FIDA Regional Vice President and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Chief Mrs Victoria Awomolo has demanded an end to women oppression and called for gender equality as she gives insight into what this year’s convention sets out to achieve.
In this interview with Sundiata Post Assistant News Editor, Chibuike Nwabuko, the Regional Vice President who was elected into this position in 2017 at the FIDA Convention in Bahamas for a 3 –year tenure, gives details accounts of what FIDA has done to better the lots of women and children in Nigeria and the expectation in this year’s convention.
What is the significance of the theme for the regional convention this year?
This year we have chosen the theme: The Growth of Women and Children in Africa, beyond Rhetoric! We are doing this because we believe that no matter what, African women are children have grown, our status has changed from what it was 40 to 50 years ago and the growth may be little, but we believe that we have moved. For some of us to be at this status at this time, we believe the status of women has changed. But what about the quality of growth- how much have we grown and in looking at all these issues one would ask what is the problems facing women and children in Africa also.
We are all familiar with cultural biases against women. The working environment for women is a bit different from that of men; the slow pace of women growth in politics is different from that of men. The slow growth of women professionals, children also- how much have we grown? These are the issues we will look at in the wake of the congress. We call it congress because that is the language of FIDA. In some others climes they call it conference but it is an international conference, in FIDA we call it congress. Our International conferences are called conventions because that is where you bring everybody from the globe and so that is what informed the choice for the theme this year.
Again, when you look at the problems of the women, we are not where we ought to be. When you look at constitutional provision all over Africa, there are still some biases against women that has retarded our growth as a gender.
Yes, there are some gender sensitive measures that are being taken by government all over the world, but they need to do more. Men and women are supposed to be at par the way the constitution provides for us. We are open to equal opportunity but in reality, do we get this? Again, the spate of violence against women all over Africa and Nigeria in particular is also what we have to discuss.
Gender violence particularly rape, is in the front burner of every discussion all over the world. Look at Nigeria, there is no day that passes without incidences of rape of minors; rape of old women; by pastors, by fathers, by employers and rape by different kinds of people and you wonder why. What will push a 50-year old man to rape a 2-year old girl for example?
At first they said the women were dressing indecently. What is in the 2-year old girl even 6 months old baby that a man wants to touch her? What is attractive to a father in his own daughter that he will rape her? The last one I read about two day ago was that a man was having sexual affair with his daughter since she is age 9 and now she is 19. Why will a father do that to his daughter? And when there was a move to take her away he resisted it. What is happening?. That is why some people are thinking that there must be some other sinister motives, may be it is for ritual or some other reasons because it is unexplainable.
So we are going to look at this issues as well as the political growth of women in Africa. Have we really grown? If yes how much growth have we recorded. In Nigeria for example, the statistics is appalling. We have dropped from may be 10 senator some years ago to 5 now out of 109 senators. What percentage is that 5 out of 109. In House of Representatives it is not any better, in the states House of Assembly things are not better. At the executive level how many governors or Deputy Governors do we have? Even in State where we thought the women are being given deputy governors slot, many of them have changed to men so what is happening to us? It is not that we don’t have qualified and intelligent women, or hardworking women who can occupy these spaces.
Look at the last Federal Executive Council (FEC) our president appointed, only 7 women are on the FEC out of 43 people. So these are issues we need to discuss and proffer solutions to them. It will offer us opportunity to speak to ourselves as women because women constitute a larger part of voting population. Why do we have to keep voting the men when we have competent women to vote for, so why don’t we look inwards to vote for ourselves. These are issues we are going to look into among others.
Again, we will look at other issues as inheritance rights, customary rights and others. We have an erudite Professor as our keynote speaker, Prof Joy Ezeilo who is an internationally recognized professor of law who has agreed to come to open up the discussion and other quality speakers to speak at the occasion. So we are going to have a very good week.
Despite continuing advocacy and sensitization, not much seem to have been covered, what could be responsible?
Yes, it is true that FIDA embarks on advocacy and sensitization as part of our strategy to achieve equality. We have made progress in some areas but in larger part of our work, we have not made so much progress. I think what we found over the years is the resistance of the system to yield ground for the women. The cultural biases are still very deep. An average Nigerian community for example may not want a woman to represent them. But I must give kudos to Anambra state. I think the women in Anambra state are women we must, generally speaking, respect in Nigeria. Anambra has produced the first female governor in Nigeria, had it in acting capacity, they have produced senators and also some other states are trying.
