She is friendly, warm, somewhat shy and a bit detached. But Chioma Dike becomes easily animated when the topic of discussion veers into human rights, especially women’s rights – a subject where the depth of her ideas is very much evident, writes Shaka Momodu
She is delectable and quite conspicuous in any gathering. Her good educational background is an obvious complement. Most of this she acquired outside Nigeria. And the privilege the place of birth gave her was enough for Chioma Dike to take the path of convenience and convention in terms of career choice. But she would have none of that.
Rather, she chose the path of activism and human rights advocacy. She chose to bring into the fore the abuses and deprivation of rights that women daily go through in a world still disproportionately dominated by men. Her organisation, African Daughters Foundation (ADF), is making waves in the United States of America. Dike does not hesitate to tell the whole world that she does what she enjoys doing.
“My name is Chioma Dike,” she announces in case you might have forgotten. “For the past couple of years, I have been involved in human rights activism and that is who I am. I am human rights activist.”
Naturally, the question would arise: why choose that line, especially in an environment (United States) where freedom seems to be taken for granted? Why did she not consider a vocation that goes in line with what she studied in the university? She explains her motive.
“It is mostly because a lot of women, especially in places like Nigeria, have their rights violated, particularly because of gender discrimination based on reproductive rights, bodily rights such as female genital mutilation and other violations that take away from a woman’s dignity and her right to make choices on certain things that have to do with her body. What really motivated me to go to activism is specifically because of the issue of female genital mutilation.”
Many would naturally wonder if Dike was a victim of this practice or she has someone close to her who happened to have been. In traditional parlance, it is simple circumcision. While the practice is actually phasing out, the new coinage was actually meant to bring attention to the harm it poses for the girl child. Dike says she was never a victim.
“Fortunately for me, I did not and was not circumcised. One, it was because I was born in the United States and also because of where I am from in Nigeria, our traditional culture does not practise such; but there are lot of other cultures in Nigeria that do practise female circumcision.”
The road to activism for Dike has not always been a smooth one. While she did not start out with all the intentions to change the whole world, her first degree was the first point of departure between her parents and herself. Not that they were totally against her decision to study psychology; they were simply concerned about the prospects of getting a good job after her degree. Therefore, her first “job” was to convince her parents that she could make something out of her psychology degree. To her, it was not about the prospects of jobs but what she could use the degree to achieve for herself.
“Originally, I started out as a psychology major and my parents tried to discourage me because they weren’t sure of the job prospects, but I was able to convince them of the opportunities I would be able to create for myself. Then I also went to Howard University and I majored in political science and since I was in the nation’s capital, with a lot of good job opportunities over there, so they (my parents) thought that was a good idea.”
Even if her parents might have softened on the choice of course, there still remained the small matter of the rights activism vocation which Chioma has chosen. Is it a line her parents were comfortable with, especially given that she was born and brought up in the United States of America where she was expected to blossom in her chosen career? And why would it matter that a little girl in a remote corner of Nigeria had her genitals mutilated in the name of female circumcision? Dike seems to have won her parents over in this regard and now have their blessings and this is also coupled with the successes she has achieved in her advocacy since she started in 2005.
When THISDAY asked her what cases she has worked on since she started, Chioma has this to say: “Actively, I would say since I started in 2005 when I worked in the office of Amnesty International DC office, I had the privilege to work on the Hurricane Katrina cases.”
Chioma Dike, unlike her contemporaries, might have chosen an unusual vocation. For a young woman born and bred in the United States, though with Nigerian parentage, it was an opportunity too much to jettison on the altar of being involved in human rights advocacy. But not for her! This is her calling and what she enjoys doing. Perhaps, a good lesson in the virtue of not doing that which your environment throws up, but that which your heart longs for.