Thursday, September 15, 2011

Women should go into marriage with realistic expectations - Effah-Chukwuma

Josephine Effah-Chukwuma is the Executive Director of Project Alert on Violence Against Women, a non-governmental women’s right organisation set up to promote and protect the rights of women and young girls. She told us about the organisation she has passionately and successfully ran for 12 years.

What is Project Alert on Violence against Women all about?

It is a non-governmental women’s right organisation set up to promote and protect the rights of women and young girls. We do this through our three main programme areas. One aspect of our work is promotional and the other is protection. Under the promotional aspect is our advocacy work whereby we try to raise public awareness, sensitize the public on this issue of violence against women. The second aspect which is protection is where if these women have been violated e.g. sexual violence, rape, domestic violence, we take up these cases for the victims. We provide services such as counselling, free legal aid and we run a shelter for abused women

What are the major achievements of Project Alert?

Well, talking about success, it is a very subjective thing. But I will say our major success in the 12 years of our existence is breaking that silence on issues bordering on women about violence because two or three decades ago or up to 15 or 10 years ago, several women will not come out to speak about their victimisation. Married women will not come out to say ‘my husband is doing this to me’ for fear of what people would say. Parents whose little daughters are raped and defiled will not open up their mouth to say anything but, now, we are getting reports. People are talking about it. We have our support services. Just like the popular saying goes, a problem shared is a problem half solved.

What is your modus operandi? How do you protect the rights of women?

When we talk about our support services, the three main programme areas are human rights education, we have research and documentation and support services programme. These are the three programmes we use to promote and protect the rights of women. So under the support service programme that is the protective arm that is the one we use in giving support to women who are abused. We give them counselling, when a woman walks in here; the first person she sees is a counsellor. The counsellor talks to her, calms her down and hears her story. Then based on what she hears we will now know what course of action to take. So after counselling is legal aid. And between these counsellors and the legal aid, they decide who goes to the shelter.

Who are your partners/main supporters?

We partner with a number of people depending on what we do. We have partners who fund and support us. We have those we do collaborative projrcts with; we have other NGOs we partner with. So we partner with other NGOs, with government, with state-based organisations, even churches that invite us to come and give a talk during their programmes, we partner with funding agencies some of which support us, we partner with the private sector to take up the issue of violence against women and young girls as part of their social responsibility.

You appointed some ambassadors for Project Alert. Who are they? What are their contributions?

Two years ago when we were preparing for our 10th anniversary, that was when we approached some artistes and told them about Project Alert which included actresses, singers and comedians like watching a movie acted by Kate Henshaw Nuttal, Stella Damuscus or listening to the song of Weird Mc or to the jokes of Julius Agwu, these are people the public admire and listen to so we thought, these are also the same people who should preach the message of no to violence against women. They are a veritable vehicle to further propagate the message, speak against it. Also for these artistes, it is their own little way of giving back to the society what they are getting from the society.

Kudirat Abiola Initiative (KIND) brought in the V-monologue which was a monologue series that was developed by an American, Eve Ensler. They first staged that series in 2007 and based on the response gotten from that stage performance which was done locally here and was directed and produced by Joke Silva. She brought in actresses like Kate Henshaw Nuttal and Ireti Doyle about widowhood and the rest. Because of the response we got from that and the criticism, people said it was interesting but it is talking about European story, what about the Nigerian story?

What is your perception of NGOs in Nigeria? Are they still service oriented?

In every profession, we have the good eggs and the bad ones, even in the medical profession. In every profession you have people who are doing the real thing and people who are not. The NGO sector is not an exception. But I must tell you that NGOs are the ones who to a large extent are doing a lot of work. We are the ones making our government sit up. We are like the watchdogs. But 85-90 percent of NGOs are service oriented.

What specific role do you think women should play in national development?

Women can play a lot of role if given the opportunity and the chance.. Where a young girl will finish school and the husband will say ‘sit down at home and don’t work’, what did she go to school for? Where young ladies are discriminated in employment because one Managing Director wants her to see him later before giving her a job. This is one country that wastes both human and material resources; so, women if given the opportunity can contribute very well to national development. We can see a bit of it. Look at Okonjo-Iweala and Dora Akunyili, they are doing well. I am not saying women are perfect but I am telling you when you put a woman in a position, she feels doubly challenged.

The Nigerian society is full of some practices which are against the rights of women. What are some of them and how can we address them?

I guess you mean harmful traditional practices like genital mutilation, widowhood and so on. They are harmful because they don’t promote culture. Culture is dynamic, culture is not static. Such practice that abuses the right of an individual should be thrown out of the widow. How do we deal with these harmful cultural practices? We need a lot of sensitization. We need to keep talking about it because we can’t talk enough. Because like I said, a problem shared is a problem half solved so we need to keep talking about it.

What is your advice for about-to-wed couples?

They should be themselves. A lot of young people enter into marriage with a lot of falsehood and false expectations. People should go into marriage because they love each other. In marriage unfortunately, if you go in for the wrong reasons, you are going to run out of it very fast. Because marriage is an institution that you are going to go through a lot of tough times and it is the love you have for each other that will sustain the marriage. They should be truthful to each other and be themselves. Love each other. Go into marriage with realistic expectations. Be true; don’t lie to yourselves because if you do, then you will start believing your lies and start living a life of lies.

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