Home Feature Women marginalization must stop – Funmi Falana

Women marginalization must stop – Funmi Falana

Barrister ‘Funmi Falana who is the wife of renowned lawyer, Femi Falana is the National Director of Women Empowerment and Legal Aid (WELA), a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) that defends the right of women and children.  In this interview with Efe Aghalokpe she speaks on the rights of the female child in Nigeria among other issues including marginalization.
Excerpts
Women are perceived as lesser beings not rational beings. Could this be the reason women are been relegated to the background on national issues?
Yes and its unfortunate because the law, all the laws applicable in Nigeria do not perceive the ladies and children that way, it is only the customs of some part of the country that sees women as such and women have continued to be treated as such. It should not be so, every law applicable in Nigeria presumes and also provides that a woman shall have equal rights with her male counterpart and as such a man and a woman should be treated equally before the law, so whatever situation and circumstance or disposition or practice that treats a woman or makes a woman a lesser being in subjection to a man is illegal under the law as applicable in Nigeria.
Is the government doing enough to protect the rights of the girl child in Nigeria?
No, no. unfortunately no, otherwise we would not see cases of the female children been abducted and taken away in marriage instead of been in the classroom. We have thousands of girls’ children been made house-helps and slaves, they are being sold outside the country and child trafficking has become so rampant. On a daily basis when you open the pages of newspapers, they are filled with reports of cases of under-aged girls been raped, so these are issues that continue to give us concern, it has become so worrisome as a woman leader am urging the government to give more attention to the girl child in the country and even in homes. The girl child is not given equal attention given to their brothers and I am saying this should not be so.
In advocating for the rights of the children and women, what are the achievements your organization has recorded?
We have tried as much in the area of domestic violence, rehabilitate victims of domestic violence, we have also done public enlightenment, and one of such is the programme we air on television every week. To enlighten the public about their rights, the people need to know that they have these rights before they can demand for their rights and sometimes when one don’t demand for one’s rights they don’t get there. The rights are applicable in our laws and the laws are just dormant. Women should take advantage of these laws; make good use of these laws. The organization enlighten people on the issues of rape and how parents could also teach their female children how to protect themselves from rapists, and how to discover a potential rapists, their disposition and countenance that suggest that they maybe dangerous to them, how to run away and protect themselves against such people.  We also enlighten people on the rights of the female child to education and we try as much as possible to rehabilitate some domestic violence victims, both women and children who have been victims of domestic violence. Some of these people we have gotten accommodation for them in the Lagos State homes, we also place some in different trade and vocational schools. We also on a regular basis visit the women prison to give legal aid to our women prisoners, one thing we have discovered in the course of going to visit women in prison, we discovered that about 90% of  women in prison awaiting trial for murder are women that fought with their husbands, the man died accidently as a result of the fight, when you also go the male department of the prison in kirikiri you discover that about 75% of  men awaiting trial for murder is as a result of fighting their wives and the wives died accidentally during the fight. When you ask them the cause of the fight, they are trivial issues; when I picked her telephone calls and she didn’t want me to do so and I asked who is calling, trivial issues that could be avoided and the embarrassment that goes with it. So we try as much as possible to preach peace in homes and we also advice the women if you notice violence reoccurring please speak out so that a counselor can intervene in your matter and try as much as possible to rehabilitate both the husband and the wife. Do not wait till the violence has gotten to a point when its too late for you to tell the story, as soon as you discover a violent situation as a woman, please leave the scene of the violence and report to an NGO, a human right organization, a police or somebody who can intervene and assist you because you must remain alive to tell the story.
What are the challenges  you encountered as a result of defending the rights of the girl child?
So many challenges, of recent last week I went to court to challenge some laws, specifically the law that says a victim of rape will need the evidence of a third party to collaborate her evidence before the perpetrator of the crime can be convicted. Usually this act is done in secrecy, nobody invites another party, it is not a dinner party that you invite a third party to come and witness, most times we don’t get collaboration and the offenders often goes scot free. We challenge that and the judge descended on me that I was bringing activism into what is suppose to be our culture, do I not remember that women can lie so much, and that didn’t I remember the case of portiphar wife and Joseph in the bible, the judge took it so personal and said the criminal code of the law took its root from the Bible and Koran that why do I want to change all that? That I should allow the customs to go on of a third party witness, why do I want to go on and cut off the custom? And I asked the judge, the judge of a federal high court, I said “My lord, the dress you are putting on, is it part of our custom? The language we are speaking is it our custom”? So when it is convenient for men they switch over to the customs and when it is not convenient for them they don’t bring in the customs. It takes a lot of courage for a lady to come out openly and say she is raped because of the stigma attached to it, most times they say they want to settle the issue out of court by doing so the offenders get away with the crime. These are the issues we are confronting and we also know that one day we would get there.
