Promoting Gender Balance in Nigeria

Ayodeji Ake writes that for over a decade, Women Empowerment and Legal Aid, an initiative formed to contribute to the empowerment of women in Nigeria, has continuously promoted gender balance in all ramifications  With the vision of promoting and protection of women’s human rights through lobbying, advocacy, provision of legal aid, training, among other strategy, Women Empowerment and Legal Aid (WELA), has moved to end discrimination against women in Nigeria and close the existing gender gap.
The organisation has over the years assisted in the effort to stop the abuses against women and dismantle all the gender barriers that penalise women and girl in Nigeria.
Over the years, WELA has also rehabilitated victims of domestic and societal violence, provide free legs, services, promote international instruments and laws recognising the rights of women and challenge statutory and cultural practices that discriminate against women amongst many others.
Putting their money where their mouth is, the initiative recently empowered 50 persons  on vocational and skills acquisition.
Speaking at the graduation ceremony, the Founder,  WELA, Mrs. Funmi Falana stressed on the importance of empowering women for economic independence and educating them on their rights, to strike a gender balance.
She said: “I want to appreciate everyone for creating time to identify with WELA. This is a day to reflect on women since the last year celebration and what we have been able to do.  We started in 2009. It is an institute where we train the victims of domestic violence, societal violence and all because women also experience multiple violence. We set up this institute to empower.
“We visit the prison very regularly to give the people aid. About 90 per cent of women on death roll are women who fought their husbands due to some misunderstanding . There are family stories that may have triggered such act. We try to bring them out of prison and rehabilitate them with a skill. We train them and give them money to go and start a business. All these efforts are personal efforts. We do this with passion. Of course I have a team of lawyers and members who work together.
“We also look into the discrimination of female child in the family. There is a need to get the women economically empowered and make them independent. We are trying to work on whatever provision that is available for the men should also be available for the women.”
Speaking further, Falana noted WELA has shouldered long time empowerment projects and skills acquisition for youths.
“In our quest to empower Nigerian women and youths over the years through our legal actions, we have secured the release of over 75 women from different prisons , filed and prosecuted over 70 cases of domestic violence and maintenance deprivation, mediated and resolved over 92 cases of domestic without going to court. We have awarded scholarship to 120 students and business grants to 60 women.
“We are therefore gathered here today to celebrate women’s rights, and bring the attention of the public to the plight of women and the less privileged in our society. We are glad to inform that today about 50 students will be graduating from our WELA institute of empowerment and skill acquisition from our different departments of fashion designing, hairdressing, computer science, makeover, shoemaking and catering and hotel management” she said.
Guest speaker at the occasion, Prof. Ibiyemi Olatunji Bello, emphasised that the socioeconomics of a woman is a must in Nigeria to develop the country and provide equal opportunities to the two genders.
“It’s a great honor to be here to support my sister and her project. We are taking on the socioeconomic service of the Nigerian women in the 21st century. In the northern part of the country, the women are secluded while the men do the major jobs and other activities.
“Some of the issues we have; domestic violence, child labour, prostitution and so on. But we want to talk about violence. Fertility rate is another issue to be look into. A woman in Nigeria is expected to have five children.  So we can also say that the fertility rate is also causing socioeconomic problem in this part of the world. The socioeconomic of women is a must in this 21st century. I want to say that in Nigeria, women should be empowered and men should not discriminate women” she said.
In his keynote speech, Prof. Pat Utomi, speaking in the same vein of gender equality and women empowerment, he noted women are part of the population whose productive input will grow the country economically.
“No society that denies 50 per cent of its population or more to be productive, grows. Issues raised, freedom from violence , slavery, access to education, access to property. Women have been great contributors for a long time but we have not given them the empowerment to take them to the next level. There are some Nigeria cultures where women does most of the job to be done by the men,” he said.
The Patron, WELA, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), in a  panel discussion charged filmmakers to produce movies that will advocate and address the issue gender inequality for proper education.
“Women take care of the home. Many of the films we watch also reinforce this backward elements that women should be left behind. I want to also challenge the actors to make movies that will portray equality between men and women. Since it’s a societal problem, we need the government to review all law that surrounds women and that’s discriminates,” he said.
Veteran Actress, Funke Akindele, lauded WELA for its initiative in making provisions for empowerment for women and also addressing women abuses in all form.
“I tried all possible means to attend this wonderful event as my little way of giving back. This is a selfless thing to do by giving back to the society. It amazes me that some people are putting things like this together to protect the lives of women.  Not all women are strong.
“We have to keep speaking to our children and  people around us about our rights. We don’t have to be rude but it’s very important we know our rights. I want to thank WELA for empowering the women, it’s a very good thing. It’s important that young girls are empowered. As women, it’s important to have something you do for yourself positively that fetches money.
“I want to advise the graduands to be business oriented and cultivate the habit of saving.  Also, I want to implore everyone to learn how to sow a seed.  If there are people around you that you can nurture please let’s do. Jenifa’s Foundation is willing to train WELA’s girls who are willing to be trained in acting,” she said.
One of the graduands, Master Akinmiola Olalekan, who expressed enthusiasm for participating in WELA empowerment program, said it has transformed his life.
“WELA is a very good foundation. Learning skill acquisition somewhere else costs money and here it’s free. I started in February in desk publishing and now I’m good in what I do. WELA has transformed me and I very grateful,” he said.
Also, Mrs. Damilola Oguntoyinbo, expressed her gratitude to WELA for making her a successful hair stylist . “It’s been a wonderful year with WELA. Since January, I’m now a hair stylist. I started in  January and and this is December and we are graduating and celebrating ourselves.
“Mrs. Falana is a good mother who speaks to us on how we can be one and grow successfully. I hope other people will  key into WELA programme. It’s a golden opportunity no one should miss,” she said.
The organisation was formed to contribute to the empowerment of women in Nigeria and the promotion and protection of women’s human rights through lobbying, advocacy, provision of legal aid, training, among other strategies. The need to end discrimination against women in Nigeria and close the existing gender gap also necessitated the birth of an organisation like WELA to assist in the efforts to stop the abuses against women and dismantle all the gender barriers that penalise women and girls in Nigeria. The idea that led to the formation of WELA was initiated by Mrs Funmi Falana, a Nigerian human rights lawyer of several years experience.
The mission of the organisation  is to empower women, provide support to women and children, particularly widows and orphans, through provision of free legal service, vocational training and other forms of support.
The mission of the organisation relates to the issues which this project aims to address which is to end the cycle of violence against women in respect to domestic crimes being perpetrated against women in Nigeria.
Training a core crop of women journalists who could respond proactively to issues of domestic violence through dissemination of information that help uncover abuses against women and get women and the public enlightened is a step in the right direction.