From June 23 to 27, Mrs. Bisi Olateru-Olagbegi organized a week-long gender sensitization training for judges, lawyers, and magistrates from all over the country in her capacity as the national coordinator for WiLDAF (Women in Law and Development in Africa). The goal of the workshop was to build the target group’s capacity to engage in “judicial activism” and effectively advocate for women’s human rights. The program educated the participants on women’s rights issues, violence against women, and international instruments that guarantee women’s human rights such as CEDAW (The Convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women) and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights.
The workshop was innovative and exceptional because it didn’t fall into the usual trap of “preaching to the converted” by reaching out to people with an interest in women’s rights issues. Rather, WiLDAF hand-selected participants who were directors of organizations or leaders in their communities because of their ability to influence others with their newfound gender sensitivity. WiLDAF gave the participants ten copies each of different brochures to distribute to their colleagues, and required that they submit contact information of at least ten people to whom they would distribute the materials.
The interactive structure of the workshop allowed for maximum participation from everyone present. When discussing discrimination against women, Mrs. Olateru-Olagbegi allowed participants to call out their ideas. This was an excellent opportunity for me, as an outsider, to hear what issues are facing Nigerian women. A few examples of discrimination that women in (some parts of) Nigeria face include a lack of inheritance rights, oppressive widowhood practices, lack of access to political positions (less than 3% of political positions in Nigeria are occupied by women), and discrimination on the job (women are sometimes required to get a letter of consent from their husband before transferring to a job).
Another issue that was raised was that of female genital circumcision. It was stated that 60% of Nigerian women are circumcised. Some of the men said that the practice prevents promiscuity, but Mrs. Olateru-Olagbegi pointed out that three quarters of sex workers are circumcised. She also highlighted the effect of Structural Adjustment Programmes on women, saying that “after SAPs so many men became bread-eaters while women were winning bread all over the place.”
Whenever the men said sexist things, which they often did, the women were quick to correct them. When talking about domestic violence, a few men said that women bring it upon themselves by nagging their husbands when they come home. In discussing rape, there was an argument over whether penetration is a necessary element of rape. According to the legal definition of rape as “unlawful carnal knowledge without consent,” rape does not require penetration. Not satisfied with that conclusion, the men went on to point out how some women dress provocatively, which was immediately shot down by the women who argued that they’re still not asking to be raped, and that men should be able to control themselves.
Marital rape was another controversial topic. The speaker said that in Nigeria, three quarters of women are raped by their husbands the first time they have sexual intercourse. Many of the men refused to believe that marital rape exists. Instead, they argued that upon marriage, husbands gain unlimited sexual access to their wives because of an “implied consent” and the fact that wives no longer own their bodies.
The workshop taught me that sexism is hard to unlearn, but at least people are trying.
Posted By Erica Williams
Posted Jun 27th, 2003