Don’t you think the poverty level in the country is a major factor that leads the parents of these children to give-up their female kids for marriage?
It may not be unconnected with the level of poverty and lack in the society, the economy crunch but it cannot be dissociated from the customary practice of our people. While some of us were growing you, the older generation than mine, then the female child would be asked to stay at home and trade while their brothers would be sent to school. In my own generation, some of my contemporaries were not sent to school, they would be asked to go hawk or get married. In the Northern part of the country, most female children are given out in marriage while their brothers go to school. So this has called for the disparity in the education and the economic empowerment of the woman and man. That is why the theme of the International women day this year is gender parity; we need to breach the gap between the man and the woman by sending our female children to school, by empowering our women economically and breaching the gap of marginalization. We should see more women in politics, in public office, and other areas. So women must be involved in decision making and governance, women must be sent to school, women must have a say in what we call the right to determination in the country.
The issue of modesty and chastity are no longer regarded in our society, is this a reason, the issues of rape, domestic violence are so rampart in our society today?
Modesty, chastity, the value judgment in our society has been turned upside down, gone are the days, when a girl will say I want to keep myself for my husband, people will say that is no longer fashionable. Modesty, decency, etc all these virtues have already taken the back seat which should not be so. All these are not in our customs and culture, to rape and violate girls. When the men commit this crime they forget our customs, traditions and culture, they want to debase the girl forgetting the fact that it not in our culture, but when it comes to boxing her, they remember the culture, customs and traditions. Most times they want to go the western way of taking the lady to bed and defiling her even before marriage.
They defend themselves by saying that to keep yourself for your husband after marriage is archaic. Why do you want to wait after marriage, its archaic, it is not fashionable, but when it comes to boxing the woman they remember the archaic culture, customs and traditions,  it’s so unfortunate. The moral laxity in the society is also part of the reason why we have men that molest girls. What people will frown at in the past, these days it is celebrated, they call it civilization. In those days for example if a man becomes suddenly rich, family members and the community will call him to question how he got the wealth by asking questions?. But these days, they will celebrate him and give him chieftaincy titles without bothering to know how he made his money. These are part of vandalizing our morals and value judgment in this part of the world.
What has your organization done so far, to curb the practice of girls taken out of the country to engage them in prostitution?
Public enlightenment, in one of our programme held recently the issue of child abduction was the topic, in some cases teenage girls are paid to have babies for them and they eventually buy the babies, some take girls outside the country for prostitution, there is an office that is set up to monitor all human trafficking and that is NAPTIP, they are to monitor this, there is a law, the NAPTIP act, the law that guides against human trafficking. People don’t make use of this law. Under this law it is illegal to have house-helps in your home, any domestic servant you want to have in your home should be above 18, any child under 18 should be in school, and they have no business being house-helps. Whoever has taken a child out of school for slavery or house-helps is guilty of an offence liable to imprisonment of three years. Our laws are there, the problem we have is not the absence of the laws but what we have is people do not make use of these laws. The laws are there dormant that is why our major assignment as the organization: Women Empowerment and Legal Aid (WELA) is to enlighten people, public enlightenment. In one of our programme, the issue of bastard was discussed. No child is illegitimate, people should stop saying that a child is illegitimate because that child was born out of wedlock, no. Any child given birth to is legitimate as long as the father acknowledges paternity, even if the child is given birth to out of wedlock as long as the paternity is acknowledge, the child becomes legitimate, no child is illegitimate and there is even a law under the Lagos State criminal law that specifies that any man that impregnates a lady not necessary under age, anybody that impregnates any woman must take responsibility of both ante-natal and post-natal, failure to do that comes with a jail term of six months. People will never report such cases, there are millions of ladies in Nigeria who have been impregnated by the men, the irresponsible men turn their backs at them but this law is a Lagos State law. Anybody in Lagos State can take advantage of the law. There are many irresponsible men who have impregnated girls in Lagos state, in their hundreds walking free, because nobody takes them up and the girls will not be able to speak out, they are shy, they are afraid of the stigma and the embarrassment. These are the issues that confront the organization and we have tried to take them up and move the rights of women.
