Erica Williams

Erica Williams (WOCON – Women’s Consortium of Nigeria): Erica worked at the Leadership Alliance Summer Research Early Identification Program at Howard University, in Washington, where she organized material for the African Burial Ground Project. Between 1999 and 2001 Erica worked and studied in Venezuela, Brazil and South Africa. In South Africa, she conducted historical and ethnographic research at the University of Western Cape. Erica studied for her BA at New York University, where she received several travel and research scholarships and volunteered for several different organizations: Students Active for Ending Rape (SAFER), WomenCare, Face to Face International, The Center for African Spiritual Culture, InI Performance Club, NYU, Golden Rose Awards Banquet Committee, NYU. She also served as Editorial Assistant, Academic Achievement Program Newsletter, NYU. At the time of her fellowship, Erica was studying for a Master's degree in African Studies at Yale University and preparing to start a Ph.D. in Cultural and Social Anthropology at Stanford University. Erica asked many probing questions of AP’s new fellowship program, in person and through her final evaluation: “At the orientation, I noticed the beginning of a possible conflict of interest when I learned that interns were expected to engage in capacity-building at their organizations. But I questioned my ability as a 23 year-old student to tell a 50 year-old experienced, renowned human rights lawyer and activist how to run her organization. Perhaps this is the cultural anthropologist in me, but AP, myself, and future interns must recognize their position as outsiders to Nigeria and to WOCON. Being in that tenuous position creates a dynamic where it is difficult to tell people what they should do, because as outsiders we’re not even accustomed to living in their environment." “For instance, with my office experience in the U.S., I’m used to organizing files in labeled manila folders and hanging file folders in file cabinets. Thus, I found WOCON’s filing system of long folders in a multi-shelved closet impossible to understand. But it works for them. My work experience in the U.S. has also trained me to write out my daily activities, allot a specified amount of time to tasks, and rely heavily on the computer. This is an unattainable goal in Lagos because of the constant unexpected power outages and the fact that sending two emails can take you upwards of two hours. Future interns should be fully aware of the challenges they will face in Nigeria, and even then they may still have trouble adapting to the environment.” Erica also found Lagos to be hard work: “The daily struggles of life in Lagos were another challenge. Constant power outages, traffic jams, torrential rains and floods, painfully slow internet service, and the week-long fuel strike all conspired to make my work more difficult.”

A Great Way to End Sexism

27 Jun

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