All over the world on February 14, 2013, women rights group embarked on a campaign, One Billion Rising, to end violence against women and girls. In Lagos, a coalition of non-government organisations took to the streets in Ikeja.
Women drawn from Kudirat Initiative for Democracy (KIND), Alliances for Africa (AfA), Media Concern Initiative for Women and Children (MEDIACON), Zonta Club of Lagos1, ProjectAlert on Violence Against Women celebrated St. Valentine's Day last week with a motorcade event and a walk to join voices with the world against abuse of women.
The exercise which began at about 10am last Thursday attracted passers-by along Opebi Road and Allen Avenue, Ikeja. Placards, handbills and T-shirts were distributed to persons who were going about their businesses.
Some of the placards had staggering statistics that broke people's strides such as '1 in 3 women will experience some form of violence in their life-time'.
Some men jeered at the marchers and made light the issue of rape of women by men. However, one man's heart was moved by what he saw on the placards.
...Moved to Action
Mr Bankole Odulesi a microbiologist was on his way to meet someone on an appointment when he sighted women who were dancing with placards. When he stopped to look at the placards, he was bewildered. He told THISDAY LAWYER why he had to cancel his appointment to join the women.
'The statistics on the placards baffled me. I don't know anyone around me who beats his wife. It tells me that we have silent monsters around and that the society is not as safe one thinks it is.
'I lived in South Africa briefly and I know how they treat assault cases there. It was when I was in SA that I knew that a man could rape his wife. I never thought it was possible. But I have never heard of such in Nigeria and it happens. I was shocked to find out that out of three women, one would be abused in her lifetime. It is really scary. I have 3 children and the first two are girls. I live on Opebi but I was on my way to Allen Avenue. I cancelled that to join the women in their fight against domestic violence'.
Odulesi told his wife who is based in South Africa on the phone that he was on the street dancing with women who were marching against domestic violence and sexual abuse. His wife found it comical.
'She is living in a country where the rights of women and children are protected. But here it calls for serious concern. Two men made statements while I was marching with the women that made me realise that men could really harm women. I saw this responsible-looking man, chubby and clean and he said, ' To ba misbehave, ma lu' meaning 'if my wife misbehaves, I'll beat her!
'We need to have more statistics on these abuses and women should speak out more. You see, the problem is that government has not consciously established centres where raped or abused women can easily go to lodge complaints and be well attended to.
'The comments from the men I saw today show that truly, our men should be educated. If I have my way I am really going to do research on domestic violence. I hope that Nigeria gets to the level where women too are aware and their rights are protected.
'In South Africa, abuses against women are taken seriously. In fact if a girl or a woman makes a complaint about her husband or as she explains a tear drops, the man will spend some time in prison!
'Thabo Mbeki really enforced the rights of women and it was a common slogan among men who abuse women that, ' Mbeki is the problem of South Africa'! Violence is taken seriously in SA.
You can't kill a goat or hen with a knife. That's how some societies have advanced in rights' protection.
'I hope Nigeria gets there because women are not punching bags. I want to learn about domestic violence and the laws protecting women.'
Amy Oyekunle, Coordinator, One Billion Rising, spoke on the initiative and why it is named One Billion Rising. 'There's a statistic that says that one billion women will be raped by 2016. So, the whole idea is that in different countries right now about 200 worldwide are rising against this trend to mark One Billion Rising to dance and kick against violence against women.
'It was also discovered that prior to Christmas and Valentine's Day, more women get raped. In my own opinion, there's no better way to celebrate Valentine's Day and show love to the women than hold a protest in their honour.
'In Lagos, the law protects the victim of rape. The offender will be imprisoned. So, this is to create awareness about it. We want other states to have laws that will make it difficult for sexual offenders to get away with the crime. Rape is on the rise'.
Commenting on the rally, the Deputy Executive Director, Alliance for Africa, Ossai Ojigho said, 'The rally was engaging. It got people thinking and the response from the public was good. It was a fun way to get people talking about issues around rape, domestic violence and incest which are sensitive and controversial. I am rising because I want VAW to stop.
'Our lives should not be less valuable just because we are women.'