‘Nigeria should key into MDGs for women’s economic empowerment’
Mrs Amina Suzanah Agbaje is a private legal practitioner, Notary Public and Managing Partner Lex Suites (a Law Firm in Abuja) and current Chairperson of the International Federation of Women Lawyers FIDA (Nigeria) Abuja branch. In this interview she speaks on women rights, domestic violence, child molestation, among others.
What mechanisms do you think should be put in place to fully promote women and girl rights in the country?
One vital mechanism we need to put in place is for the principle of gender equality to be enshrined in our constitution as a nation. Our laws and development policies should aim at women’s advancement in different spheres.
FIDA is currently carrying out an awareness campaign, and the urgent reality is to articulate policies and laws that are gender responsive. We need to review existing policies and laws to promote interests and rights of women and girls, for example the Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill and Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Bill need to be passed into law to hasten closing the gap of discrimination women and girls suffer in our society.
Some women particularly those at the grassroots are oblivious of their rights till date, and when abused don’t know what to do or where to go, how do you think they can be helped?
FIDA is engaged in awareness campaigns at grassroots levels for women to know and become conscious of their rights and when these rights are abused, FIDA offers women free legal services to enable them access justice.
Government should work at sustainable partnerships with Civil Society Groups like FIDA to continue with advocacy to push for laws and policies, that ensure development for the benefit and welfare of women.
Government also needs to do more in terms of demonstrating political will to ensure that every woman counts by providing sustainable development especially at the grassroots. The government can do this by providing basic health and medical facilities at the grassroots to ensure that no woman dies when giving birth to life, and so that women and children at the grassroots don’t die of malaria or other diseases.
The government should work hard at achieving the MDGs ensuring that basic amenities are available to women, striving at realising that vision 20:2020 becomes a reality.
How often does FIDA receive cases of women rights violations and marginalisation in the FCT and how do you tackle them?
Daily at FIDA Abuja Secretariat and on FIDA Abuja Call Centre 08176406945, we receive reports of women rights violation and marginalisation ranging from domestic violence, sexual violence, inheritance issues, maintenance, custody, human trafficking, rape and child abuse.
FIDA Abuja is focused on campaigns against harmful widowhood practices, prevention of harmful traditional practices like female genital mutilation and demanding equal level playing field for women to participate in politics and opportunities in decision making positions.
FIDA offers free legal services to indigent women, encourage girl-child education and women’s participation in politics to the extent of offering free legal services before election petition tribunals. FIDA campaigns on all forms of prevention of violence and marginalisation against women. The organisation makes it possible for women to have access to justice, support good governance and democratic processes by reaching out to the vulnerable in the society.
FIDA conducts outreaches in area councils within the FCT to create awareness on rights violation and marginalisation and how to tackle them by contacting the branch. We also create awareness on issues like wills, widowhood inheritance rights, women empowerment, girl-child education, child abuse, human trafficking to mention a few and giving them safety tips and strategies on achieving them.
When is a child said to be molested and how does FIDA normally come to the rescue?
Child molestation is a form of child abuse in which an adult or older adolescent uses a child for sexual stimulation by asking or pressuring a child to engage in sexual activities, (regardless of the outcome) with intent to gratify their own sexual desires.
FIDA creates awareness among parents and guardians in FCT’s area councils to be conscious of their environment and communities. Let them realise that child molesters are everywhere around us, they are not strangers. They are usually persons who are familiar to the child and the child is already comfortable with them e.g. uncles, neighbours, drivers, gardeners, househelps and such persons around your household.
While you as a parent and guardian hope and pray that nothing bad ever happens to your child, you have to protect your child and one of the best ways to protect is to educate children without scaring them in the process. Let a child know that certain parts of their bodies are not supposed to be touched by any one (that is why those parts are called ‘private’).
FIDA comes to the rescue of a molested child by taking the child to a shelter to temporarily keep him or her away from the abuser, and also getting more volunteers for free legal services in order to enable FIDA improve on her efforts in protecting rights of children and offering them access to justice.
Many women in the country still wallow in poverty, how do you think more women can be economically empowered?
If laws and policies are implemented by government to track the Millennium Development Goals as it affects women economic empowerment programs, women can be economically empowered.
This is one of the major reasons why women in Nigeria still wallow in poverty. Appropriate authorities should put proper legal framework in place towards achieving the MDGs which will be up in 2015. This will reduce poverty among women and help to achieve economic empowerment in the country especially among women.
The MDGs are currently the highest-level expression of International Community development priorities. Nigeria should key into this for an action agenda which emphasizes sustainable human development as the key to fulfilling social and economic progress, and by extension economically empower women.
In what ways do you think violence against women can be addressed?
Violence against women can be addressed by ensuring that the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Bill is passed into law by the National Assembly. Current laws in Nigeria protecting persons, especially women and girls from violence are inadequate and discriminatory with stringent standard of proof.
The Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Bill has been passed by the House of Representatives. FIDA and other Civil Society Organizations are calling on the Senate to do the same to ensure that occurrence of gender based violence in the Nigerian Society especially in homes, public spaces and conflict situations is eliminated or reduced to the barest minimum.
What is your advice for women facing domestic violence?
They should keep their phones and some money on them at all times. Keep your phone with credit always as you do not know when situation will erupt. Have some cash in your hand in the event that you need to make a run for your life.
Put the right numbers on speed dial on your mobile phone for example close friend, co-workers or family members who can be on standby to get you out of the situation or act as witness. And if you fear that your phone may be seized, memorize all important numbers to enable you call from a public phone.
Always have an audience. Being in company of other people will keep the violence in check, and if it happens people will readily step in to intervene or you will at least have witnesses.