Gloria Blessing Ogodo is a member of the Board of Director International Committee of Women Living with HIV (ICWH) in West Africa in Nigeria. In this interview with ENE OSANG, she discloses reasons behind the organisation’s renewed advocacy on sexual and reproductive health rights of women and girls.
Tell us about ICWH advocacy visit to rural communities in Abuja?
There is rising cases of abuse and molestation of adolescent and young girls here in Abuja recently. The advocacy became important because parents need to be more enlightened on sexual and reproductive health and rights of female children.
Today, girls are being abused and molested rampantly and so we thought it is important to educate our parents on the need to give more time and attention to them. It is becoming a problem that some parents don’t give the necessary attention to their children.
When a girl child complains the parents should listen carefully to them before taking any actions because most abuses are done by close relatives.
Parents should be their children’s closest friends so the children, particularly the girls, would be free to open up to them. The girl-child needs to be talked to, loved, cared for and most importantly provided for because they have more needs than the boys.
What are these sexual and reproductive health rights?
Sexual and reproductive health rights is our campaign against forced marriages, early marriage, and more because we discovered that parents still give out their girl-child of 10, 11- 12 in marriage because of one need or the other.
These girls do not have rights on their own to say when they are ready for marriage or sex, and the culture and religion makes these children go into things they are not supposed to. So, in this case we are educating the girls on their rights.
The girl-child has right to when and who to get married to; right to education; and right to make other important decisions about their lives.
So, we are trying to give them the information that as a woman or girl they have the rights to say no to what they don’t want because it is no longer just about saying the girl will end up in the kitchen, they have the right to be empowered.
How can the girl-child defend her rights especially when violated by her parents or guardian?
That is exactly why we are bringing the message to the parents. We are educating parents on the dangers and disadvantages of early marriage because when the parents are well informed about this it will help them guide their children to the responsibilities ahead of them.
It is the parents that give out these girls in marriage and we are not resting in educating them to help the children’s future, while we educate the girls on what their rights are. Most importantly, we let the parents know it is their responsibility to ensure these children’s rights are respected.
Many other organisations like yours are doing this same advocacy but the problem persists, why?
We are getting this wrong because the two things that bind us are religion and culture. Religion doesn’t talk and preach about sex because the leaders feels that doing that will teach children what they are not supposed to know and thereby encourage children to have sex but the society today is not like that.
If you don’t teach these children sex education there are various ways for people to get them to get information and it is high time our parents know that with this era of technology the children are learning and seeing a lot.
There is a popular story of a woman who told her daughter not to let anyone see her pants because if anyone does she will get pregnant and this made the girl scared. So, while returning from school with friends they usually climb mango trees to pluck some mango while others will be down waiting to pick them. Since she didn’t want anybody to see her pant and get her pregnant as she was told she pulled her pant and put it in her bag before climbing the tree.
Other parents have told their girl-child things like: ‘Don’t let any man touch you because you will get pregnant if they do”. This is wrong information and it is high time parents talked about the facts, hiding information has not helped the girls. So, we need to let them see the need to give children the right information.
What is your advice to Nigerians?
Our parents need to listen and pay more attention to the girl child because sometimes even biological uncles may come to the house and molest their child in their absence. There are cases where uncles will take their nephew out and rape them, and even when the girl tries to tell the parents they won’t believe her because she is a child or even when such cases get to the police station the parents may refuse to pursue it and the Police sometimes refuse to treat the incident as crime.
We have had cases of child molestation and sexual harassment that we have taken to the police and even human rights lawyers but the victim, a woman who works with us now, didn’t get favourable response and she had to move out and rent her own apartment. She is taking care of her children alone
This is part of why we decided to amplify this advocacy.
We went for a programme in Nasarawa state and after distributing what brought us there we met some of the inmates, young people who were denied their rights to take their medication as HIV patients and this is wrong.
Again, sometimes a girl-child will be abused and brought to the police station and while investigations was ongoing the family would stop the case and claiming it’s a family issue and they would like to settle out of the police station. This child has been violated by either her brother or father or uncle and you call it family issue what is the fate of that girl? It is discouraging working to ensure justice and same people who should appreciate that will be the ones to say, “we are no longer interested in the case.”
So, what is lasting solution?
Let our laws be effective on the issue of rape that when anybody is caught violating or molesting any woman the person should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
We have taken this message to the police, we have gone to the national assembly to create this awareness and demanded that the promise on health issues be met and I believe if this is carried out we will have a better society.
We are calling out the government to support in strengthening already existing laws by ensuring justice is served in cases of sexual violence on girls and women in particular but most importantly, we as individuals must do our part by reporting the issue first and allow the authorities to do their work.