Combatting gender-based violence (GBV) and placing it at the core of its development agenda will help Nigeria meet the growth challenges of the 21st century, leading industrialist and philanthropist Dr Seinye Lulu-Briggs has said.
Citing a World Bank report that states countries can only meet the development challenges of the 21st century with the full and equal participation of all male and female citizens, the philanthropist said reducing gender-based violence has to become a priority if Nigeria wants to meet her targets.
Dr Lulu-Briggs was the guest speaker at the African Women Lawyers Association (AWLA), Rivers State branch event commemorating the 2023 Pan African Women’s Day and 16 Days of Activism to end gender-based violence in Port Harcourt on Wednesday, October 25.
At the event themed ‘African Women in the 21st Century: Challenges and Prospects’, where her NGO, the O.B. Lulu-Briggs Foundation, received a Distinction Award for protecting the rights of women and children and selfless service to humanity, Dr Lulu-Briggs reiterated that empowering and liberating women is essential for unlocking Nigeria and Africa’s immense potentials.
She said, “Gender-based violence is among African women’s most vexing challenges in the 21st century. During the COVID-19 pandemic, rates of gender-based violence increased across the world. In Africa, the pandemic eroded women’s and girls’ hard-won accumulation of human capital, voice, agency and economic empowerment built over international development concerted efforts over the past three decades.”
Dr Lulu-Briggs lamented that despite most African countries ratifying the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the African Union’s Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, they have not translated into widespread improvements in the lives of African women.
“African women face challenges accessing land, credit, education, and healthcare. Gender-based violence remains alarmingly prevalent, with significant economic costs,” she said.
The Chairman of the O.B. Lulu-Briggs Foundation noted further that “In Africa, the prevalence of intimate partner violence ranges from 10% to nearly 40%, some of the highest rates in the world. In Nigeria, one in three women has experienced domestic violence, physical, mental and sexual assault, forced and/or early marriages, and female genital mutilation by age 15.”
The guest speaker shared her unpleasant widowhood experiences and said widows should not be “invisible and at the mercy of ‘the patriarchy’ and ‘harmful cultural practices and traditions.”
She said her harrowing, protracted and unpleasant ordeal gave her a deeper understanding of African women’s undue suffering and pain in the 21st century because of their gender. It further fueled her passion for assisting vulnerable women.
The industrialist said, “Since I became a widow, I have paid particular attention to issues concerning widows. One in 10 African women 15 and older are widows, 72% being heads of families. And at any time, 3% of African women aged between 15 – 49 are widows.
“The experience gave more meaning to my longstanding humanitarian work to improve the plight of the undeserved, the voiceless and the vulnerable majority in our midst in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
“At the O.B. Lulu-Briggs Foundation, we have supported the International Federation of Women Lawyers, FIDA Rivers Branch’s work to tackle discrimination and violence against women for many years. However, when I became a widow, I was compelled to do more, to support widows and to raise the visibility of our plight in 2019.
“Through the Widows Support Project, in partnership with AWLA, we reinvigorated this line of intervention by providing widows in Rivers State pro-bono legal assistance, skills training and financial support for the businesses of the widows of the Nigerian Army’s Division 6’s fallen soldiers and scholarships to ensure that their children remain in school. We also provided support for advocacy to address the discriminatory treatment of widows and their children. This work has been greatly facilitated by the Rivers State Widows Legal Assistance Toll-free 24/7 hotline- 0800 0023 111, which we launched on June 24, 2020, International Widows Day. The hotline was the first intervention in Nigeria, and it has been a lifeline for hundreds of widows.”
She thanked human rights defenders and organizations, including AWLA and FIDA, who fight to end widows and their children’s suffering.
Mrs Lulu-Briggs stressed that more advocacy and outreaches are required.
“As women, we should stop convening and discussing these critical issues only amongst ourselves, especially at forums like today’s. As a top priority, we must engage, include and carry along the movers and shakers, cultural and religious gatekeepers and influencers in our communities. We know who they are – business, religious, political, civic, traditional, youth, women and community leaders. The majority are male, and many believe, uphold and promote the very practices and social/cultural norms we seek to transform.
“We can and must win them over with facts and figures to make them champions for the cause of ending gender-based violence who can speak to their peers and build a movement that understands why ending gender-based violence will help accelerate development goals.
“It is also vital for us to win over and educate women and girls who believe in the harmful cultural practices that promote gender-based violence. They, too, must become active campaigners to end gender-based violence.”
She further cautioned against isolating and harassing victims of gender-based violence but ensuring they get all the support and encouragement they need to speak up, get treatment and seek redress in the legal system.
She said this is in addition to investing in the education and training of women and youth, encouraging women to participate in governance and being ethical citizens that promote the rule of law.
The Pan African Women’s Day, established on July 31, 1962, in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, serves as a day to pay tribute to the invaluable contributions of African women to national political independence and economic growth.
Dr Lulu-Briggs ended her speech by encouraging everyone to lend their support to ending gender-based violence by participating in the 16 Days of Activism to End Gender-based Violence. It is a global campaign that begins on November 25, 2023, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, and concludes on December 10, World Human Rights Day.