By Chidi Nkwopara
HONESTLY, I have not ceased to ask if being a woman, or if you like, a girl child, is a curse in Nigeria. And I have several reasons for thinking this way. This is not to say that this writer is infallible. A few examples will suffice at this juncture.
In my Igbo society, for instance, a woman can be subjected to giving birth to as many as 12 babies, all in the quest of getting a male child! Similarly, a family can force a man to marry a second wife if the first is “unable” to bear a son.
No man ever stops to think that the fault may not be entirely that of the woman. It is even worse when no child comes forth after nine months of marriage! Child bearing must be automatic or the lady will be in for a big and unimaginable trouble.
Tongues will, rightly or wrongly, start wagging. You will hear things like: ‘Oh, why should you expect the girl to give us babies? She obviously lived a lose and wayward life as a spinster. Why did our son bring home a woman who destroyed all the eggs in her system before marriage? So, you don’t know that our son sadly married a fellow man.’
What is said about the woman in this state of affairs is legion. The woman pines in serious agony. She becomes a willing prey to all manner of new testament prayer warriors, fake friends, advisers and herbalists. They are ready to take all manner of concoctions. She is desperate about proving that she is fruitful.
From day one of a girl’s life, she is usually made to understand that she will end up being somebody’s wife. In marriage, she drops her maiden name and adopts her husband’s family name, for peace to reign. Beyond the foregoing, a girl-child is traditionally sentenced to doing all the house chores, while the male child gets all the parental care he can possibly get.
If the fortune of the family thins down, it is the girls that are readily given away as house helps or married off at very tender ages. Again, in some families, even in our today’s world, the boys are given unfettered access to Western education at the expense of the girl-child.
It is no longer news that a number of innocent female minors have continuously been violated by crazy adults, including their fathers, relations, teachers, family friends and randy marauders. Our collective morality seem to have become so low that the rest of us are worried about where the nation is heading to with all these reported happenings.
Now, let’s fast-forward the plight of the woman to when she loses her husband. She is made to pass through very harmful, despicable and atrocious widowhood practices. The woman is, most times, accused of killing her husband.
As a way of proving her innocence, she is made to drink the water used in bathing the dead body. Shaving her hair, wearing black cloth and looking haggard constitute the cheapest punishment she must go through as a widow.
There are also stories about how her husband’s siblings forcefully appropriate the property of the dead man leaving the woman and her children with absolutely nothing to fall back on. Stories are told about how the widow and children are sacked from the house built by the late man or even jointly built.
I do not know how else violence against women can be aptly described.
In Nigeria’s political firmament, the only position completely reserved for our women is the largely inconsequential “Women Leader” and “Commissioner for Women Affairs” in states that deem it fit to create such an office.
These facts and more led to the Beijing Conference, and that was how the 35 per cent affirmative action was born. Sadly, this has not moved further than the piece of paper on which it is written.
Women have since then continued to suffer all manner of deprivation and violence to the chagrin of some male and female patriots, including Mrs. Nkem Fab-Ukozor, an Associate Professor of Mass Communication, Imo State University, Owerri.
Fab-Ukozor and Dr. Alexander Chuks Onyebuchi think that journalists can help to reshape or change the status quo, and in a bid to achieve the purpose, they floated Media and Gender Enlightenment Initiative, MEGEIN.
Under the sponsorship of World Association for Christian Communication, WACC, the duo came up with “Reporting Guidelines for Mainstreaming Violence Against Women, VAW, Practice Codes and Policy Framework”.
In their considered opinion, they threw up 15 reporting guidelines which include, but are not limited to: “Language that degrade women should not be used in reporting cases related to Violence Against Women, VAW. This will ensure that the readers pay more attention to the act rather than the words used to describe the women and/or the girl-child.
“Men should not be reported in VAW stories in a way intended to shade or justify their action. Words that show the impact and implication of VAW stories should be used to indicate the seriousness of the story.
“Reports of VAW, which have prominent figures as perpetrators to a crime, should not be reported with the intention to protect their image or identity. When police officers are alleged to have committed crime in relation to VAW, news stories on these events should not be written as if officers cannot commit such crimes.
“Stories on VAW should be written from the woman’s rights perspective, especially as it affects the rights of women as contained in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, CEDAW.”
Violence Against Women is real. It does not seem to concerned minds that it is abating. Except we bring this to the front burner, the crime will sadly remain on the increase. Since there is the strong belief that media professionals can play vital roles in changing the narrative, we need to encourage them to achieve the desired goal.
To enrich stories on VAW, especially where the crime is grievous, accounts from different sources such as authorities, eye witnesses and parties to the issues, should be used to enrich the story and increase its prominence and believability.
The above notwithstanding, media professionals should avoid using gory pictures. Images they use in their reports should not be offensive to the eyes. Similarly, the images of violated minors should not be used in stories, as they have the propensity to tarnish their image.
Much as we appreciate the ongoing work of MEGEIN and WACC, everyone should be involved in the war against VAW. It is achievable in this day and age, but we need patriots to drive it. I am prepared to be part of the fight, but what about you?
*Nkwopara, a journalist, wrote from Owerri.