Women need quality representation not percentage – Barr Gozie Udemezue


 

Who is Udemezue?
I am a Barrister from Ogidi in Anambra state, and the founder of Healing Hearts Widows Support Foundation (HWSF) Inc. I am the youngest child from a family of six children; four girls and two boys. I grew up partly in Enugu state but when I lost my mother at the age of eight I moved to Ogidi in Anambra state to live with a relative, who raised me in a strict Christian home with a lot of Christian teaching.

I lived in Ogidi until I went to the University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN) to study Political Science, which I did for three years before I moved over to study law at Enugu State University of Technology (ESUT).

I am happily married to a businessman man from Enugu-Ukwu in Anambra state and I think Enugu-Ukwu is the best town in Nigeria because they take pride in taking care of their wives.

What would you say is the role of women in nation building?
The role of women in the development of any nation is so enormous that the world cannot be interesting to live in without the woman. I am very fulfilled being a woman because it gives me the opportunity to not just be a girl, a female, a woman and a lady, it gives the opportunity to also be a mother, a wife and not just mother to your children but being able to be a mother to other people beyond your children.

What was your childhood dream and what inspired you into catering to widows needs?
I would have been a show girl, like media fancy TV person that is what I would have loved to be. I wanted to be a judge, to exercise power and authority, I love influence and the authority but I didn’t know God had other plans until that day in 2006 when I found out that I was supposed to do what am doing now.

For two years I was still meditating and contemplating doing this because it was not glamorous and for me working with widows moving from one community to another that wasn’t the excitement.

For two years I did not want to do it, I tried to negotiate with God but the more I tried to ignore, the more the need for me to help widows grew and so in 2008 I decided to heed the call and take it as a passion.

Do you regret not being a fancy TV person?
Not at all; when I look back now seeing all I have achieved and how I have impacted the lives of the less privileged, I feel happy. I still have my law office in Abuja which I run with a partner and we have another office in Chicago. I make money from practicing law both in Nigeria and Chicago and I use the money to sustain the Foundation.

There is a difference between profession and purpose, you might be in a profession and is just to make money and you are miserable. I have found my purpose and am happy.

Any week I have crusade and medical mission is like my happiest week, because once they are bringing the items; like cloths, drugs, foods and other things, I know there are widows somewhere whose tears would be wiped away once they see me and my team.

What does the Foundation do and what would you say are your greatest achievements?
I must say a lot and what makes me happy is the fact that I am able to reach out to someone and bring smile on the face of the person. I work with widows generally; I work on their issues affecting them like catering to the needs of their children, free medicals for them and so on.

I started this as a personal project; giving loans to widows on my own and started with my husband village and at a point I started trying to raise money from my friends and they say what is the name of your organisation and I realise I didn’t have any organisation and I was just giving money in my name and they said no you have to have an organisation.

That was how the whole process started, but I didn’t want a structure, I just wanted to help people because I just wanted to be a lawyer and practice law and end up as Judge.

Along the line I found myself registering a Foundation and my vision in the next five or 10 years is to be able to support other organisations that work with widows.

We also have interest loan scheme for them and advocate for their well-being in the communities by talking to the leaders at the community.

How do you cope and does your husband support you?
Let me be honest I don’t know if any other man can trust and support me like my husband does because I am always traveling.
After God, he is the next person that I owe everything because I know many women who still lag behind because of the kind of men they got married to.

Over the years my husband has been able to provide all the support I need even though he feels my absence.
Combining being a mother, wife, and daughter to my aged father, who is over 90 years, is not easy but I enjoy doing so.

Are you saying you don’t have challenges?
Challenges are part of life and I have a lot of it. There are times I will be far away from my family and I will just want to be with my family. Another challenge is my health and then men wanting to have an affair with me.

Again, when it come to the work I do the culture of the Igbos which sees the widow as being nobody because the man is not there. I have had a widow whose husband corpse was in mortuary and she was told that she will swear an oath and that they will wash the man’s skin and give her the water to drink to exonerate her that she didn’t kill her husband.

Yet, she had the burden of raising money to give her husband a befitting burial so she was under pressure and ran around to raise money. She had to sell a piece of land and this piece of land is the only property they had kept for their children but she sold it just to bury the man.

Where do you hope to see the Foundation in the future?
I am looking at the next five years and what it holds. I am seeing the Foundation being a funder, funding grassroots widow’s organisation and helping other groups to survive. That is where I want to take it to.

How would you assess human rights enforcement in Nigeria?
I don’t want think about Nigeria as a whole, let me narrow it down to the South-east and particularly to women and girls, a lot of who face discrimination.

In every stage of a woman’s life there is one kind of violation or the other. You go to certain homes and they will tell the male child go and play football while the female child will be told to go to the kitchen but is not done in my house and now my son is one of the best cook in the house. Though times are changing gradually and the level of discrimination is not as high as it used to be.
Recently they nullified this police act that said before a police woman gets married the commissioner of police where she is serving must approve of the man before she will get married to him but it must be within a period of time after her engagement in service. That was a gross violation of right of a woman.

I could remember the second time I went to immigration to get my passport renewed they asked me to go and get a letter of consent from my husband and it caused trouble because I refused to do that. The day my husband renewed his own he didn’t get a letter from me, why should you asked me to get a letter from him.

You will go to police station as a woman to bail a suspect they will tell you, you are woman that you cannot process bail the person, Why?
There is no where it is anywhere; in the Criminal Code and even in the Constitution, it is nowhere. When you look at the human rights provision of 1999 Constitution, Section 42 talks about non-discrimination based on sex, religion among others, they violate all those things even in the churches, banks and many other sectors but for me widows face the worst type of violation of human rights.

Do you think gender equality is achievable in Nigeria?
For me, it is not in the percentage, even if it is one percent but is the quality of representation. Assuming you had 35 per cent of women in governance, what is the quality of the 35 per cent?

The affirmative action is a good idea but let there be quality representation, it is not in the quantity, but the quality. In quality in such a way that whatever they do up there get down the level of poverty at the grassroots where there is high poverty rate amongst women.
There is a programme run by the US department of state called International Visitors Leadership Programme, the PTF will train you to go down to the grassroots and touch people.

There is another programme run by ASPEN, it is a leadership institute in the US and I was on that programme for two years and part of it moves you from success to significance.

Yes, you have succeeded in what you are doing, how significant is that success to the people in the grassroots? The level of poverty is disgusting, I work a lot in rural areas.

What would you advise women and Nigerians in general?
I would say be happy always and hope for the best. I wish we could do things the way civilized people do theirs. It is not rocket science to achieve this thing, if we show more love and care to one another the society will be better for all.

Another election year is coming up, let our politics be more genuinely issue based campaign where the best hands have the opportunity to lead us and not because the person is from a particular political party.

It is disappointing that our parties and their manifestoes are conflicting you don’t even understand what the issue is about, but you go to other countries you will find out that look this is what we stand for. In Nigeria this moment they are in this side next moment they are in the other side and is money-based politics.

Though things can be corrected, I am very happy being a Nigerian no matter how rough things are and no matter how bad things seem to be am still a Nigerian.




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