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WANEP: Mobilising Ogoni Women For Peace

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In time past, women the world over were regarded as the weaker vessels, a characterisation most women saw as stereotype, comparing the volume of work they do, which most times, outweigh that of the men.
As such, women across the nations have been struggling to assert their freedom to walk side-by-side with their male folks in building true equality, development and peace in their countries. Indeed, the women have shown their resilience and determination to lead and not remain in the shadows of the men by excelling in many male-dominated fields and sectors.
In Nigeria today, the high level of violence and killings have continued to call for serious concern among women as they can no longer sit and watch the total decimation and disintegration of the country. And they have been in the vanguard for forging alliances that help build peace and ensure security of all communities in the country.
The West Africa Network for Peacebuilding (WANEP) is one of such platforms. In fact, as part of its efforts to guarantee the participation of women in entrenching peace and security in the country, the WANEP Nigeria and Kebetkache Women Development Resort Centre recently embarked on training of women mostly affected by violence and killings.
The choice of Ogoni women leaders for the latest phase of the training aimed at building their confidence to enhance overall contributions to peace, security and development in communities has been overwhelmingly received across the Rivers State. For WANEP, Nigeria, the template is designed to allow the trainees replicate lessons learned by also training others in their local government areas to enhance women’s impact in the society as veritable means of ensuring peace, stability, growth and development in Rivers State in particular and the country at large.
The training programme, tagged, “Peace and Confidence Building”, which is part of a two-year project aimed at, “Enhancing Women’s Participation in Peace and Security in Nigeria”, kicked off last Monday, with a call on women to identify with those things that make them proud, if they wish to live long and be happy with themselves forever.
In her opening address, the Director, Rivers State Ministry of Women Affairs, Dr Carmelita Agbarubere, said that women have all it takes, even more than their male counterparts, to engineer peace and security, and wondered why they have to choose to rely on their male counterparts to excel.
Agbarubere, therefore, charged women to ensure they live a life of actualisation and self-esteem, adding that women were the most brilliant class of God’s creation, and as such, not expected to beg.
“You must live a life of self-actualisation and esteem in order not to remain a beggar to your male counterparts, who you are far better than”, she advised.
While talking on Domestic Violence and Child’s Rights Act, she appealed to male lawmakers not to appropriate the issues to themselves alone, arguing that women should be more involved in the decision making since the children and women were the most affected. She insisted that more women should be allowed to make decisions on issues of domestic violence and child abuse in the society.
Agbarubere warned that women should stop supporting men that violate girls, adding that tribalism has become a big problem that is eating Nigerians up, urging that they ought to be their sisters’ keepers. According to her, “Tribalism is violence because you violate the rights of others. We should uphold love and trust for one another”.
Also speaking, the National Network Coordinator, WANEP Nigeria, Chief Bridget Osakwe, noted that the high rate of killings in Ogoni necessitated the decision to organise the programme for Ogoni women, so as to brainstorm on best ways to bring peace to the people of the area. Osakwe added that WANEP Nigeria was established primarily to provide an alternative platform for collaborative peacebuilding, adding that indigenous non-governmental organisations (NGOs) were expected to work in the area of conflict, peace building and security.
She said that it was in the bid to bridge the yawning gap that the training was conceived to help women build a platform to enhance their confidence and influence in the socio-political and economic development of their communities. In fact, the advocate of female involvement in decision-making and development argued that the time has come for more women to make their marks ventilating their skills and knowledge on issues around domestic violence and child abuse in such a way that they force policy shift, and engineer a swing pool of punishment or sanctions for offenders.
In her paper presentation on, “Gender”, the South-South Zonal Coordinator of WANEP, Madam Emem Okon, explained that women unknowingly ascribed roles to themselves that were not originally meant for them as commanded by God.
In the well-researched presentation, Okon argued that “Even when women are heads of households, they still ascribe the role of the head of family to the men, who do not deserve to be acknowledged as such”, and insisted on gradual attitudinal change to place the women in their place as leaders of organisations, communities and heads of families they struggle so hard to fend for. She advised the participants to aim to be leaders in their communities, local governments, and indeed, the state, and gave insight into organisations and countries across the world where women were at the driver’s seat. Specifically, she noted tech companies in Silicon Valley, California, United States, including Yahoo, among others, where women were at the top. Okon mentioned the International Monetary Fund (IMF) where a woman is the managing director, and also noted countries such as Germany, Croatia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, where women are heads of state and government.
Okon regretted that women have the mindset of feeling inferior based on cultural and traditional definitions, lamenting that they have continued to overwhelm themselves with unnecessary pressures just to please cultural norms and rites.
In an address to welcome all facilitators and Ogoni women leaders drawn from Khana, Gokana, Tai and Eleme Local Government Areas of the state, the Queen Mother of Eleme Kingdom, Her Majesty, Chief Evelyn Gokpa Eh Alito, expressed joy for the choice of organising the training in Eleme, adding that she was willing and ready to follow up with more training initiatives to engender peace and development in the state and Nigeria at large.
Earlier, the Rivers State Coordinator, WANEP Nigeria, Loretta Ahuokpeme, had said that the role of women as lead stakeholders was in promoting the rights of women and ensuring peace within communities, adding that to achieve the onerous task; women must build their confidence first.
She expressed the hope that lessons learned from the training programme would help transform Ogoni women leaders as pacesetters in peace building and sustainable security in the communities as a veritable means of ensuring uninterrupted development in the state.
The participants identified the negative effects of violence in Ogoniland that may have been responsible for low investors’ confidence in tapping the potentials in Ogoniland as well as the factors that had over the years, slowed the pace of development in the area. They also resolved to work in synergy to promote efforts to tackle the incidence of rape and violence against women, just as they agreed to fight against purveyors of child abuse and trafficking. In addition, the women promised to do everything in their powers to influence actions to reduce the rate of poverty, killings, insecurity, displacement, marginalisation of the impoverished people of Ogoniland, among others.

