In west Africa, where popular belief suggests that only men would typically handle security concerns, Dragon Squad, an exclusively female security outfit founded in 2018, has continued to stand tall among men.
According to the founder, Emem Thomas, 37, a big body type sits on top of the list of requirements for recruitment into the team of female bouncers. Next on the list is a passion for the job, then other qualifications follow.
The team works only with plus-size ladies of a certain weight and shape, creating a haven for huge women to find a path in a field that is typically controlled by men.
Inspiration to float an all-female security team came from the personal experiences of the founder, whose big body always attracted scornful remarks from her thinner peers, puncturing her confidence to pursue the life of pageantry.
She found a forte that put the spotlight on the very thing she was mocked for, and using the same, she built a life for herself, and other young women like her, through her team of female bouncers.
For Thomas, change truly comes when barriers are broken, and women are welcomed to show what they can contribute to all sectors of society. She no longer considers herself an introvert nor does she still shy away from events, and she is gradually replicating the same results in young African girls.
According to her, “Most of them (her girls) were always shy. They couldn’t talk,” she said, pointing out that she too was withdrawn and cold, burdened by her weight. The outfit has reportedly raised African women with skills, strength, and most importantly for Thomas, confidence.
Standing in front of a crowd to give orders can be an uphill task, especially for women who grew up avoiding the public eye. She nudges her girls to always face the crowd and be themselves, even as they bear in mind that they should be seen and known.
These feats add up to her interventions as an advocate for the rights of girls and women.
She believes firmly that female bouncers, simply by listening to troublemakers and victims in a way that most men do not have the temper and calmness for, have the unique ability to wade off danger in an interestingly unusual, yet effective, manner. So, the discussions around hiring bouncers in Africa should cease to tilt towards the regular – employing only men.
Emem always keeps in mind the risk of molestation on the job, as well as the tendency to be looked down on by men, as she hints at the team’s readiness for such cases.
The Dragon Squad’s 43 recruits have worked as security women in over two thousand events including house parties, funerals, political rallies, and club nights, while most young west African girls might be honing their skills in other areas like makeup, fashion, and other trades perceived as ideal for women.
In addition to walkie-talkies, boots, and dark glasses, the bouncers carry pepper spray to wade off potential aggressors.
23-year-old bouncer Peace Vigorous, the youngest of the crew, mentioned that joining the squad helped her see how she could be different from other girls.
On the name choice, Emem says, “I love what I see dragons do in movies, they are also a symbol of power and protection.”
Emem’s newfound confidence, drive, and vision have transformed her social and family life in the city of Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria, where the 37-year-old lives with her two children.