What do you identify as an ideal situation for a woman?
An ideal situation for a woman is a situation when the man and a woman are treated equally before the law. Women must be allowed to take their proper position in the society. It was never a law but a practice and the practice is no longer practicable and should be taken away, gone are the days when they say the place of a woman is in the kitchen. The place of a woman is no longer in the kitchen; the place of a woman can be in Aso-rock, as a President of the country. We are looking forward to a woman becoming the president of America, Lady Clinton; we are looking forward to having a woman there at the white house.
So a woman can be a medical doctor, a lawyer, there are many judges of the high courts who are ladies, so we are saying that when you train your female child very well, when she grows up. She will become a responsible woman in the society you will be proud of. So what I am advocating is that the girl child is not an inferior person compared to her brother. So the female child must not be treated as such, she must be given proper education, women must be empowered and women marginalization should be removed from the practice of Nigeria. The government of  Nigeria, the politics in Nigeria should stop marginalizing women. Women should be allowed to take active part in politics and women should be given an adequate place in the decision making of the country.
Do you think the ego in a man will enable him flow on the same platform with a woman without being intimidated?
This situation is somehow connected to he customary in our society, the boys in our society grow up with this idea that they are superior to the girls; even the girls are more intelligent and educated. They don’t want to acknowledge that fact and this starts from the home when a child is given birth to, the first question the husband asks is what the sex is, the male child is celebrated while much attention is not given to the female child. The discrimination begins at birth and as they grow up, when the boy goes out to play football, the female child is made to do all the domestic chores at home. Even while the girl is a better material in school they still give the position to the boy, so these are issues that confront the female child. From childhood the boy child should be made to know that he is not superior to the girl child. The girl should not be treated as lesser being, because God created a man and a woman equally. The bible says that God created man and woman in his own image; in his own image he created them. The bible did not say the woman is created in a lesser image. The woman must be treated as such, not inferior to the guy.
What are your views on motherhood?
Motherhood is a responsible position, the mother’s input and impact of a mother will determine how responsible the mother is. What becomes of a girl child is determined by the input of the mother in the life of the girl child. That is why I encourage mothers to give their female children the best education because they are the pride of the Nation and also the future of tomorrow. Train the female child how to comport herself in presence of a dangerous opposite sex. The way you know a potential rapist, is through the disposition and countenance. In most cases the people who violate these girls are close friends of the family and relatives. Most times they offer gifts to the girls, teach your girl child not to accept gift from the opposite sex because this brings a closeness that opens up the girl child to be rape if she says no to the guy, as a mother you should be able to train your female child on how to relate to the opposite sex, teach the girl child how to take a sensitive flight when she notices any potential danger through the change in the way the man comes around her and the look in his eyes as it moves up and down accessing her body.
The manner and way ladies dress and expose their nakedness these days, don’t you believe the ladies are responsible for this act of been raped?
I disagree with the fact that the way ladies dress exposes and encourage the men to rape them. Why don’t we say when the men dress without putting anything on except their boxers on especially along the streets, sometimes men bring out their private part to pee on the road, why don’t they get raped ?. So why then do we say because the ladies are not dressing properly, the men are not better dressers and they don’t get raped? It still has to do with the discrimination and the mentality that women are sexual objects, even in homes. Thank God the law recognizes the fact that women are not sexual objects and should not be treated as such. Under the common law it said that the husband cannot rape a wife so if a husband forces the wife to have sexual relationship with her without her consent, it is rape and the husband can be sued. Judicial precedence, what that means is that when a matter is taken to court and adjudicated, whatever is the decision of the court becomes a law concerning that issue, depending on the superiority of the court, so if we do not take a law to court to verify its potency, we would not know if the law exists under some circumstance. That is why rights have constantly been violated, because ladies, especially women, they would not want to be confrontational in the home, they do not want to take their husbands to court. They do not want to challenge the negative situation they are passing through, they suffer in silence, forgetting the fact that nobody wants to give you your right except you demand for it. How then do you demand for your rights go to court, challenge such practices that violate your rights then your rights will be given to you.
What advices will you suggest to the government regarding the protection of the girl child?
