LOUD WHISPERS: Ownership

From November 25th-December 10th there was the global 16 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence (GBV) Campaign. During this period, there are activities around the world to draw attention to the need to eradicate gender violence, ranging from marches to seminars and engagements with policy makers. What started out as an idea put forward by women’s rights activists who met for a leadership program at the Center for Women’s Global Leadership Institute at Rutgers University, June 1991, has snowballed into a global movement which has been adopted by the United Nations system. It is important to note the history of this global campaign because even though most people now identify the 16 Days Campaign with the United Nations, it started out as an initiative led by grassroots women’s rights activists from different parts of the world.

On November 25th 1960 three sisters who were political activists – Minerva, Patria and Maria-Teresa Mirabal of the Dominican Republic, were murdered in cold blood on the orders of the ruling dictator Rafael Trujillo. This terrible act was the beginning of the end of Trujillo who was in turn assassinated in 1961. In 1981, the Latin America and Caribbean Feminist Movement adopted November 25th as the day the region would commemorate all acts of violations against women. This is how the date got owned and globalized in 1991 at the Center for Women’s Global Leadership when activists from around the world met to share stories and strategies to end violence against women. In 1999 the United Nations formally adopted the 16 Days Campaign. Other days that make up the 16 Days campaign include International Day of Women Human Rights Defenders, November 29th, World AIDS Day December 1st, International Day of People Living with Disabilities December 3rd and World Human Rights Day, December 10th. I thought it was important to share this history because I wanted to draw attention not only to how much an issue such as gender violence has served to unite social change movements around the world, but to emphasise the critical importance of community ownership. Everywhere I go, I talk about how we all need to own the struggle against gender violence. It is not something for activists or governments alone to contend with. It affects us all and we each hold one piece of the solution in our hands. Our religious leaders, traditional rulers, community elders, politicians, parents, teachers, everyone has a role to play in getting the message across in a language (both literal and figurative) that people understand.

 In Ekiti State, as in other places, we marked the 16 Days with several activities. We organised a GBV Summit, commissioned a new building for our Sexual Assault Referral Center, opened a 208-bed Transit Home and Vocational Center for Women and Girls and we inaugurated a group of HE for SHE GBV Champions. There were also activities in the local government areas organised by government officials and NGOs. In Abuja, the Nigerian Governors Wives Against Gender Based Violence which I Chair, organised a well-attended high-level policy dialogue on December 2nd, which featured five State Governors. I participated in several other activities throughout the 16 Days in person and online, with the nagging thought at the back of my mind, ‘I hope all this makes a difference’. Three days ago, I received a video from an irate citizen in Ekiti State. One of the guys in the neighborhood had raped a six-year-old. He was arrested by the Civil Defence Corps, but when the girl’s family refused to come forward with charges, they released the suspect three days later. The person who sent the video to me was furious. He decided to take matters into his own hands by storming the child’s house to make a video recording of the family members and the child who had been attacked. I told him off for including the image of the poor child in the video, but I thanked him for drawing attention to the case. The matter is now in the hands of the police and the Sexual Assault Referral Center team. Yesterday, there was a press statement from the Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion, suspending the Bishop of Ekiti West Diocese. According to the statement, the Bishop was involved in a sexual relationship with the wife of a priest under his employment and care. I am sure there are many more juicy scandals such as this one going on in high and low places, but I am impressed that the Anglican Church decided to make a scapegoat of this man of God who has been abusing his office. A few days ago, there was also a statement from a church whose Pastor admitted to engaging in inappropriate behaviour with some of the teenagers in his care. He runs a Ministry based on ‘sexual purity’ and is a mentor and spiritual guide to many impressionable teenagers. As usual the hypocrite blamed the devil for distracting him and asked for forgiveness. His wife also issued a statement that revealed her to be his enabler in Chief. If he ever goes to prison for statutory rape, he should share a cell with his wife. The church leaders were not having any of it, so they issued a strong statement and threw their Pastor and Founder under the bus.

