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Cases of rape, sexual abuse, harassment and /or indecent assault are on the increase in our society. Monica Taiwo sought the view of Dupe Awosemusin, Chairperson, International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA), Oyo State, on the reasons women continue to be an endangered species. Excerpts
MANY people do not know what FIDA is or what it does, can you educate the public?
FIDA is a non-governmental organisation and non political, with an observer status with the United Nations. It is present in about 52 countries of the world.
We have about 31 branches in Nigeria; we are present in 31 states out of the 36 states in the federation.
The main objective of FIDA, is to establish friendly international relation on a basis of equality and mutual respect for people. to promote the study of Comparative Law, enhance, advance and promote the welfare of women and children with the aim of realising the well-being and happiness of the home and the strength of the society which depends on women and children.
And also to promote the rights of citizens and facilitate community participation in governance and leadership
Is your position in FIDA an elected one?
Yes, it is for a two-year term.
Why did you desire to head FIDA in Oyo State?
It was the desire of the people, not mine. I was the treasurer for about five years, and when I was about to bow out, I was elected unopposed as the state chairperson of the organisation.
Looking at the objectives of FIDA, which issue has the body treated under your leadership that has been most challenging?
Most of our cases are challenging, because they have to do with women and children, they are mostly cases of abuse, which women or child abuse, in terms of rape, child labour, trafficking, wife battering, desertion, we also deal in issues affecting widows.
Most widows in our society suffer untold hardship. Once they are bereaved of their husbands, some family members come around to take possession of the men’s property; sometimes children and other valuables.
Most of our cases are challenging because of the issues that are usually involved.
If anyone has an issue which could be solved by your organisation, how can FIDA be contacted?
We usually have sensitisation programmes, talks and seminars. We run a programme on radio called Me‘to re on Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN), but due to financial constraints, we have put it on hold because FIDA is not a profit making organisation. We also go to market places once in a while to sensitise women on their rights and particularly the rights of their children.
We have been to secondary schools to sensitise students on safegaurds against sexual abuse. Also, the people we have assisted in the past also spread the news to others. Between January and June, 2012 we have received about 30 cases, and since assumed office in 2008 and now, we have received about 103 cases.
In recent times, issues of child abuse, rape and sexual harassment are rampant, what do you think is responsible for this rise?
There are so many things to it. Firstly; is the enforcement of the law; the police, then the home and society at large.
When you look at the enforcement of the law, it is not as if the laws are not there. For example, rape is punishable with life imprisonment. unfortunately, if the victim does not report on time or if she takes her bath before going to the police station, because the police would have to refer her to the hospital for confirmation; every evidence would have been destroyed. In this instance, the culprit would be charged with indecent assault.
I believe that if the law is enforced accordingly and somebody is sentenced to life imprisonment. this would serve as deterrent to others. Parents would warn their male children against such acts and adults too would think twice. All we need is a scape goat to send the right signal that rape is actually a grave offence which would be punished severely.
There are some policies the government must put in place to encourage the enforcement of punishment for those who commit the offence. I really cannot talk much about this because I am a civil servant.
When you talk of the home and the society; parents mostly are concerned about stigmatisation and the society’s response and reaction to the child. This is why a lot of cases of rape, indecent assault, sexual harassment and abuse, either of a girl, boy or even an adult are not reported.
The police also have a role to play, most times they assist and encourage settling the matter out of court. We have discovered that if these issues are not addressed, there will continue to be sexual abuse or harassment in our society.
The value system, which is under the society too is also deteriorating. We, women have taken a lot of things for granted; we no longer monitor our children as expected. We have forgotten that these children are our future.
When your child is going out of the house, wearing a spaghetti strapped dress, you as her mother even go about in sleeveless dress which covers little or nothing will have no moral justification to correct her. Most women would even buy the spaghetti strapped clothes for their children, don’t forget that your child would wear the clothes you bought for her.
The home has also created a big vacuum. The Yoruba would say, “oju kan l’onbimo, igba oju l’on to”.When I was growing up, if I did something wrong, our neighbour could help to discipline me, but these days parents don’t bring up their children properly; eventually these children untrained would later become parents.
