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August Meeting 2019: Matters arising

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Family health, women empowerment, social safety net

 OVER the years, women and the girl child have been treated with disdain. Despite the clamour from worried observers about these hydra-headed problems, programs, conferences, workshops and summits, among others organised to consider issues of women marginalization, nay girl child abuse seem to be treated with kid gloves.

During the 2019 August Meeting,  various women organisations assembled in their various communities to share ideas on the these challenges, ranging from child marriage, all forms of slavery, rape, criminal and savagery acts and obnoxious practices violating  women rights in virtually all 179 communities in Anambra State.

The questions paramount in the discourse were: If women do not have the locus standi to contest and participate in the affairs of this nation- in all ramifications, where are we heading to? If the girl child is abused domestically, denied education and all other attendant human right infringement, are we complete as a nation?

Women and the girl child are the most vulnerable species and should be treated as such to enable them compete favourably with their male counterparts in all dimensions. The truth in the  saying that “Gone are the days when women are confined to the kitchen” is based on the woman’s level of empowerment.

Copiously leading all other states in the federation in setting agenda for women is Anambra State, which had series of women summits from various communities, as well as a state Women Summit, hosted by the wife of the governor, Chief  Ebelechukwu Obiano, which had both the wife of the president of the federation, Mrs Aisha Buhari and wife of the vice- president, Mrs Dolapo Osinbanjo, respectively, in attendance.

According to the President General of  Awka Etiti Improvement Union (AIU) Women Wing, Dame Dorathy Agbanyim, “kudos to Her Excellency for her giant strides, aimed at ensuring that women have equal status with their male counterparts in all works of life. She had taken the totem of ensuring that women and children are given a pride of place in the state and outside the state”.

Among the prevalent issues brought to the front burner in the 2019 August Meeting, early child marriage topped the list.

It would be recalled that sometime in 2018, the United Nations Women Africa disclosed that Nigeria has the highest child brides in the world with 23 million girls married off in childhood.

According to available reports, some 45 percent of Nigerian girls are married –usually against their will –from age 13 to 18, in some parts of the country. Not only are they denied their childhood, the society is also robbed of the harmony expected in homes with matured partners.

While there are no generally acceptable marriage age among the states, section 23 of the Child Rights Act makes it a criminal offence to marry a girl under 18 years and prescribes a penalty of five years imprisonment.

Unfortunately, this remains a salient issue as the matter is more complicated since some of the enablers of child marriage in our country include illiteracy, as well as religious and cultural practices.

Luckily, Anambra State is among the few states that are clamouring for advocacy of the girl child right as the government has gone on a wide campaign in highlighting the health, educational, economic, social and psychological implications of this practice.

Notable women of the state used the opportunity to brainstorm towards tackling the problems faced by women and further, mentored other women to be contributory factors in the wheels of development of the state as highlighted in the recent women summit, organised by Awka Etiti Improvement Union (AIU), Women Wing.

The summit was organised among other things, to address some of the retrogressive practices that inhibit the progress of girls and women, including child marriage.

According to Dame Dorathy Agbanyim, the purpose of the summit was to galvanise and amplify the efforts and strategies of the government in educating and empowering women. The summit also served as a platform for advocacy, policy dialogue and scaling up of initiatives by women mentors to ensure that women themselves are solution providers.

In her words, “this year’s summit was one with a difference as there were agricultural shows, health seminars and other programmes geared towards redirecting the steps of women for greater and better life.

Speaking further, Agbanyim observed that mothers of today seem too lazy and more inclined to western foods that are more quickly and easily prepared compared to  local delicacies which are healthier and richer in nutrients.

“Our mothers now abandon our rich cultural values and natural healthy foods to teach their children to do same. One of the major trusts of this summit is to draw the attention of our mothers to the damaging implications of this craze for western ways of life and redirect their steps back to our rich cultural values and healthy foods and encourage them to teach their children same. Mothers should tell their daughters the stories of their lives, perhaps these will help them to imbibe happier and healthier lives”, she emphasised.

Continuing, she added, “the inclusion of girl/child education lecture is to educate our children, especially daughters to a level of maturity and self reliance before giving them out in marriage. The health implications of early marriage are unprecedented.

It is disheartening to see mothers encourage and sometimes, even compel their daughters in their teens (less than 18 years) to go into marriage simply because the young men are seen to be rich”.

On the general assessment of the summit, she offered, “the Awka Etiti Women Summit was a huge success. It is just a replay of what the first lady has been doing already. She started it five years ago and since then, our women have been enjoying the gains. So many women have been empowered through her programmes and we decided to join her in the clarion call for women empowerment and development.

“The summit afforded them the rare opportunity of spending quality time with their fellow women, learn from one another, cool off, drive away hypertension and enjoy themselves, even though it was a  one-day programme, as this will reinvigorate them for greater exploits.

“Again there were lots of opportunities to gather information and acquire knowledge that will equip them better to face the challenges of time and more importantly, save our children and marriages from destruction and homes from breaking; thus achieving happier and peaceful society”.

On her part, the chairperson of the event, Prof Anthonia Muodumogo, expressed confidence that the gathering of policy makers, traditional and cultural leaders on the subject would help to get “a renewed spotlight and re-energise mothers to end child and forced marriage.

She added that strong mentorship and commitment of mothers are critical to winning the fight against child marriage.

Prof Muodumogo also noted that, “one of the ways to tackle early marriage is to ensure girls are compulsorily allowed to be in school till they complete their secondary education”.

The educationist further hailed the organisers for the launch of a platform where young girls and women can be inspired, especially in career pursuit, family life, entrepreneurial culture, health, politics and nation building, among others.

She went on to commend the wife of the state governor, Chief Mrs Ebelechukwu Obiano, for “taking the summit to the doorsteps of the women. “Osodieme had just won the heart of the women as she wades through the tumultuous torrents in creating a unity of purpose among the women in Anambra State.

“It is delightful to hear that through this August Community Tour, women are being rewarded and motivated to raise a new generation of young women.”

While the magnanimity of the action of the wife of the governor resonates as it pulsated with pomp across communities in the state, it is evident that lessons learnt during this tour included that women should now hold a broader women congress in their localities which is key to addressing more challenges being faced by women in Anambra State.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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