Women from across Nigeria converged in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State on Monday to discuss women’s rights, gender-based violence, and the way forward.
The gathering, ActionAid Nigeria’s feminists convening, was organised in line with the United Nations-led global campaign to end violence against women.
The campaign, called 16 Days of Activism, began worldwide on November 26, which was the International Day to End Violence Against Women, and ended on December 10, the International Human Rights Day.
“It is estimated that 35 per cent of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or sexual violence by a non-partner (not including sexual harassment) at some point in their lives,” according to a 2013 report co-authored by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Sixteen per cent of ever-partnered women in Nigeria, between the ages 15 to 49 years, experience intimate partner physical and/or sexual violence at least once in their lifetime, according to data published by the UN Women, a subsidiary of the United Nations.
The Uyo meeting provided an opportunity for the women, more than 50 of them, to share their family, community and workplace experiences, and be comforted and strengthened by one another.
A speaker at the meeting said domestic slavery, domestic violence, rape, incest, and other factors were making the home no longer a safe place in Nigeria.
One woman, in her 40s, said she works as a bricklayer and breaks a trolley-load of stones every day for bricklaying to earn a meagre N700 daily.
Her male supervisors would sometimes insist on having sex with her and her co-female labourer before they could be allowed to participate in the day’s work, she said, with teary eyes.
One woman from Kwara State said her participation in ActionAid’s Local Rights programme opened her eyes to see life differently.
She said because of her resolve to make meaning out of life, she has been able to take care of herself, her children, and her step-children whose mother left after their husband died.
She elicited laughter among the others when she said being a poor woman from a poor rural community, she was able to fly in an aeroplane for the first time in her life with the help of ActionAid Nigeria.
One woman cried while sharing her experience.
The common experience among the women was that they worked more and yet earned very little pay, compared to their male counterparts.
In some cases, women were the ones responsible for the family welfare and yet their daily or monthly pay was not enough to cater for the family, the women said.
Lydia Umar, the Executive Director, Gender Awareness Trust, told the meeting, “Some organisations in Nigeria deliberately refuse to employ women for the fear that they could get married soon and leave the organization.”
Nkechi Ilochi-Omekedo, ActionAid Nigeria’s Manager, Rights Programmes, took the women through women’s labour as it relates to the question of human rights.
She mentioned the treatment of female sex workers as an example of the general discrimination against women.
“We all know that sex work is criminalised in Nigeria,” Nkechi Ilochi-Omekedo said.
“They don’t criminalise those who buy sex, but they criminalised those who sell sex. If there are no buyers of sex, would there be anybody selling sex?”
Nkechi Ilochi-Omekedo said financial capitalism has caused women to migrate from poorer countries to richer countries to look for work at factories where they are used as cheap labour.
Feminism, she said, simply means fairness, equal right, and justice.
She said ActionAid Nigeria has a ready plan for a three-year campaign on women’s labour right.
“As women, this is not the time to be sleeping; we need to join our voice in our families and in our communities. We need to join the global stage,’ she said.
Ene Obi, the Country Director of ActionAid Nigeria, said in her opening remarks that this year’s campaign was focused on ending violence in the world of work.
“This is the type of violence that seldom gets attention as it should, yet it is very pervasive.
“For ActionAid Nigeria and its partners, situating this meeting therefore on the international Human Rights Day is very strategic and political. We are calling attention to the fact that both women’s labour and women’s right to decent work are human rights issue that deserved to be recognised,” Mrs Obi said.
“The use of the term ‘labour’ (rather than work) is deliberate because it offers a broader perspective around all the injustices regarding the treatment of women’s labour in both the productive and reproductive sectors.
“When we talk of women’s labour, we categorise all work – paid work and unpaid care work – as work. Most often, women’s work is considered valueless even when these jobs/labours sustain families, contributes to the community and national GDP and development.
“If we consider that women all over the world contribute to the wheel of production through their productive roles, it becomes imperative therefore that women’s role in nation-building, economic development and sustainable development is recognised and valued as it should be,” she said.
The Ministry of Women Affairs, Akwa Ibom state, Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), and Persons with Disability (PWD) were among the establishments and groups represented at the meeting.
Women from Kebbi, Bauchi, Kogi, Kwara, Ebonyi, Enugu, and others who have been partnering with ActionAid Nigeria on the Local Rights programme were also part of the meeting.
The women, in the end, pledged to support one another and stand with women around the world to fight gender-based violence at work.