 

Susan Serekara-Nwikhana

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COVID-19: Be Creative In Foods, Others’ Packaging, Women

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Women have been admonished to be creative and begin to do proper packaging of foods and other household consumables and products for sales in the markets or to targeted customers in order to attract good patronage, especially at this critical time when the novel Coronavirus is ravaging the world.
They were also told that they would only attract customers and get constant calls for home deliveries if they observe best practices, and ensure that due protocols in personal hygiene were adhered to at all times.
Speaking during a recent programme organised by Kebetkache Women Development and Resource Centre, in Port Harcourt, the Permanent Secretary, Rivers State Ministry of Women Affairs, Mrs Uche Chukwu said that part of ways to cushion the sufferings of women, especially those that were bread-winners was for them to do proper product sales packaging in efforts to boost market penetration and increase customer confidence.
Chukwu stressed that women were most hit by the COVID-19 lockdown because they form the bulk of traders and small business owners, saying that following the shutdown of most markets across the country, women were facing severe stress in meeting their expectations and needs, just as their revenue earnings have plummeted.
She regretted that most devastated by the lockdown were those, who were not ready to explore other means of survival, and were not ready to tap into their creative and innovative skills to design new ways of adapting to meet their customers’ changing demands and expectations, emphasising that with proper sales packaging, no woman would be affected by the COVID-19 lockdown.
Chukwu advised women managing restaurants, food-is-ready, or food vendors in markets and shops to take full advantage of the lockdown to expand their network of customers or delve into other meaningful ventures to feed their families.
While listing some of the ventures they can delve into as cooking of all kinds of food, production of hand sanitisers, soaps, face masks, and other household items, added that, “with a sachet of Hypo mixed with detergent, hand sanitiser can be made.”
The permanent secretary further explained that the hand sanitiser can be used for washing of hands, mopping of floors as well as wiping of doors, windows, and cleaning of tables, among others, adding that women should not dwell on the challenges, but device ways out of the situation in order to be able to put food on the table for their children.
The woman activist stressed that women were psychologically prepared to package foods properly at home, and smartly distribute and sell same to those in dire need without flaunting the COVID-19 lockdown regulations.
She said: “Women must engage in other meaningful ventures during this period of COVID-19 lockdown in order to avoid harassment and abuse by security operatives deployed to enforce the law. It is too painful to hear that women are being de-humanised by police officers, but there is nothing women activists and groups can do when they flaunt COVID-19 lockdown law.
“There are high demands now on hand sanitisers and face masks. Women should make proper use of this opportunity to think outside the box and start preparing hand sanitisers and cook neatly packaged food for sale since there is hunger all over the land. Those who cannot cook good food can use their money to place orders from others who are endowed for home delivery without violating COVID-19 regulations,” she stressed.
Earlier, the Executive Director, Kebetkache Women Development and Resource Centre, Mrs Emem Okon, had stressed the need for the centre to mainstream COVID-19 into its programme of activities.
Okon added that by so doing, the centre would be able to address some of the immediate and long-term needs of the people of Rivers State, stressing that the government alone cannot do everything for the people.

