By Eric Elezuo
It was no different from a one on one meeting when some of the society’s best gathered via virtual to celebrate the fifth edition of the Voice of Women (2020) Conference, a programme of the Women FM 91.7
The 2020 edition of the Voice of Women (VOW) Conference, which was anchored by veteran broadcaster, Ambrose Somide, featured series of topics bordering on gender relationships, and had Men Voices Against Gender Based Violence as its general theme. This year’s edition took a different turn as instead of women, men and boys took centre stage and lent their voices against gender-based violence, especially against the female folks. It was an all men affair, but in favour of the women!
From the panel of discussants, keynote address makers, special guests responders and others, men spoke glaringly against violence against women, and projected various avenues women could escape violence. Some of the projected solutions were rooted in education, technology, law, security among many others.
Kick starting the event, the Governor of Plateau State, who doubled as the Chairman, Nigeria Governors’ Forum, Mr. Simon Bako Lalong, gave a passionate opening speech, where he eulogised the womenfolk while congratulating the Toun Okewale Sonaiya-led Women Radio for their steadfastness all through the five years it has existed as a specialised Radio station. He lauded the theme of the event as “not only appropriate, but timely considering the prevailing challenge we face on this subject.”
Governor Lalong noted with sadness that most of the violations women suffer are largely from people they trusted including friends and family members, and of course leaders who are supposed to protect them. He moved for the mindset of boys and men.
“Sometimes It is sad to note that some of our women and girls were violated and molested by people who were sometimes friends and family members. On other occasions, the violation was perpetrated by leaders who are supposed to protect them. This is a sad development that we must end without further delay.
“As we advocate for a safe Nigeria for our women and girls, we must change the mind-set of our men and boys to not only appreciate that women and girls deserve protection, but have rights and freedoms enshrined in the constitution as any of us. We must also make them understand that any violation of the rights of women and girls is a serious crime that carries weighty punishment under the law,” he said.
He noted that the NGF, which he leads has ‘declared a state of emergency on the increasing rate of sexual and gender based violence in the country’ and ‘resolved to ensure that member States promulgate laws with stiffer penalties against perpetrators of sexual based violence.
Speaking on Ending Violence Against Women and Girls Through Legislation in his address, the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, who was represented by Mr. Otive Igbuezor, identified that violence against the female folks is rooted in gender inequalities measured via social, economic and political yardsticks, saying that perpetrators must be brought to justice. He also called on women to stand up for women.
While acknowledging that gender-based violence also affects boys and men, he stated emphatically that women and girls are the ‘disproportionately’ affected. Omo-Agege was of the opinion that no man has any right to assault any woman except for self defence.
“As a Nation, we must resolve to have zero tolerance for these abhorrent acts of violence against our mothers, wives, sisters, daughters, grandmothers, aunties and friends. We must move quickly to address the legal and cultural challenges facing our womenfolk. But more importantly, addressing gender-based violence against women would require collective effort of every individual, especially men who are the most perpetrators, to stand up for the protection of women. Men should take more responsibility, intervene and do what is right to keep women safe. No man has a right to assault a woman for whatever reason, except of course in self-defense. It is a matter of inalienable right of persons to liberty.
“The time to hold perpetrators accountable has come. Religious leaders, community leaders, and traditional leaders should challenge men to stand up as protectors and not abusers of women. We can no longer look the other way while women are being abused next door or turn deaf ears to the cry of many women across our country for freedom from violence and sexual abuse,” the Deputy Senate President said.
In the same vein, the Kwara State Governor, Alhaji Abdulrahman AbdulRazaq, who spoke through his chief Press Secretary, Rafiu Ojekaiye, condemned violence against women, saying one of the ways to bring an end to the scourge is to introduce political inclusion for women and girls. He said his administration is achieving the standard as 56 per cent of his cabinet members are women.
The traditional stool was not left out in speaking out against gender-based violence as the Sarkin Yakingagi Sokoto, Alhaji Sani Umar Jarbi lent his voice, saying without women, humanity cannot achieve anything, and as a result must be handled with utmost care. He noted as well that there would be no progress without women engagement and gender equality.
The Director-General, National Associations of Chambers of Commerce, Industries, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA), Amb. Ayo Olukanmi, who took the first shot among the panel of discussant, in his assessment, recommended the He for She initiative, which he said is prolific, and asked for a radical socialisation of boys and education of men to sensitize them towards respecting women’s spaces.
Also, the Chief Executive Officer, Netherlands Business School, Prof. Lere Baale, added his voice on the call to end violence against women, saying that education remains the viable option to empower women. Using 17 parameters, among which is marketing, he described the superiority of women over men.
“Empowerment of women is a global imperative considering the fact that they account for about half of the world’s human potential. They should be given the best of education for the world to realise its full potential,” Baale submitted.
The event dovetailed into a one minute video commercial which showcased the journey of Voice of Women conference from inception in December 2015 to date.
But for the anti-corruption activist and Founder, Follow the Money, Hamzat Lawal, the message is simple, “let’s be good people’. He maintained while speaking on ‘What Should the Role of Men and Boys Be in a Social Nigeria’ that things just have to be put in their right places, and then the people we enjoy peace and security.
Lemmy Ughegbe, founder of Make a Difference Initiative echoed the voices of earlier speakers, adding that ‘education is the greatest vaccine to gender-based violence’.
Speaking on Law and Security as an avenue of tackling gender-based violence, a former Commissioner of Police in Lagos State and now, Special Adviser to Oyo State Governor on Security, Fatai Owoseni, canvassed for the straightening of the capacity of law enforcement agencies.
Mr Eric Onuoha was also on hand to lend his voice, saying violence against women can be adequately addressed through technology, especially with the rising influence of social media.
In his vote of thanks, the Chairman, Women Radio, Dr. Tunde Okewale, who was represented by Mr. Abayomi Sonaiya, appreciated all the guest speakers and participants for their their contributions, acknowledging that with the voices raised, the lots of women will get a lot much better. He promised a greater event when the sixth edition is held on December 17, 2021
The 2020 VOW conference was sponsored by Action Aid Nigeria in partnership with Global Affairs Canada, and broadcast live via Zoom, AIT, Facebook, Women Radio and YouTube.