Despite the intense agitation for increased opportunities in terms of leadership and gender equity, it is generally believed that the major reason why women have continued to be suppressed and treated as second fiddle in the human family is because rather than support one another, most women choose to criticize, castigate, persecute and run down their fellow women, especially those believed to be gifted and aspiring. Speaking against this unhealthy trend, the Program Director of Women Consortium of Nigeria, Mrs. Morenike Omaiboje argues that the only antidote to male chauvinism is for women to unite and fight all forms of discrimination. A formidable and amazing gender specialist, Omaiboje has continued to stand tall in the face of intimidation and rejection, upholding that such temporary setbacks should not and will not deter her from achieving greatness or impacting others for good. Excerpts:
Please tell us a bit about yourself, who you are, what you do and why you do it?
I am Morenike Omaiboje, mother of 3, the eldest being 27, an NGO Manager . I am also a Management Consultant, Resource Person and Public Speaker. I currently run Women’s Consortium of Nigeria (WOCON), an organisation founded by late Chief Mrs. Bisi Olateru-Olagbegi, an esteemed Lawyer and Gender Consultant who passed on last year (2015). The organisation has a United Nations Consultative Status and we enforce the rights of women and children, combat human trafficking and all forms of violence against women; we also contribute to the political empowerment of Nigerian women by encouraging them to participate in governance.
I do what I do because of the undying passion I have in ensuring that women succeed in life, have their voices heard and have their rights protected so that they can raise their shoulders in every sphere of life where they find themselves. I hate seeing women oppressed just because they are women. Like we say, women’s rights are human rights.
We live in a male dominated world where women are treated as second fiddle. You have just returned from the United Nations summit on Gender-related issues. So do you think that women in Africa, especially Nigeria have been treated fairly? Why?
May be the phrase ‘treated fairly’ may not have fully described the exact situation, but yes, she hasn’t had a fair deal.
Women, especially the African woman, has remained suppressed, misunderstood and continuously discriminated against, she has not, over the years, been able to thrive in the very strong patriarchal structure (male-dominated), nations and environments in which she finds herself.. The African and indeed the Nigerian woman has remained strong and unrelenting despite it all, no wonder why many years after ‘Beijing 1995 Declaration and Plan for Action’, there are still gaps and we are still far away from where we ought to be. In Nigeria, the political sector is still male-dominated (even after all the Talk about the Affirmative Action) and I mean highly male-dominated, the woman still suffers rejection and apparent lack of support when vying for political office. Men, who engage in domestic violence still get away with it, widows still go through very harsh traditional rites most of the time, being accused of killing their husbands, their children taken from them to become overnight house girls to their Uncles and their wives, while innocent and well-behaved girls are still raped on a daily basis without justifiable reasons, under-aged girls are forced into early marriage on regular basis and spouses who abandon wives and children to marry another still walk free on the streets in our nation without anyone doing anything about it, including men who pour acid and other chemicals on women.
How did you feel when the National Assembly threw out the bill to support for gender equity?
Of course I felt not only bad but sad… what in my opinion needs to be done before the Bill is re-presented is some form of enlightenment to the House who will eventually approve it. It seems like a threat here, the men think the women are claiming equality, they want to be ‘seen’ as men, the implication being that the men will not be able to talk to their wives at home again and get them to comply or that respect being accorded the husband as the head is removed and authority may move from the man who may no longer enjoy the headship he used to.
Mrs. Olujimi, the deputy Minority Whip of the Senate who presented the Bill was only seeking equal rights for women in marriage, education and job. This seemed to pose an obvious threat to men. especially equal rights in marriage. This Bill to me, is not saying men and women are the same BUT should be treated the same because they are humans.
A peaceful Protest was organized on Wednesday, 23rd March 2016 in Lagos by some Civil Society Organisations and an attempt will be made to re-present the Bill, this time, with a different approach.
What is the difference between Feminism & Gender equity?
They are both saying the same thing in different ways. Feminism is the doctrine advocating social, political and all other rights of women equal to those of men. It is an organised Movement for the attainment of women’s rights. A Feminist simply advocates or supports the rights and equality of women.
‘Gender equity’ or ‘Gender equality’ kicks against all forms of gender persecution and resonates that women’s rights are human right. It is a view that supports that equal treatment be given to men and women, meaning they are not to be discriminated against based on their gender, e.g. women in centuries back were not allowed to vote or hold elected positions because they are women.
Sometimes we are told that women are their own worst enemies. Do you agree with this? Why?
This comes up a lot of times in Women forums and meetings. Women themselves say it and know it. A lot of times it is the men themselves that set us up against ourselves. To a large extent, this is because most of the time, women do not support each other.
When a woman has challenges, rather than rise to support her, everyone is looking out for what will benefit them in it. Even in collaborating, if a fellow woman does not find an opportunity to individually shine or become famous in the course of the Project, she may not be interested. As women, we have remained competitive rather than collaborative and where we don’t stand to support each other, there may not be progress. This matter came up again in the 60th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) that was just concluded last week in New York, which means that for 60years, we have been trying to come together. I believe we will get there and soon too because there is a greater awareness now than before, that it is only in standing together that progress and success will be achieved,
In recent times there has been an upsurge of attacks on the girl child in form of rape, abduction & child marriage. It is as if the female gender is cursed. Could you please recount some of your experiences as an activist fighting against trafficking of girls and women?
