With the recent kidnapping of schoolgirls in Borno State, women are coming together to seek ways to stop rape, sexual assault and gender violence, writes Gboyega Akinsanmi
Around the country, the women are no longer at ease with the way they have become easy target of gender-based violence. The recent kidnapping of over 200 schoolgirls in Chibok, Borno State has accentuated their clarion call for protection.
Last week, an Islamic women group in Ilorin protested the abduction of the girls who are students of Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok Borno State by suspected members of Boko Haram.
The group, Nasirullahi Fathi Society of Nigeria, (NASFAT) staged a peaceful protest and matched to the Kwara State Government House in Ilorin, insisting that the members of the sect are not genuine Muslims.
The leader of the Ilorin branch of NASFAT, Mrs. Ummuhani Abdulrahman, told the State Governor, Abdulfatah Ahmed, that they were in the Government House to protest the Nyanya Municipal Motor Park killings and female students’ kidnap in the northeast.
She lamented that, as mothers, they were mostly affected by the kidnapping of girl students and called on various governments to intensify efforts in curbing the menace.
The women leader noted that it was obvious that the frequent bombings and kidnappings had no religious undertone, urging Nigerians to rise to the occasion by speaking out against the crimes.
Abdulrahman, who presented a letter of protest to Ahmed, for onward transmission to President Goodluck Jonathan, said: “Our hearts are bleeding. We are mothers. We know what it takes to lose a pregnancy how much more a child.”
She added: “We want these children to be recovered because they are our futures. They are what we depend on as mothers.”
The NASFAT women leader, who said as mothers, they felt the agonies of the mothers of the abducted girls, noted that the activities of the insurgents had gone beyond religious affiliations.
She tasked people of all religious faiths to come together to tackle the onslaught of the insurgents, especially the violence against women in different forms.
And in Lagos, gender-based violence was the subject of discourse at a rally to mark the International Day of Women recently.
At the rally, the Lagos State Deputy Governor, Mrs. Adejoke Orelope-Adefulire linked fair treatment of women in all spheres of life to key for unlocking national development and prosperity.
Perhaps the story of Ngozi Edwards is apt in that direction. Just like millions of women nationwide, Edwards has, perpetually, been a victim of inhuman treatment. Her matrimony, according to her, is nothing, but a hellish home. She attributed this to her husband’s ill perception of female gender, which she said, had earned much denial and depression. At different times, it was gathered, she has been beaten and whipped over negligible issues.
Edwards, a resident of Meiran in Lagos State and an indigene of Ebonyi State, also suffered denial in many respects. From what was gathered, for instance, her husband had severally denied her meals, sometimes running into days. Her bid to set herself free from the bondage of perpetual house wife had been turned down on different occasions, citing her husband’s resentment and hostility.
For her, life has not in any way been what she envisaged before Edwards went into wedlock almost a decade ago. Her neighbours, most times, wondered why she refused to report her plight to the Department of Social Welfare. But Edwards confided in her friends reasons she was not ready to take her husband up. Her main fear, according to THISDAY checks, has to do with the fear of losing her home.
Likewise, the realities of raising four children alone or leaving them in the hand of an unknown mistress is, for her, too grave an option. Rather, Edwards chose to bear her agony of matrimonial ill-treatment than to lose her home and risk the future of her loving children, whom she believed, would be better brought up if she “endures pains of today in order to secure them a glorious future.”
Edwards’ harrowing experience, obviously, illustrates what millions of women are facing at home and at workplace each day, not only in Nigeria and Africa, but the world over. It, also, explains the underlying rationale for the celebration of International Women’s Day annually, which was marked in almost all countries around the universe irrespective of class, ethnic or religious divides.
Perhaps nowhere was the day better commemorated than in Lagos State, where the Deputy Governor, Mrs. Adejoke Orelope-Adefulire explained how the state government’s receptiveness to promoting gender equality and reducing cases of gender-based violence within its defined territory is helping to promote the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
At the rally that brought more than 10,000 women together from 57 local councils across the state, Adefulire said, a society that fails its women and girls ultimately fails itself. This forms the crux of her message to such gender groups as women bankers, women dentists, women pharmacists, women accountants, women in tertiary institutions and women in surveying that attended the rally.
The deputy governor, thus, explained the purpose of the rally, which she said, was designed “to promote gender equality in the state.”
She acknowledged how the commitment and selfless service of great women in the country “has impacted lives positively; changed destines for betterment; and improved the standard of living of thousands of people in different degrees and measures.
Consequently, the deputy governor observed that the health, well-being and development of any society can be seen in the state of average women, which was apparently in agreement to the United Nations Secretary-General, Mr. Ban Ki-Moon’s postulation that empowered women lift up the society as a whole, and countries with more gender equality have better economic growth.
