By Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi
For most of last week and over the weekend, I took part in a number of webinars, television appearances, radio interviews well as Instagram and Facebook live sessions. My birthday was June 11th, so some of the discussions were organised around that. I was shocked when my media assistant did the tally and I realised I had done up to twelve sessions in six days. I have decided to share some of the ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ and answers from the various sessions, while promising myself a break from talking non-stop. I am grateful to all those who offered me platforms to share my views. I am also grateful to all those who sent warm birthday wishes. Talk is good. Action is way better, so I promise to devote even more energy to the urgent actions required.
You have been campaigning and writing about Gender Based Violence, GBV, for some time now. We have seen two rape and murder cases in less than two weeks. What’s your take on this development and what can we do at a time like this?
It is such a terrible situation. On the one hand, this is not news to those of us who have been working on these issues for a long time. We have been talking about Sexual Violence for ages but very few people have been paying attention. Now that we have social media and all the attention it commands, information gets around quickly, and it is easier for people to respond to what they see and hear in very passionate terms. I told a group of friends the other day, the groundswell of survivors’ voices we are hearing now is what breaking the culture of silence looks like. Now that survivors know they might be heard and justice is not beyond their reach, more people will be willing to come forward. We just need to make sure that we do not fail those who have the courage to do so, and for those for whom it is too late for the poor women who have been murdered, but we need to make sure that their killers get what they deserve. At a time like this, we need to keep up the momentum, we need to keep being angry and we need to demand action and results.
Do you think culture, tradition, religion or tribe has a role to play in encouraging GBV?
Yes, I do. Most cultures and traditions are grounded in patriarchal norms and values, which give women second class status throughout their lives. This encourages physical, sexual and psychological abuse. If a girl is denied an education because she has brothers, who are deemed to be more important, and she is sent off to be someone’s wife, you are condemning her to a lifetime of misery. If a man thinks a woman is not entitled to a voice, or control over her body, then you have situation whereby women will always be at the mercy of men. If the only interpretation of religious texts you can provide is that women should submit and obey, but conveniently leave out the part where men are supposed to love and care for their wives more than they care for themselves, then we end up using religion as an excuse for the slavery of women. Cultures are not static, they evolve. I am proud to be an African woman, Nigerian woman, Yoruba wife and mother. I am proud of our rich cultural heritage of respect for elders and others, communal responsibility and local philanthropy, and our spirituality, however we choose to express that. I do not agree with any culture, tradition or religion that denies women and girls a voice and encourages violations of their bodies or spirits.
Recently, Nigerian First ladies added their voices to the call for an end of GBV and you issued a statement calling for a State of Emergency on GBV. Now that your husbands have agreed to declare this emergency, what does it mean?
As Governor’s wives, many of us are concerned about the sexual violence pandemic. Two weeks ago, some of us decided that we needed to do more, so we set up a working group called Nigerian Governors Wives against Gender Based Violence (NGWA-GBV). We sent a statement to the Nigerian Governors Forum, adding our voices to the call for a State of Emergency on GBV. Thankfully, the Governors agreed and they made the declaration on June 10th. All the Governors are now going to push for the relevant laws where they do not exist, and where there are laws, there will be more political will behind the implementation. Around the same time, the Minister for Women Affairs and Social Development, Dame Pauline Talen, presented a memo on GBV to the Federal Executive Council, as well as to the Nigerian Governors Forum, and her recommendations were accepted unanimously. In my own opinion, what needs to happen now is for other political, public and private institutions to immediately develop their own plans and roadmaps for dealing with sexual and gender based violence. The National Assembly, Judiciary, Inspector General of Police and so on, should all come up with specific strategies for addressing this. At the NGWA-GBV, we have developed a comprehensive Action Plan that we are going to be using in our respective States.
Please advise the younger ones on how to secure themselves against GBV
I am not sure there is any such thing as ‘securing women from GBV’. We must be careful not to encourage victim blaming or shaming. One of the main reasons why survivors of sexual violence do not come forward is that they think people will say it is their fault. There are some who say women and girls get raped because of the way they are dressed. The evidence we are faced with points in other directions. From what we have seen, women and girl children are vulnerable from age 0-90. You have the right to say NO. You do not have to be coerced into a sexual encounter you do not want. Many rapes are date rapes or acquaintance rape. It is not okay for a date to rape you, rape is rape, as long as you did not give consent. Young women should stop accepting gifts from men. This is what gives men a sense of entitlement. No man has the right to rape you regardless of whether he has given you anything or not. To be on the safe side do not accept gifts and do not pay visits to men you do not know very well. If you have just started an acquaintanceship or relationship with a man, meet him in a public place like a restaurant or cinema.
How do you combine your public responsibilities with your family obligations?
Hahaha! That is a question you ask women regardless of whether they are 27 or 57 and you never ask men this! Don’t I get a pass on this at 57? On a more serious note, prioritizing, planning and a good support system is very important. We should stop making women feel like failures, there is no such thing as Superwoman. Men need to share responsibilities with women or at least make sure she has the support she needs.
Will you ever run for public office?
It is not likely, but you never know. I am more interested in working on issues such as leadership development, knowledge production, institution building and bridging the gap between governance and civic engagement.
How do you like to unwind?
I read, binge-watch TV dramas and play online scrabble with myself. I also love to dance.
What message do you have for young people?
Read widely. Listen. Ask questions. Be respectful of your elders and your peers, even when you do not agree with them. Work hard and avoid short cuts. There is no such thing as ‘a job beneath me’ as long as it is legal and brings in something. Use social media wisely, it might come back to haunt you if you don’t. Be careful in your choice of marriage partner. Whether you are a man or woman, don’t let anyone pressurize you into choosing before you are ready. The wrong husband or wife will ruin you. Be prayerful, and don’t look for God in all the wrong places, stay away from spiritual merchants. Forgive and ask for forgiveness. Know when to fight and when to flee. You will live to tell the tale.