Yes, as always, women and girls have continued to come under serious attacks. In my opinion, there hasn’t been any time when there was a downturn, gender persecution has continued over the ages. Not until recently, that boys and youth are now being actively lured into trafficking through sports etc, women and girls have constituted the highest number of victims of this scourge, especially the young girls. A major reason is that women and girls are seen as sex symbols, an object of pleasure. They’re forced into prostitution and continue to face all forms of gender persecution such as rape, acid attacks, childhood marriage, harsh widowhood rites, sex trafficking, sex slavery, sex tampering, organ trafficking, baby harvesting and baby factories, forced abortion and accusation of witchcraft, spousal assault and battery, marital rape, incest, child abuse, psychological abuse, economic deprivation, etc. The list indeed is endless. All these as you may guess, have their proceeds, e.g. they result in physical and psychological health hazards and trauma, loss of self esteem, dysfunctional families ending in family separations and break-ups.
In combating ad reducing the scourge of trafficking of women and girls, we make efforts to attack it from the root causes of poverty, gender, high unemployment rate for women, corruption, low level education of women, ignorance of human/legal rights and the increasing feminization of poverty (when there is poverty in the family, the woman suffers the most because her children will be grossly affected and so is her husband).
We attempt to create interventions in these areas by organising Press Conferences, Workshops, build capacities of the women particularly the rural women, to ensure they know their rights and are able to recognise both the Traffickers and their evil baits. Since trafficking is profitable business, we fight hard to reduce even totally attempting to eradicate the trade by bringing down the demand and making it unprofitable by our numerous Programs and interventions. e.g. curb poverty by the empowerment of women, educate men and boys on gender-related issues, teach young girls how to identify Traffickers, teach women on human rights and ensue more women participate in politics and governance.
How can this situation be remedied? What is the role of government? What is the role of women in leadership positions? What is the role of mothers and even the girls if this menace must stop?
Continuous interventions like grassroots advocacies, awareness campaigns and public sensitizations. Stakeholders meetings involving Local Govt workers, Traditional & Religious Leaders, Government functionaries, market women, youth, university graduates and school children are some suggested remedies
On the role of government, the truth is that government needs to tackle youth unemployment by providing more job opportunities, most Nigerian girls become victims because of their quest for gainful employment and a better life abroad. Same with poverty and all forms of vulnerability, especially of women and girls
Government in fairness cannot do it alone. Our Government is making efforts and are partnering with CSOs/NGOs.
For example, Nigeria is the first country in Africa to put in place a comprehensive law against Human Trafficking especially of women and children. This is the Trafficking In Persons Prohibition, Law Enforcement and Administration Act 2003. (Bisi Olateru-Olagbegi’s ‘PATH TO WOMEN’S DEVELOPMENT’)
The Law has been amended twice now, first in 2005 and then in 2015. Its mandate is to investigate and prosecute cases of trafficking in persons
As for the mothers, they should be enlightened to understand that their daughters are not sex objects or slaves who should be given out for financial gain because of their need. Awareness should continue to be held to ensure every woman understands this. Mothers should strive to be financially empowered so they will not keep depending on extended family members and Good Samaritans. This makes a woman vulnerable.
Prevention starts from the home. Abuse and neglect from the family is the first step to victimization
On the role of women leaders, we must understand that when women recruit under-aged girls as domestic helps, they are creating a market for forced labour, which ultimately is a form of Trafficking in Persons. Women leaders should stop fuelling the demand
In addition, the work should not be left for the CSOs and Government alone, women leaders should join forces with CSOs to educate their community women, girls and the less privileged.
Above all, every girl-child should be taught to tow the entrepreneurship line in the absence of jobs. Girls should be taught that dignity beautifies a woman, either young or old. A lot of work needs to be done by Institutions of Learning, Churches and Mosques in the orientation of girls to know who they really should be and what tricks Traffickers use to lure them into prostitution etc.
No doubt you must have had your share of the many challenges that women face. What has kept you on? How have you managed to keep your head high and refused to be crushed?
Growing up as girls in the late 50’s when I was born, although there were challenges also at the time, however, girls knew about dignity, there were prevalent strong family ties and morals were dominant. Home training was important and economy was buoyant. However, the challenges of being a woman was still there, domestic violence was widespread though it has obviously escalated with the crashed economy, women were also not protected in marriage, separation or divorce, yet typical of women, women from the onset keep fighting and struggling to raise their heads above the storms in order to stand against their many challenges.
Women have always been resilient and it has been said that what kills a man in 5 days will take 5 years before a woman crashes under the heat. Women have been strong. We saw our mothers, our grandmothers and the women leaders at the time. The ones we did not meet, we read about. My grandmother was an illiterate who learnt how to read the Yoruba bible through an Adult Education Program in Church, yet she died at age 72 in 1970, leaving behind as a legacy today, many landed property and houses in areas like Mushin and Ajegunle against all the odds, we are beneficiaries today, getting millions from these properties.
On a personal note, my faith in God has kept me and my strong conviction that a woman should rise in the midst of difficult times to overcome the hurdles, otherwise her children and even she herself will suffer the results of folding her hands in difficult times. .
I have no doubt had my fair share of life challenges in my marriage, in raising children and in my career, but through it all, God has remained faithful.
Basically, the struggles of great women of the past, including my mum and maternal grandmother have kept me strong and untiring.
What is it that makes you tick?
Apart from my strong faith in God and my belief in His ability to help us in challenging times, I believe so much in helping others, even when I don’t feel like it. Helping others gives me joy and fulfilment, especially mentoring the younger people. When I engage in mentoring them, I focus on the things that especially made me not to succeed in certain areas, so they can work hard from the beginning to prevent such in their lives in order to succeed.
So, what is your advice to the Nigerian women on the way forward? How can they be Rubies? How can they also impact their world positively?
The Nigerian woman should keep up the struggle until our Nation recognises the pain of the African woman, until poverty is removed from our homes and until the African woman is liberated from all forms of violence and is free to exercise her God-given talents and live a normal free and fulfilled life.
Until the world understands that ‘women’s rights are indeed human rights’, there wont be any meaningful progress.
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