In February I paid an advocacy visit to the Council of Traditional Rulers, Ekiti State to seek their support. Shortly after, during the COVID19 lockdowns, two of the traditional rulers who were present at that meeting were faced with cases of rape and sexual assault in their Kingdoms. They did not resort to business as usual, settling the cases in their palaces. They promptly handed the suspects over to the police. These four examples are what ownership looks like, with slow but steady steps towards a society free and safe for all. No matter how many marches we organise or seminars we speak at, if citizens in grassroots communities do not own this issue, we will keep taking five steps forward and ten back.

I am aware of how frustrating it can be when we make progress and it is all set back directly or indirectly, even by people who mean well but are not helping with their actions. With vigilance and a shared understanding of how serious these matters are, the message will sink in that Sexual and Gender Based Violence is not a private issue but a criminal offence which should be addressed using the dictates of the law. In cases of domestic violence, while we cannot completely rule out mediation and reconciliation, it is certainly not a twenty-four-hour process and not something to coerce any of the parties into.

This simple concept of community ownership should also apply to all the issues that plague us at the moment. I have been asking myself, how is it possible for over 500 school children to be taken away from their schools all in one go? How many vehicles were used? What roads did they pass through? How are they being fed and who is cooking for them? Surely this involves not just the terrorists who took them, but many collaborators as well? I know there have been brutal reprisals against ‘snitches’ and this serves as a deterrent to others who might want to help. What a shame, for us to slowly slide into a society where we can officially no longer be each other’s keeper. Our shared humanity is at risk should this be the case. None of the many battles we are fighting now can be won by indifference, apathy, the blame game or further incitements. We all have to take responsibility based on where we are and what platforms we occupy. Let us take ownership of our failings, mistakes, opportunities, achievements, and a commitment to a shared vision of peace and security for all, in public and in private.

Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi is a Gender Specialist, Social Entrepreneur and Writer. She is the Founder of Abovewhispers.com, an online community for women. She is the First Lady of Ekiti State, and she can be reached at BAF@abovewhispers.com

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9 Responses to LOUD WHISPERS: Ownership

  1. Olakunle Olajide December 17, 2020 at 10:36 am

    Rightly said, I love the way you highlighted the pertinent issues plaguing our society and the nation at large..Community ownership will go a long way to curbing these menaces..God bless you for all your efforts..
    Compliments of the season ma’am

    Reply
  2. Edun Oluwabusayo December 17, 2020 at 7:39 pm

    Gender Violence needs to be curbed and put to an end. Thanks for this enlightenment and showing many faces to see what are hidden. More strength MA

    Reply
  3. N. Charity December 17, 2020 at 7:43 pm

    We will surely get there. Thank you your Excellency for creating more awarness

    Reply
  4. Azeez Munirat Ogundele December 17, 2020 at 9:02 pm

    You’re doing well ma, MA very happy that we have someone like you who can fight for the less privilege who can’t fight for them, many rape cases has died down just because if the victim speak up stigmatisation will kill her, I pray God continue to help you ma,
    More grease to your elbow ma

    Reply
  5. Bello Bukola Seyikemi December 17, 2020 at 10:48 pm

    More Strength and wisdom ma. You really point it out. Thank you for all the awareness and all what you do for humanity.

    Reply
  6. Agunbiade Abosede Mabel December 17, 2020 at 10:57 pm

    Thank you ma, Almighty God will continue to bless and strengthen you, and your effort will be fruitful in Jesus mighty name

    Reply
  7. Adeyinka December 18, 2020 at 12:00 am

    To put an end to societal injustice is not a one man business. We all need to add our wuota for justice to truly prevail. Soon the evil perpetrators in this country will be exposed

    Reply
  8. Lola Aluko December 18, 2020 at 7:10 am

    This is an insightful read and I am happy that the table is gradually being turned on the abusers. We are definitely still far away from a GBV and rape free society but the evil culture of silence /shaming the victim is slowly but surely going to end.
    We can only keep up the awareness campaign.
    Well done, Mother General.

    Reply
  9. Femi Diipo December 19, 2020 at 11:31 pm

    There’s still a long way to go and there are signs that indicate progress on our collective fight against GBV. Thank you for all you do ma’am, May heave continue to reward you. We will not relent and will continue to speak out till this menace is over in our society

    Reply

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