By Choma Gabriel
Ms Chibogu Obinwa is the Acting Executive Director of Baobab for Women’s Human Rights, a non-governmental organization fighting undauntedly for the cause of women in Nigeria since its debut in 1996. In a recent interview, she condemned the system of leadership in Africa, and also shared how Baobab is mobilizing women for a change all over Africa; particularly in Nigeria.
How’s Baobab faring?
Well, Baobab for Women’s Human Rights is faring very well, and we’re also still trying to reposition ourselves to flow with the trend in terms of technology. One of the things we’re doing now is to work with young women within the Africa region so as to be able to redefine leadership. This is because Africa has suffered a lot of set-back in leadership.
One of the unique things that Baobab is doing is creating a mentoring relationship between experienced female politicians and young women who are aspiring to be politicians and leaders; not just in mainstream politics but in different aspects of life. We want young women to redefine leadership, and to look at it as a state for horizontal communication and a state where anyone could have a voice. We also want them to see leadership as an activity that anyone is entitled to, so long as he or she is committed to a particular course. It’s not meant only for men and boys.
We are taking advantage of Facebook, Twitter and Blog to preach this message. We encourage women to share their views with us on these social networking sites. Baobab is working in partnership with the Women’s Learning Partnership for Rights, Development and Peace which is based in the United States. It is actually a partnership of independent autonomous organizations based in the global south like Africa, Middle-east, Asia, etc., pushing for women to empower themselves in different aspects of life and also encouraging women to reach the highest level of leadership both within and outside politics.
From 20th to the 24th of June, 2011, we ran an institute for young women between the ages of 19 and 20 in Accra, Ghana. It was a very unique one because like I said, we want to see how we can build a young women movement in Africa like in Liberia, Congo, Rwanda, and so on. You’ll see that Africa has suffered for too long in terms of war and conflicts due to leadership.
What’s it about leadership that you really want to redefine?
One of the things we’ve noticed in Africa is that we have a lot of sit-tight leaders who do not want to give other people a chance to lead. Not only are they sit-tight leaders; they also do not take the voices of the people they are leading into cognizance! Women’s voices for example are stifled! There is no horizontal communication in our system of leadership. Instead, what we have is a top-to-down approach where you have a dictator as the head that dishes out policies according to the way it best suits him; not necessarily what the citizens think.
This is becoming too common in Africa, and it’s high time we addressed it. Hence, we want to begin to look at how leadership can be an opportunity for people to build consensus on issues, and also an opportunity for everyone’s voice to count. Basically, from my opinion, the best gift a leader can give to his or her citizens is opportunity to participate and make their contributions to policies. Therefore, in the institute we had in Ghana, we looked at how we can mobilize for action; how to build solidarity support- especially in areas where women’s voices are stifled.
It hurts that we still have countries in Africa with very low enrolment of girls in schools. There is also incessant rape and sexual violence against women and young girls always bear the brunt in conflict situations. They also suffer the famines that follow suit. Also, when soldiers go to war, their widows and children suffer when they unfortunately die. The woman is therefore left to cater for the children! So, we can see that women are always at the receiving end! If we have more women in leadership, we’ll have less crisis.
But do you envisage any hope for the better?
There’s hope. At least we saw what happened in Egypt; how the people revolted against dictatorship. That, in itself, is some kind of hope that things can be better if people mobilize for action and learn to build solidarity across ethnicity and across every other difference. This was one of the issues tackled at the institute we’ve just rounded-up in Ghana.
To facilitate the change you seek, don’t you think we need to also bring men on-board?
That’s a good question! You can’t address a problem if you do not bring together the parties involved to a table. Baobab is working with men as well. One of the things we’ve initiated is a network called Men Against Violence Against Women- MARVEL. This group has been planted in several parts of Nigeria.
MARVEL is actually a network of men who are committed towards ending violence. The network has been working and raising awareness among their fellow men on the reasons why they should avoid perpetuating violence and also address the issue of impunity. I must say things have moved-up a bit. At least we now have men who do not support gender-based violence, and who are committed to promoting the rights of women. We are also conducting a sort of transformative leadership training with young boys because we believe that most of the stereotypes we have in our society are embedded in the school curriculum, and are thus learnt while growing up.
You can imagine teachers singing to little children: “Mother in the kitchen cooking rice, father in the parlour watching news…” What does that tell us? It simply informs children that the role of the woman is in the kitchen! We want to help young boys deconstruct such gender-stereotypes they are erroneously taught in school. Hence, the mentoring of young people is actually one of those strategies that we are utilizing to end violence.
What are your challenges?
One of the challenges that we have is getting women to speak out. There is this culture of silence which is really standing as an impediment to the fight against violence, and we are now also saddled with the task of getting victims out of their shells. It’s actually not their fault; I believe the unfriendly atmosphere around us has a big role to play in this. We are trying to make them understand that they have innate potentials in them, and shouldn’t let themselves be pushed under the carpet. I believe that if women can have half the chance that men have, we’ll all see a great change in Africa; even in Nigeria.