‘Nigeria should key into MDGs for women’s eco­nomic em­pow­er­ment’

Daily Trust - - HOME FRONT - By Ojoma Akor

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.

Mrs Amina Suzanah Ag­baje

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