She gave descriptive account of what women had done differently in the country. She said women “have always been known to champion the struggle for human rights, social justice, universal welfare and equity. We have equally been unbeatable in rendering compassionate and selfless service to humanity as mothers of the nation,” a reason she adduced to the urgent need to stem gender-based violence.
She observed a dramatic change in the quest for gender equality in the 21st century, which she said, had contributed to the emergence of women who “have done very well in government. Many of us are occupying key positions, taking important decisions and impacting countless number of lives positively.” She explained the state government’s improved receptivity to gender issues.
According to her, our government is appreciated for its policies and programmes geared towards the full empowerment of women politically, socially and economically. She said the state’s gender receptiveness was evident in the appointment into the State Executive Council since the democratic transition in 1999, a record she said, had not been achieved by any state of the federation.
In 1999, the deputy governor said only one female was represented in the State Executive Council, which she said, had indeed improved in the subsequent years. In 2007, she put the number of female representatives in the council at two while seven “were appointed in 2011. Aside the cabinet positions, there has been an appreciable number of women serving in different capacities in the state.”
This sterling record of achievements explained why the First Lady of Lagos State, Mrs. Abimbola Fashola said the empowerment of women “has been proven to be a catalyst of socio-economic growth and development of any nation.” She, therefore, acceded to Adefulire’s standpoint that countries with gender equality “are making better progress,” which she said was the heart of the state’s policy thrust.
She explained the improvement in the state’s school enrolment and maternal healthcare. She said more women “have access to education, work and political participation. More girls are now going to school, with primary enrolment rates approaching 90 percent. This has positive implication for other aspects of their lives, and is, in fact, good for all of us, including male gender.”
She, also, acknowledged a historic plunge in maternal mortality, which she said, had “reduced by 50 percent. Fewer women are dying in childbirth and pregnancy. Women’s access to family planning and antenatal care has improved. Educated women and girls now make informed decisions about their health and lives. They claim their rights and contribute more fully to their families and communities.”
But the deputy governor and first lady lamented the growing incidence of gender-based violence, which they said, constituted a grave threat “to gender development and equality globally. Women and girls continue to face human rights violation, including violence and harmful practices. Laws designed to protect their rights, where they exist, are often not enforced.”
Adefulire vented her disappointment in what she described as “increased cases of gender-based violence and inhuman treatment of women in spite of our state of technological and sociological development. Cases of rape, child labour and sex slavery continue to assault our sensibilities on an increasing rate,” which she said, undermined gender rights, equality and development.
The first lady reeled some incidence of gender-based violence, citing that one in three women “is subject to violence over the course of her lifetime, often by someone she knows too well. Millions of girls around the world still face the risk of gender mutilation despite a century of efforts to an end to it. Every day, 20,000 girls below the age of 18 give birth in developing countries.
“Nine in ten of these births occur within marriage or union, which reflects the fact that the percentage of girls being married off before they turn 18 has not really changed,” the first lady lamented. She, therefore, noted that all the incidence gravely undermined the ability of women to live a healthy and productive life free from violence and to fully enjoy their rights to life and economic prosperity.
Beyond all said at the rally, Governor Babatunde Fashola advocated for equal opportunities for women as an indisputable panacea for world peace, noting that women “must in no way be limited by their special features in recognition of the role. They had been playing in the society. Our duty is to make those kinds of interventions that would ensure that women are not discriminated against.
He warned against the growing feeling among men, which he said, was due to the sterling achievement of women. He, therefore, said no man “must feel intimidated or diminished by the success of any woman. In the way, over the years, women have stood behind and beside their men and have led them to success after success and victory after victory. So, what is fair is fair. What is right is right.
“If women truly want to fly, we must release them to fly. Those who hold public office understand the reason they should not allow the rights of women to be infringed in any way. Lagos State is, perhaps, the first state in the federation to enact legislation that sought to protect not only girl children but also women,” which she said, was a testimonial to the state’s gender receptivity.
“We amended our criminal law, one of the provisions in the law was a provision that made it a criminal offence for a man to put a woman in the family way and not pay financial support for her. The law is an innovation from this state. It was also in that law that for the first time in this part of the world, postpartum syndrome became a defence for women if they have to answer criminal charges.
“Even in public schools, there is an increase in the number of girl to boy by a margin of 51 to 49 boy enrolment. The debate about equality is one that will continue because women in reality have more than they have acknowledged. We have initiated a programme to reduce infant and maternal mortality. The programme captures the data of every pregnant girl from conception to childbirth.”