BY MOSES NOSIKE
For some time now, woman abuse, teenage pregnancy and child rights pose great challenge to successive administrations in Nigeria in particular and Africa at large. But Bose Iro-Nsi, the Executive Director, Women’s Rights and Health Projects, an innovative non-governmental organisation (NGO) has adopted these mental-daunting concerns as challenges.
Through her organisation, she’s set to promote reproductive health, rights and general development of women, teenage girls and community-related challenges. In this regard, Bose has created a platform for women across the divide to present and address issues on health, right abuse and other related matters. Excerpts:
What is the focus of Women’s Rights and Health Projects?
As it goes, Women’s Rights and Health Projects focuses on women, young people and communities in the areas of health and rights.
How did you conceive the vision?
Well, as a trained nurse/midwife and a human right activist, I always have passion for promoting the health and rights of womanhood in our society. Again, it goes back to my personal experience as a young girl growing up in an African culture where the right of an average girl is not respected.
I can point to you communities where people in such areas contemplate if to send a girl child to school or not. So as I was growing up, I kept asking what is the difference between me and my brother, and others out there.
While I was pondering on this, I met and interacted with a lady in 1990, and I was encouraged. Then HIV was still a burning issue and the focus was on truck drivers, commercial sex workers etc. But almost everybody in the community was afraid because truck drivers and commercial sex workers all lived within the communities where people lacked health information.
And I happened to work in a community as a field coordinator and had a first-hand interaction with community people. I was able to carry out their need assessment, and found out that community people are amazing and everyone of us belong to one community or the other. So something has to be done to enhance their capacity so that they will be able to solve these problems.
That was how I began to conceive this vision. The question is: Why are we concentrating on women? Women are the most vulnerable in the society; if there is conflict today, women and their children are the most affected than men. For instance, in those areas of Boko Haram attacks, women and children are always victims because children are attached to their mothers.
If you are a young girl growing up, there is no platform for you to express your immediate fears. The same thing with women. The only time a woman attracts a good attention is when she is pregnant and once she stops having children she is left alone. Issues of menopause after reproduction and things like that are nobody’s business.
These are issues that inspired me and I said there is need to create a platform where women can discuss issues of health and rights. I also discovered that in my working years with another organisation, BAOBAB for Women Human Rights working in various communities, women found it difficult to understand the issue of rights. They don’t even understand what right is all about, muchless demanding for it.
What happens to me privately is a political issue because if I’m killed, it affects my children, my workers, communities I’m serving and I want to serve, it affects my friends. It is not really a domestic thing. The domestic aspect definitely a political issue that we need to talk about. Now we should start asking ourselves, how many women have been killed by Boko Haram, because they are the ones privileged to get information. They are locked up.
When the children are growing up, the male ones can go around and sleep with their friends and get information on what is happening. But the girls are locked up. They don’t even understand what is going on. For us to achieve a minimum development and get the level we are targetting at, we need to create an avenue for women to express themselves. That is what this project is all about.
To what extent have you realised this vision?
God is helping us. I don’t think I would have been anywhere else, even though there is a challenge that many of these community women don’t understand what is right. For instance, when we went to a community, my first assignment was to go and interact with some group of people in that community and basically to find out if they know their blood pressure level.
I was surprised when I met a woman whose blood pressure was 190/150 yet she didn’t understand what it’s all about, and she said, I’m ok, nothing is wrong with me. That woman could one day slump and die carelessly. We also carried out awareness on breast cancer and there, we discovered three women who have lumps on their breasts and they were unaware of the imminent danger of their health state. As simple as that.
Most of them don’t even understand the issue of menopause. They will tell you, they go to church and pray, that juju has come. It is an attack. Whereas they are experiencing changes as a result of aging. It is very rewarding that people are trooping in here with health issues. We now went into the areas of right. Do people understand what is right? In some villages or communities, some women will tell you, nothing is wrong if my husband beats me, that means he loves me.
And I say no, that is not love. And at the end of the day, we were able to train student and social groups. We work with churches and market women such as the Pepper Grounders Association,United Tailors Association and other professional groups as the Hair Dressers and then students. We train them on how they can respond on issues of battering, abuse, discrimination in the community.
We also liaise with the police to be able to understand that the issue people think is domestic is not domestic. We tell the police that you don’t send a woman who is being battered by her husband to go home and sort it out with her husband. You are just telling the woman to go and die. Now, the communities are taking it upon themselves and they are working on it tirelessly.
And we have been receiving phone calls from so many of them who called and said Ma, I have reported the case to the police and we follow it up when such calls come. It has been very interesting. In the areas of health, we have done a lot in terms of reaching out to communities on HIV/AIDS, Ebola, Malaria, Tuberculosis etc. Awareness on general health. It is very rewarding because people are now anxious to know more.
What do you have to say on the rights of African women and Nigeria in particular?
I want to say here that globally, women are not perceived rightly. Women are more in population globally, yet we are relegated to the background. Now it’s worse in Africa because we hide under wall of culture and tradition to relegate women to levels where they can’t be able to express themselves. It’s sad. I want to give you an instance, the issue of corruption.
When a man steals, it’s not an issue, but if it is a woman, it is blown out of proportion. I’m not saying that stealing is good. People go further to ask, is she married, when last did she have relationship, is she taking care of her children, etc. But if it’s a man, nobody cares. The way we even raise our children, we are looking at 35% affirmative action. It should be equal.
I belong to the group of women who believe there are women in this country that can turn things around. On the presidential candidates, we have only one woman who has the guts to come out. They will not give women the stage because they believe our place is in the kitchen. But I want to promise them, no country ever developed without involving women in decision-making.
If you look at conflict situations, women are taken as weapons of war, raped, abused, disgraced. And no man ever takes a woman who had been raped even when it’s not her fault, even under gun. You discover that the plight of women are enormous but we are praying that someday somehow the women will get there. A lot is being done, politics being refined.
What I’m saying is Nigerian women are trying in developing themselves and pushing for recognition. I’m saying there is much to be done, because it’s not enough to say give us 35% affirmative action. The men are still saying they gave us an appointment, we are saying no. It is compulsory that if you want to have 10 ministers, women should be 4 or 5. It should be so because women are passionate, and they can interact. They understand what it is to run a home. They understand how to manage a man and the community. So if they are relegated, there will be no peace in the society.