We have women who are very powerful in Nigeria and they are making their marks, not only in politics but in commerce, government and multinational corporations. By and large, I will say that our growth has been very slow and we are thinking that we should appeal to ourselves as women that wherever a woman is, allow more women to come in. Give Space to more women to come in. We are as qualified as the men. For example, look at the Nigerian Law School when the results are out. More women come out with “First Class”, more women get most of the awards but sooner than later, when they now go into the world as it is to practice, you don’t hear about them anymore. Many now get married and you don’t hear about them anymore.
I am not saying that marriage is a distraction, but it is part of it. A woman will just get married; she is slowed down, except she is determined to make it in life. Many husbands also are not supportive of their wives; they don’t just want to see them out there in front. Now I am appealing to our husbands to please, if a woman decides to settle down with you, give her all the opportunity to excel, it will do good for the family and relief the men of certain responsibilities and you will forever be proud of your wife. So despite all the advocacies, we are still continuing and God will help us to achieve our goal and this congress will bring the opportunity to speak to the world.
What role is FIDA playing in ensuring that the SDG’S that will better the lot of women and children are achieved?
FIDA International partners with foreign donors and we fund some activities which FIDA undertakes and then we go into the rural areas and we give them support and empower them. FIDA is a non-governmental organization, we fund ourselves. We get funding from organisations who have now realized that FIDA is a very prominent and formidable non-governmental organization in Nigeria and all over the world. So they partner with us and we go into the hinterlands and then encourage our women; teach them their rights and make things more comfortable for them and empower them to sustain themselves. It is part of this congress also that we have dedicated two days to skills acquisition and empowerment of fifty (50) women. It is not just doling out money for them; we are going to teach them skills in five areas. Skills that can be learnt and by the time they would be rounding up the second day, we are not just going to give them money, we are buying materials for them, we call it start-up materials. If we teach you how to bid and stone clothes, which is part of the program; we will buy for you stones and gadget to stone, we buy everything for you. So it not that you take the money and walk away, we will give you the materials so that by the time we come again next year and look at them, we monitor them and in three years’ time when the next congress comes up, those one would have been out of poverty line forever.
In what areas has FIDA been able to make measurable impact so far?
So far we have been able to make deep impact in the sensitization of women and men on their fundamental rights as enshrined in the constitution. We have also been able to defend those oppressed. As I speak now, FIDA’s thirty-two branches all over Nigeria are in courts defending some women. We have legal desks that we use to counsel them. We also empower them by giving them money. And so women that I have worked with now know their rights. Again, all the laws that have been passed by the National Assembly, we go out and simplify them and teach them to the women and children. FIDA Nigeria has also partnered with Mac-Arthur Foundation to sensitize women on the legal rights that they have and all the branches in Nigeria are involved in this and all over Africa also. FIDA branches in Ghana, Uganda, Kenya, South Africa and West Africa are working with governments in their countries and donor agencies to make sure that we walk the talk. We don’t just say we are lawyers we know the law, we also bring it down to the level in which they will understand. That is why we have our advocacy groups, litigation and ADR groups. We have everyone working to impact on the society.
What is expected to be achieved by this year’s regional congress?
By the end of this congress, we are expecting that more impact would have been made to the advocacy and sensitization of not only the women and children but the government to arise to their responsibilities where women issues are concerned. Also, we will be charging the government to do more, they have been doing a lot for the women- there is a social empowerment program by this present government. The First Lady is working on her own projects impacting lives, every governor’s wife in all the states are working. Ekiti is working so hard, I don’t just want to mention names; I know that all of them are working. So by the end of this congress, everybody will be more open and more sensitized to their rights because what we found in our struggle for gender equality is that we must carry the men along. It is not a women liberation thing. FIDA is not a women liberation thing- we don’t separate families. In fact we build families knowing that a solid family will make for a solid society. So we encourage family relationships, we counsel and we have achieved a lot in this regard. We have saved a lot of homes from collapse, But focusing on the reality on ground, we are saying that sexual offenders must be punished. Enough of the silence culture. People are speaking up now. They are speaking out now- I have been reaped; my daughter has been raped. People are speaking out now. Ekiti state government has done quite a lot and I give kudos to the First Lady of Ekiti and the Attorney General of Ekiti state who have now opened a sexual offenders register. Once you are convicted of any sexual offence, your name will enter that register for life for everybody to know and to see. It is becoming embarrassing and I don’t know what is happening and I don’t want to sound spiritual because this is real and it is happening. So we are saying that the message we have to take away from this congress is that enough of women oppression. We are going to rev up our activities on gender equality and all gender offenders must be punished, this is going to be our message to the world.