Who really am I? Every one of us in this hall today have asked ourselves that question at one point or the other in our lives, but today, I ask this question in a pretty different sense. As a young man and student, thinking about the future, it has happened to me to ask myself the question: what is our role in shaping our communities, our countries, and the global society at large? And I am here to explain how some bad experiences in my country led me to become a gender activist.
I am a 19 year-old man from Nigeria, a country marred by violence of so many sorts. Growing up in Lagos exposed me to the enormity of harm that violence can wreck on a people. Specifically I connected with young women who were in terrible physical and psychological conditions because of gender-based violence. Simply put, in Nigeria, being a female is the social equivalent of having “violate me” boldly inscribed on your forehead. It is indeed common there to hear a neighbor prevent his daughter from going to school, or to read stories on the dailies of women who were killed by their husbands’ due to battering.
However, this problem, and seeking a solution to it, affects me in a way that is complex and intricate. In such a conservative society, people find it quite strange the fact that a teenage male advocates for women’s rights. These negative experiences led me to the creation of Calabar Youth Council for Women’s Rights (CYCWR); a non-profit that advocates for the rights of women in the areas of female genital mutilation, domestic abuse, forced child marriage, and access to education for the girl child.
The CYCWR targets rural community members, to educate them on the dangers of gender-based violence, and changes their perspectives through intervention programs. We also educate to eradicate the menstrual stigma that girls on their periods’ experience in schools and communities. The most important tool we have is our ability to create meaningful conversations with people, through strategic social change communication to ensure lasting solutions to the cultural and structural problem of gender-based violence. We work with the broader African-network of change led by the Girl Generation amplifying the voices of individuals and organizations in the Africa-led movement against FGM and all other sorts of gender-based violence. We are starting to see a huge cultural shift. The tolerance of the heinous violence against women and girls is diminishing. It is amazing to see people who had lost hope become empowered. It inspires me to remain unyielding. We are currently working with the government to domesticate anti-FGM laws in the State through effective policy-making and enforcement.
Specifically, we are drafting a bill for legislative absorption that will include anti-FGM and gender –based violence pedagogy in the curricula of all secondary schools statewide and compulsorily create gender clubs in all schools, where we will provide comprehensive social change training for teachers and student leaders. We work with the broader network of the Girl Generation in ten African countries including Sudan, Kenya and Somalia (countries with the highness rate of FGM in the world).
Collectively our work has ended FGM in over 200 communities and very recently, FGM was banned in Boki Local Government Area of Cross River State, where I live and work. To solve the problem, we must engage with the culture of people, ensuring that in 20 or 30 years from now, respecting and not abusing women will be part of the culture! As a matter of fact, the issue of gender inequality is so rooted in the Nigerian society that – over 90% of all recently reported FGM cases were carried out by women (mothers, grand daughters and native doctors). – Furthermore, several girls among the population still consider it as a normal practice, not realizing the reprehensible nature of this practice. This includes reaching out to communities, and positively changing the gender perspectives that women have about themselves.
Thanks to the network and resources from our partners, such as the Girl Generation, we are going to reach out to rural communities and to specifically educate women to enable them to understand the reprehensible nature of this practice! If women refuse to carry this out, it will be stopped in most societies. My desire is for a society where we go beyond peace treaties to create a culture of peace. Another goal of ours is to help women report cases of FGM through partners in villages and provide education on the use of modern technology around main urban cities.
Due to the high rate of rural – urban migration, currently there is a higher concentration of FGM cases in the urban cities in Nigeria. To achieve that, we are currently working with Ceraphys to build a mobile platform aimed at empowering individuals with anonymous medium to report genderbased violence, including attaching photo and\or video evidence. Ceraphys is a social network owned by Young Nigerian entrepreneur Kachi Nwani for social activism. It is a platform for the youth to connect to foster social courses. It was designed to allow for political discussion, debate and easy dissemination of information. It will also equip law enforcement agents with a report-management system – to ensure adequate information, deterrence and adequate arbitration of justice for victims. I am resolute because I believe in the ethical underpinnings of social justice and the power of a culture of peace and gender equality.
As a matter of fact, In the course of my work, I have worked with various women who are very remarkable. Outstanding amongst them is Ms. Mirabelle Morah: the Director of Operations of the Calabar Youth Council for Women’s Rights. She founded BlankPaperz, a platform that creates social change by spreading awareness and stories of change to empower young people – from victims of sexual assault, to those grappling with mental health issues – to tell their stories and express parts of their personality through creative writing. Her work has been recognized by President Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) and the US Department of State in February and July 2017 respectively. She is an example of a woman changing the narrative of what it means to be female in Nigeria.
She is also involved in a lot of volunteering work with CYCWR and BlankPaperz in secondary schools in Calabar to ensure women can continue studying after primary schools. I think that the emergence of visionary leadership is necessary to develop a nation, and I believe in the power of youth to rise to the occasion where necessary and assume responsible leadership. As a global community, if we are to build sustainable structures of peace and growth, it cannot be founded on the morally reprehensible principle of exclusion. THANK YOU