 

By: Susan Serekara-Nwikhana

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COVID-19: Women Front And Centre

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One thing is clear about the COVID-19 pandemic, as stock markets tumble, schools and universities close, people stockpile supplies and home becomes a different and crowded space: this is not just a health issue. It is a profound shock to our societies and economies, exposing the deficiencies of public and private arrangements that currently function only if women play multiple and underpaid roles.
With children out of school, mothers at home may still work, but many have also become teachers and caregivers, with consequences for those previously employed in those roles. For the 8.5 million women migrant domestic workers, often on insecure contracts, income loss also affects their dependents back at home. As schools close in more countries, the number of mothers facing this across the world rises and the consequences accumulate.
By the middle of March there were 207,855 confirmed cases in 166 countries, areas or territories. Without data that is disaggregated by sex, however, these numbers give us only part of the story of the impact on women and men. We need far more sex-disaggregated data to tell us how the situation is evolving, including on differing rates of infection, differential economic impacts, differential care burden, and incidence of domestic violence and sexual abuse.
Even without this, experience from previous major epidemics points us to specific strengths and vulnerabilities that we can look out for and be proactive to safeguard. Where governments or businesses put income protection in place, this can ease these dilemmas, sustain incomes and avoid driving households into poverty. This response must also include those in the informal economy, where most women who work outside home make their livelihood. Such social protection is best directed specifically to women.
The 2014-16 Ebola outbreak in the West African countries provide essential, gendered public health and socioeconomic lessons. Women in those outbreaks were exposed to both health and economic risks, as they are again now, in ways intrinsically connected with their roles in the community and responsibilities as caregivers within the home and family.
For example, both Ebola and Zika infections are potentially catastrophic for pregnant women. Yet during both previous outbreaks, access to family planning services were very limited, and pregnant and lactating women were excluded from vaccination against the viruses. This underlines the importance of sustained maternal health services to avoid a resurgence of birth-related deaths, and equal access for women to the development and use of all medical products including vaccines once produced.
This is a moment for governments to recognize both the enormity of the contribution women make and the precarity of so many. This includes a focus on sectors where women are over-represented and underpaid, such as daily wage earners, small business owners, those working in cleaning, caring, cashiering and catering sectors and in the informal economy.
Globally, women make up 70 per cent of frontline workers in the health and social sector, like nurses, midwives, cleaners and laundry workers. We need mitigation strategies that specifically target both the health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak on women and that support and build women’s resilience, as we saw in Liberia and elsewhere. And to make those responses as well designed as possible, women should be fully engaged in their creation, be priority recipients of aid, and partners in building the longer-term solutions.
We are learning more every day from the arc of the pandemic in China. We have been working closely there with country leadership as part of the UN collective response. Joint campaigns have reached 1 billion people, with communications that raise awareness through public health information, combat stigma and discrimination, reflect women’s specific needs, promote women’s leadership and contributions and develop recovery plans that link equality, health and the economy.
All of us engaged in this effort, whether public or private sector, need to take a coordinated, people-centred approach to rapidly building health system capacity in both developed and developing countries, making a conscious effort to put women front and centre. For example, creating better access to appropriate personal protective equipment for home-based caregivers, and removing obstacles to their work, by promoting flexible working arrangements, and ensuring supplies of menstrual hygiene products. These needs are even more important for areas under lockdown or quarantine. So too are considerations of gender-based violence that are exacerbated by these conditions, but may not receive the attention they need, in the drive to respond to the pandemic.
Violence against women is already an epidemic in all societies, without exception. Every day, on average, 137 women are killed by a member of their own family. We also know that levels of domestic violence and sexual exploitation spike when households are placed under the increased strains that come from security, health and money worries, and cramped and confined living conditions. We see this frequently among displaced populations in crowded refugee camps; and reported domestic violence has tripled recently in some countries practising social distancing.
COVID-19 provides us with an opportunity for radical, positive action to redress long-standing inequalities in multiple areas of women’s lives. There is scope for not just endurance, but recovery and growth. I ask governments and all other service providers including the private sector to take this opportunity to plan their response to COVID-19 as they have never done before, and fully take a gender perspective into account, proactively building gender expertise into response teams and embedding gender dimensions within response plans. For example, include surge funding for women’s shelters so they can provide for women who need to escape violent relationships, and aim economic support and bail outs specifically at retail sectors, hospitality and small businesses where women are predominantly employed on precarious contracts, if any, and are most vulnerable to forced cost-saving.

