numbers before we go into the real world. Having a voice is the start of a revolution.

Pulse: On e-feminism. Would you say e-feminists intentionally add more aggression to their messaging than in real life?

Dami: I would say that people have a ridiculous expectation of feminists to not expect any form of belligerence.

During the #EndSars campaign, I didn’t see men say, ‘Please SARS, don’t beat us.’ You can’t seek change without some form belligerence.

Women have every right to be angry. Once your eyes open to every injustice that patriarchy allows, you become angry and it’s a righteous anger — a valid emotion.

I think it’s another form of dehumanization that women are only allowed a few kinds of emotion and we are angry. If we were patting people’s heads, people would still complain.

It’s about what we say, not how we’re saying it. We’ve dared to say what we say.

Pulse: Do you feel misunderstood as a feminist?

Dami: Yeah, but I don’t care. For those who understand me, I will make sacrifices. I don’t have a problem with being misunderstood, but I do strive to create an understanding.

It doesn’t matter if you don’t understand me because I will keep putting out my message.

Pulse: Do you feel feminism needs men?

Dami: No (laughs). Feminism can accommodate men if they want to be a part of the journey. But without them, we move.

The idea of an alliance is flawed. If prisoners were trying to escape their prison and one of the guards - no matter how nice he is; benefiting from their oppression - said, ‘Give me the keys, let me drive you away,’ would they be stupid enough to hand him the keys to their escape van?

He can help us trick the security, but we can’t give him the keys to the van. That’s how I feel about men and feminism. Men can be important, but they’re not necessary. This is my personal take.

Pulse: Why do you call men “oppressors”?

Dami: When I say “oppressor,” I don’t mean all men. But no matter how nice you are, you benefit from my oppression.

I need men to admit that they all have sexist tendencies. The problem isn’t unknowingly doing sexist things, but it’s the denial that you have such tendencies.

Pulse: Do you feel like you’re doing anything; changing the world, perhaps?

Dami: Definitely, but not changing the world — that’s a megalomaniac idea. I would say the strength of our unified voice does something.

Pulse: Have you ever felt the need to dilute your ideas a bit in the real world?

Dami: Definitely. With my family - my extended family. My parents are liberal — for a lack of better diction.

In business, one has to make things work. We’re there to make money. That clash happens every day, and even when I take Uber every day, but I can’t fight everyone (laughs).

It’s about self-care. Sometimes, I have hope. Other times, I keep quiet and rant to you guys on Twitter (laughs).

Pulse: From how you said a man can be sexist without realizing, do you think patriarchy is an ingrained reality?

Dami: Yes, it is an ingrained reality. A lot of it happens from how these men were socialized and are expected to act.

They, however, have to try to change, but I don’t bother my pretty head with that (laughs). This is the new world.

Pulse: Is it good enough that women want to participate in the vices they criticize men for?

Dami: (Sighs) Personally, I don’t like the idea of a matriarchy. Men also suffer from the patriarchy; a matriarchy would mean women suffer too and I'm done with women suffering. Thus, I think we should strive for equality.

For women who pick up these vices, they’re allowed to, that’s their choice.

Pulse: Do we strive for equality or equity, fairness, and equal opportunity?

Dami: That is equality. Although, we are not the same, we need socio-political equality, no need to drag equality to biological or physical attributes.

We should jettison the literal definition of equality for the goal of equality.

Pulse: Based on what you’ve said, what do you do when an Agbero or bus conductor harasses or touches a woman without consent?

Dami: It depends, really. Sometimes, I’m wearing jeans and a loose shirt, and in my Agbero mood. On those days, I will challenge, but today, I’m not in that mood (laughs).

I’m not a saint or soldier of equality. I’m a person; sometimes, I’m not able to fight because sometimes, you pick your battles.

Pulse: #MarketMarch is gaining weight and followers. Could you tell us what it’s about?

Dami: #MarketMarch is an initiative aimed at walking to end sexual harassment and bullying in the market. If women can’t move in public places, how can we create freedom for women in private places?

These things are to remind women that they matter. We need the market; the average girl in Lagos buys things at Yaba. It is a toxic thing that women experience.

Even though the issue seems so small, it has a larger meaning of women being welcome in society, to live in peace.

We want to make men aware of the wrongness of their actions. The tentative date for the March is Saturday,December 15. We’ll come out and march to tell society that what they’ve normalized is wrong.

There is a massive population of people who want to march with us. From there, we will move to radio, jingles in pidgin, fliers and pushing policymakers to make better policies against bullying in public places.

We’re starting with Lagos, but we hope to move to other states. Please come out and march and let’s fight this together.

Even men have resonated with this idea and have joined us.

Pulse: How far has #MarketMarch gone?

Dami: We’re currently working on a video to highlight the problem. Hopefully, it goes viral (laughs) across the wide range of media.

We hope it will trigger the key areas where policy can be made. Then, we are working on getting our website up for people to register and be comfortable.

We also want to seek governmental permission to march for security and ease. That’s why the date is still tentative.

Currently, my studio is helping with branding and imaging, it could have cost money had I not been involved. So, I thank my studio.

Pulse: On the team for #MarketMarch, how many are you?

Dami: We should be about 30 people and I’m not paying anybody. These are just people want to make it stop.

Sometimes, I’m busy, and someone will just be on the WhatsApp group, rallying the troops.

There was so much I didn’t know before #MarketMarch, but my management team from bodies like Stand To End Rape and JustDoRightNG have helped me to learn, giving me lots of pointers and have taken the mantle of leadership - when needed, I thank them.

I have no problem with paying. No, no, I don’t have money (laughs), but if there are ideas that require money, we will source the money. We don’t, however, have that yet.

I do know that when we get there, people will support in whatever way they can. But we’re trying to keep the budget small and thanks to these amazing people, we’ve stayed within that budget.

Pulse: How have you coped with funding for now and how do you hope to cope when it gets bigger?

Dami: From next week, we hope to start selling some shirts, which will cost just N3,500 and they are shirts you can wear outside the march with great designs.

Whatever we raise from this will cover welfare and running around costs. Currently, we’re also working on registering a body for #MarketMarch to be able to properly raised funds.

Purchasing items also help, but you don’t have to donate monetarily. There are other ways to support the movement like publicity or volunteering.

Pulse: How optimistic are you that policy makers will buy into this idea?

Dami: I think policy is a tricky thing, but everyone resonates with the ‘popular thing’. I don’t think anyone is losing sleep because women can’t walk through the market.

I do however know that people who make these policies care about popular opinion. If there is pressure from a whole lot of people to make these changes, we will see positive changes.

I’m speaking to them indirectly. If we can get the numbers to participate - hopefully, it gets into international media - we would have pressure on them to do something to not look despondent.

For now, I don’t have the big picture, it’s just the media angle, but I know it will grow organically.

One day, I just want people to say some crazy people woke up and fought this thing we normalized.

We don’t have a protest culture in Nigeria and that’s one of our problems. I don’t know why we haven’t harnessed that.

Shout-out to the whole team @MarketMarch; the creative, planning, welfare, media, security teams and so forth.

If you want to support, you can reach #MarketMarch on Twitter @MarketMarch for now. Just shoot us a message or Tweet at us and use the hashtag #MarketMarch.


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