Hauwa Shekarau is the Country Director Ipas Nigeria, a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO), leading advocacy on women’s health rights in the country. She speaks to ENE OSANG on women’s health rights, the organisation’s intervention in breaking communication barriers between deaf women and health workers, stressing the need for every woman to have access to healthcare.
Ipas leads advocacy on sexual and reproductive health rights in Nigeria women, what can you say about the health rights of deaf women in the country?
For us at IPAS we are so glad to be associated with the Deaf Women Association of Nigeria (DWAN). You recall that in 2015 we did a project with them, together with the FCT administration to place sign language in the hospital and we were able to do that in about eight hospitals of the FCT.
It was a one year programme that was supported by the Australian Aid Organization. That was a pilot project, we tried to show that it is possible to have a sign language interpreters in the hospitals, because when people who have hearing impairment come to the hospital to access medical care and they are not able to communicate effectively with the doctors, nurses, and the other health providers, it is a challenge.
We did that for one year and it was a very successful project. Then we carried out an advocacy; we went to the minister of health and he promised us that in the next budget, provision would be made and I think we need to hold them accountable.
I am so happy that the US embassy has supported DWAN to train the health care workers meaning that it is not just bringing a sign language interpreter from nowhere to the hospital, now they are staff of the hospitals that are trained on sign language. What it means is that any time a deaf person comes to the hospital there is somebody who can interpret between the patient and the health personnel which I think is very remarkable.
I thank the FCT health department for facilitating this and also commend the US government for supporting the project.
Does Ipas have plans to step this project down to states?
Well, the journey of a thousand miles starts with a step so this is the first step in the right direction. We need to commend the government for taking this step. The next thing is to advocate and make sure that states do the same thing because like you rightly said it’s just a drop in the ocean but it is better than doing nothing.
As some will say the problem is so huge we cannot do it all at ones, but if we continue to wait until we have all the resources that we need we may not be able to achieve the aim.
Why is IPAS particular about deaf women?
Yes, we are known to be an organization that promotes women health that advances their reproductive health and rights, a chance encounter with deaf women opened our eyes to the great challenges that they face. So, if we are advocating for women’s health what it means is all women, not just able bodied women but also women who are physically challenged and those with other disability, should be carried along. There’s this cliché: ‘leave no one behind’ and we are committed to it.
When we are talking about women we want to know that we are carrying along everybody, the able bodied and the disabled, and for us the entry point is the deaf women. We hope with available resources we will expand so that we can live up to the cliché of leaving no one behind and that is very important.
How will you access women’s health rights implementation and access to health in Nigeria?
The reality is that we are not where we used to be. We have made some incremental progress but we are definitely far from where we should be.
It is a work in progress and we cannot achieve all we have to do overnight. For instance, we have policy documents that we are able to get in place, the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act (VAPP) passed at the national level in 2015 is a huge milestone and today about nine states in Nigeria have adopted it. What it means is that we are making progress.
IPAS is supporting the passage of VAPP in Kano, Jigawa, Gombe, and Taraba states. We are pushing the Civil Society Organisation (CSO) in those states to continue to push the passage of this law and before we know it, most of the states would adopt this bill and it will be for the betterment of our women and men as well. When this is in place, the next step is to begin to insist that it is implemented to the latter. Rome was not built in a day, we are not where we want to be but we have made some milestones.
We also have policy documents in place like the standard and guidelines for the management of health provisions of VAPP and this was done by the federal ministry of health with the support of Ipas and it is being placed in different hospitals to ensure that this happens. So, we will continue to push until we get to that place where we want to be.