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Rape, Assault Allegation: NAWOJ Wants Unbiased Investigation

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The Nigeria Association of Women Journalists (NAWOJ) has called on the Kogi State Government to ensure accelerated and unbiased investigation of the alleged act of assault and rape committed by the state’s Commissioner for Water Resources, Mr Abdumumuni Danga.
The association made the call in a statement signed by its National President, Mrs Ifeyinwa Omowole, in Abuja, and made available to The Tide, last Monday
It would be recalled that in a video, which had gone viral on social media recently, a beauty queen, Elizabeth Oyeniyi, alleged that Danga abducted, assaulted and forcefully had sex with her over a Facebook post.
According to the victim, she had earlier appealed to the commissioner to assist his family member, who is also a friend of the victim, on her Facebook wall in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown.
Oyeniyi, however, explained that the commissioner got enraged with the post and ordered some boys to pick her and his sister from Okene to Lokoja where the commissioner personally flogged them and raped her.
She further alleged that her phone was smashed and the commissioner intimidated her to recant her Facebook claims through a make-believe video in which she apologised and spoke nicely of him.
Although, the state governor has reportedly suspended the commissioner and ordered an investigation into the matter, human rights organisations, civil society groups, including the National Youth Council of Nigeria (NYCN), have all called for justice.
However, NAWOJ in its statement, urged Kogi State Governor, Alhaji Yahaya Bello, to ensure that objective and unbiased investigation is carried out promptly on the allegation and the accused adequately punished, if found guilty.
“While the media is awash with false information that the commissioner had been suspended, NAWOJ reliably learnt that the commissioner was yet to be suspended and no punishment had been meted out to him.
“Although a probe has been initiated by the state Governor, Yahaya Bello, NAWOJ wishes to urge the panel and the governor to fast-track the probe and not unduly delay it.
“It is worthy of note that many days after this allegation, the said commissioner is yet to deny the allegation against him, pointing to the fact that he may be guilty as alleged.
“NAWOJ also notes that although the victim has already indicated interest to seek legal redress, the onus still lies on the state government, if it is not complicit, to take a decisive action against the erring commissioner.
“Governor Yahaya Bello must take a clear stance to be against violence and assault on women by taking a decisive action against the commissioner, an action that would serve as a deterrent to others with similar traits,” the statement read in part.
The association, therefore, called on the state governor to ensure that the accused is made to step-down as a public office holder so that he does not intimidate the victim or her family.
It added that other women groups and lawyers would be rallied to ensure that Oyeniyi gets justice.
“We can no longer have people in authority who should be custodians of the law breaking same laws with impunity and yet attempting to hold onto supposedly honourable positions,” it stated.

 

Stories by Susan Serekara-Nwikhana

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