The multiplier effect of the dilapidation in the home is so grevious in the society
Talking about the home; divorce cases are on the increase, what do you think is the reason?
First and foremost is materialism, then incompatibility and lack of understanding and perseverance. Marriage is meant to be enjoyed, it depends on the way you handle it because it takes two to tango.
The book of Amos, Chapter 3 verse 3, says, “Can two work together except they agree”? If the two cannot click together, they cannot work. In those days before you get married, you look at the man/woman and his/her future and study each other. Today, most ladies are concerned with what they can see and what they can get. Does he have a car, a good apartment, what can he do for me on my birthday? Ladies no longer look at the man’s future, all they are concerned about are material things.
If you marry a man because of a car, the day the car crashes will be the day, the love starts to dwindle. If you marry someone because of beauty, the day something happens to that beauty, you begin to have problems. Women have the tendency to change/grow fat especially in pregnancy, then love disappears.
On the issue of incompatibility, there are a lot of things we see in men that we do nothing about. During courtship, all sensory organs must be at work so that you don’t go into marriage blindly. When you are courting a man and you discover some characters that you may not be able to cope with, don’t think you would be able to change the person.
Another mistake most men and women make is hoping that the other partner would change over time, but unfortunately, if it is a habit, that cannot be changed, this becomes a problem. If you know you are not compatible right from the onset, please, don’t go into it. A broken relationship is better than a broken marriage. In fact, God is against divorce.
Also, lack of understanding and perseverance is another cause of divorce. Most women cannot accommodate some things that ought to be accommodated and vice versa.
There is also a fundamental thing that couples don’t talk about that I have discovered overtime in my years of experience in my profession and as a counsellor, I discovered that the issue of sex is fundamental in any home. most couples don’t talk about it and it is always an underlining factor for most problems.
Some men are highly demanding when it comes to sex and unfortunately, they have wives who cannot cope or it could be the other way round, this leads to a problem and because of the way our people see sex, they cannot open up and talk about it freely.
As serious as sex is in marriage, couples don’t talk about it, how do you encourage them to open up?
It is difficult to talk about it, but when you create a conducive environment where both of them can be free, make them trust you and they will open up.
Then sometimes, one might need to speak with them separately. From the way they respond to questions, you can pick where the problems lie, then, with wisdom one can address it.
You made mention of values and norms earlier, it is obvious that most of them are fast eroding, where would you put the blame?
Personally, I put the blame on the home, particularly on women.
It is the woman who sees the children when they are going to parties or school. It is the woman who buys most of what they put on, because it is what you buy for your children that they would put on.
Let me give you an instance, I have a friend whose daughter is in JSS2, she came for holidays, and during these holidays they normally perm their hair.
When it was time for her to go back to school, this required that she would have to barb her hair because it was prohibited in their school, but the girl refused to have her hair cut. She didn’t want to hurt her child’s feelings, so she allowed her child’s intention to override hers and also default in school..
I have a sister whose son was playing with a particular object, it fell down and my nephew pointed at the object for my sister to pick for her. She was about standing up to pick it for him, and I snapped at her to stop. And she said, “ah, aunty he would cry o”.
You can imagine the kind of training she would give that boy. If you cannot correct a child at home, who would help you correct your child outside? The home is the foundation of the society. There was this case of a child whose teacher disciplined in school, and the parents came to fight for the child. How do we place this at times?, the home is the forefront of the society and until we women stand up to our duties and stop chasing shadows up and down, the society cannot take its place.
How do you cope with your family and work?
Apart from God, I have a very supportive husband. I plan my time, I cherish my weekends, except for a distress call, I won’t answer, my weekend is for my family and the ministry. During the week, sometimes when I have FIDA assignments, I call my boss, and one thing about FIDA is that they are so passionate about women and children. I have understanding and very good colleagues in FIDA. Whenever I call on them, they are always ready to sacrifice.
Sometimes I don’t get home until about 9.00 p.m., And at times I live home at about 6.00 a.m. when there is a rescue mission to go for. I thank God for his faithfulness.Share