With the successful launch of W-Initiative – a programme designed for women, Access Bank is not resting on its oars as it strives harder to empower women in all areas of their lives. Their latest project, Access Women Network/Genesis House lecture titled “Empowering Women to End Violence” was part of the celebration of this year’s Women’s Day. Omolola Itayemi writes
Last Thursday, the head office of Access Bank located on Danmole Street, Victoria Island welcomed a gathering of women from all walks of life. This did not come as a surprise to many. It was women’s day and a day when Women Network and Genesis House held The Orange Lecture entitled ‘Empower Women To End Violence’. The lecture was in support of the Global Campaign to End violence against women. As expected, women of all ages were waiting to get registered.
After I was given my access pass, I took the elevator to the ninth floor. Access Bank is very passionate about women hence when they call for a meeting on women issues it is usually well attended. The well-arranged hall was almost half-filled when I arrived. A couple of minutes later, the event began.
Sunmbo Olatunji, head of Treasury, Sales and Trading, Access Bank Plc, presented her welcome address stating that there were 4.5 million victims of sexual violence in Nigeria. 98 per cent were women and girls. According to her, 700 million women worldwide were married as children while 250 million girls under age 15 were married. It is for this reason Access Bank has decided to support the 16-day campaign tagged ‘Orange the World’ declared by the United Nations to stop all kinds of violence against women.
“Violence against women or girl has become silently accepted in the society,” said Olatunji. “It is one of least prosecuted. The silence has to be broken now. There should be a place for family shelter when a woman is ejected for the home.”
Keynote speaker, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, a journalist and former member of the House of Representatives shared some of her experiences as a reporter for NTA. She narrated the experience of an 11 year old girl who was raped by two men, Alfa and Uncle Yomi. “The parents were poor and they couldn’t get justice,” she recalled. I had to get them out of the house. The girl is now a graduate of LASU.”
She also tells the story of a widow who had to bath with the water used to wash her husband’s corpse for two weeks. She was compelled to stay in the bush for seven days. “The widows are helpless in Nigeria,” she said.
In addition, she talked about the ordeal of a woman who was raped by two armed robbers in their house in the presence of her husband. “He said I can’t stand her. She should get out of my house.” With these numerous experience, Dabiri-Erewa was encouraged to pursue the Bill on Violence against persons into law. According to her, she worked with some NGOs to ensure the bill scaled through.
“It took us 12 years to get the bill passed into law. Violence against women is more endemic in Nigeria. One out of four women in Nigeria is a victim of violence. Every four women have been victims of violence. Children are being raped by relatives. When a woman is battered, it affects her psychologically. It comes with a lot of emotional trauma.”
One of the discussants and executive secretary, Sesor Foundation, Ier Jonathan-Ichaver said stopping the violence starts with individuals. “We have to examine our homes. We need to start examining ourselves as women. Until we start changing pour attitudes, we won’t see the change we need.”
Olufunke Baruwa, another discussant and CEO, Nigeria Women Trust Fund, was of the opinion that trafficking has nothing to do with gender. “You violate someone you think you have authority over. Trafficking has nothing to do with male or female. There are some people who maltreat their housekeepers. He or she is rendering you a service so you must relate with him or her that way not as someone you have power over.”
The third discussant, Sola Adeola, executive secretary, Freedom Foundation, argues that culture is key when issues relating to violence against women are discussed. “Culture is so entrenched in individuals. We must begin to talk about how we can change perceptions because some women believe it is a sign of love for their men to beat or punish them.”