My advice for the government is that they should please protect our female child and children generally because the constitution made it the right, duty and responsibility of the government to protect children including the female. The children and the female child are entitled to that protection. It is also the duty of the law enforcement agency to see that the children of this country especially the girl child who are vulnerable are protected. Of recent, the girl child has been victims of kidnap and abduction, abduction and kidnap are so rampart, an instance is the chibok girls, the three girls that were kidnapped in Babington College, Ikorodu, so many cases of children abducted for marriage. The rights of the girl child is violated through abduction and kidnap, they are given out in marriage at an early age, sold outside the country to practice prostitution, when they are suppose to be in the classroom. Am asking the government to please stand up to their duties and responsibilities to protect the rights of our children they are our leader of tomorrow.
They defend themselves by saying that to keep yourself for your husband after marriage is archaic. Why do you want to wait after marriage, its archaic, it is not fashionable, but when it comes to boxing the woman they remember the archaic culture, customs and traditions,  it’s so unfortunate. The moral laxity in the society is also part of the reason why we have men that molest girls. What people will frown at in the past, these days it is celebrated, they call it civilization. In those days for example if a man becomes suddenly rich, family members and the community will call him to question how he got the wealth by asking questions?. But these days, they will celebrate him and give him chieftaincy titles without bothering to know how he made his money. These are part of vandalizing our morals and value judgment in this part of the world.
What has your organization done so far, to curb the practice of girls taken out of the country to engage them in prostitution?
Public enlightenment, in one of our programme held recently the issue of child abduction was the topic, in some cases teenage girls are paid to have babies for them and they eventually buy the babies, some take girls outside the country for prostitution, there is an office that is set up to monitor all human trafficking and that is NAPTIP, they are to monitor this, there is a law, the NAPTIP act, the law that guides against human trafficking. People don’t make use of this law. Under this law it is illegal to have house-helps in your home, any domestic servant you want to have in your home should be above 18, any child under 18 should be in school, and they have no business being house-helps. Whoever has taken a child out of school for slavery or house-helps is guilty of an offence liable to imprisonment of three years. Our laws are there, the problem we have is not the absence of the laws but what we have is people do not make use of these laws. The laws are there dormant that is why our major assignment as the organization: Women Empowerment and Legal Aid (WELA) is to enlighten people, public enlightenment. In one of our programme, the issue of bastard was discussed. No child is illegitimate, people should stop saying that a child is illegitimate because that child was born out of wedlock, no. Any child given birth to is legitimate as long as the father acknowledges paternity, even if the child is given birth to out of wedlock as long as the paternity is acknowledge, the child becomes legitimate, no child is illegitimate and there is even a law under the Lagos State criminal law that specifies that any man that impregnates a lady not necessary under age, anybody that impregnates any woman must take responsibility of both ante-natal and post-natal, failure to do that comes with a jail term of six months. People will never report such cases, there are millions of ladies in Nigeria who have been impregnated by the men, the irresponsible men turn their backs at them but this law is a Lagos State law. Anybody in Lagos State can take advantage of the law. There are many irresponsible men who have impregnated girls in Lagos state, in their hundreds walking free, because nobody takes them up and the girls will not be able to speak out, they are shy, they are afraid of the stigma and the embarrassment. These are the issues that confront the organization and we have tried to take them up and move the rights of women.
What do you identify as an ideal situation for a woman?
An ideal situation for a woman is a situation when the man and a woman are treated equally before the law. Women must be allowed to take their proper position in the society. It was never a law but a practice and the practice is no longer practicable and should be taken away, gone are the days when they say the place of a woman is in the kitchen. The place of a woman is no longer in the kitchen; the place of a woman can be in Aso-rock, as a President of the country. We are looking forward to a woman becoming the president of America, Lady Clinton; we are looking forward to having a woman there at the white house.
So a woman can be a medical doctor, a lawyer, there are many judges of the high courts who are ladies, so we are saying that when you train your female child very well, when she grows up. She will become a responsible woman in the society you will be proud of. So what I am advocating is that the girl child is not an inferior person compared to her brother. So the female child must not be treated as such, she must be given proper education, women must be empowered and women marginalization should be removed from the practice of Nigeria. The government of  Nigeria, the politics in Nigeria should stop marginalizing women. Women should be allowed to take active part in politics and women should be given an adequate place in the decision making of the country.
Do you think the ego in a man will enable him flow on the same platform with a woman without being intimidated?
This situation is somehow connected to he customary in our society, the boys in our society grow up with this idea that they

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