Marginalization of women in Nigeria tackled by aspiring young leader
Editor's note: This article was written by Kennedy Ekezie from Nigeria, one of the four delegates selected to share their success story during GYV’s session during the 2017 summer Youth Assembly at the United Nations. Find out how he made it below, in his own words.
I was born in a country that is scarred by violence of so many sorts. Growing up in Lagos, Nigeria, exposed me to the enormity of harm that violence can bring on people. Due to these experiences, I connected specifically with young women who were in terrible physical and psychological conditions, as a result of gender-based violence. It wasn’t uncommon to hear of a neighbor who would keep his daughter from going to school or read her stories about women who were killed by their husbands due to battery. My desire is for a society that not only has peace treaties but lives in complete peace.
As a teenager, I am usually discriminated by individuals, corporations and communities due to my age. Ageism is an affliction that bedevils the very foundation of the African society. In my home country Nigeria, remarks like “you’re too young, get me an older person to talk to” are very common. The horrible reality of ageism stifles the drive that generates solutions to social problems. I am a victim of ageism. Ageism afflicts Nigerian society and forms the fundamental core of how youths are treated. Young people are expected to remain pliant because they are young and it is a moral virtue not to complain and rebel against your elders when they cause social problems. This attitude forms the cognitive perspective of young people as “kids” from birth through their youths till they grow old, and the cycle of ageism and social problems continues ad infinitum. This ensures that many young people do not venture into productive efforts, either out of the fear of getting rejected (which is a legitimate fear in this context) or because they just think they are “not old enough” to do anything.
All of these negative experiences have enabled me to define what my role as part of the contemporary African youth should be. I decided I wanted to make a bold move to end a problem that affects about 91 million people in my country: the marginalization of women.
The rights of women are deeply disrespected for arbitrary cultural reasons. I founded the Calabar Youth Council for Women’s Rights (CYCWR): a non-profit organization that advocates for the rights of women in the areas of female genital mutilation, domestic abuse, forced child marriage and access to education for young girls. The CYCWR targets rural community members to educate them on the dangers of gender-based violence, and to change their perspectives through intervention programs. We also educate to eradicate the menstrual stigma that girls on their periods experience in schools and communities. We are starting to see a huge cultural shift. The level of violence against women and girls is slowly diminishing. It is amazing to see people who had lost hope become empowered. It inspires me to keep doing what I'm doing.
We are currently working with the legislature to domesticate anti-FGM laws 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 gender clubs in all schools, where we will provide comprehensive social change communication training for teachers and student leaders.
Despite the despair and social stigma that I experience for being a teenage male advocating for women’s rights in a conservative society, I am resolute because I believe in the ethical underpinnings of social justice and the power of a culture of peace and community as requisites for the growth of the individual and society.
We are currently building a mobile application named SpeakHere! to empower individuals with an anonymous medium to report gender-based violence, including the attachment of photo and/or video evidence. It will also equip law enforcement agents with a report-management system to ensure deterrence and adequate arbitration of justice for victims.
I know the upcoming of visionary leadership is necessary to develop a nation, and I believe in the power of the youths who can rise up to the occasion when necessary and assume responsible leadership.
If we are to build sustainable societies of peace and growth, we cannot build them on the morally reprehensible principle of exclusion.
Cover cartoon credit: Sergio Algeri/GYV