By Henry Uche
Gladys Emmanuel is a Human Rights Lawyer and a Gender Advocate. Her focus is on Women and Girl’s Rights, Domestic violence, Gender Equality and also committed to eliminating domestic violence.
She spoke to Daily Sun recently.
As a human rights lawyer, What are you doing practically to advance the rights of Nigerians and what would you do differently if you have a better Platform/ portfolio in Nigeria?
Recent engagements with individuals in the country have demonstrated that some individuals have experienced diverse forms of human rights violations without possessing the requisite information on how to access justice.
As a human rights lawyer, I leverage on all virtual and physical platforms to provide information to members of the public on the existence of human rights, and the appropriate mediums to approach should their rights be violated. In addition, I provide legal support for indigent persons (women and children) through legal representation in court to ensure access to justice. If the situation was different in Nigeria, I would push for the establishment of human rights support units at strategic locations in rural and urban communities in the country through collaboration with government agencies, law enforcement agencies, and traditional gatekeepers to ensure citizens are able to access human rights support, encourage speedy and easy reportage of human rights violations. At periodic intervals, the outcome of these support units would be documented and shared with the various human rights agencies in the country who would in turn, present a report to members of the public through town hall meetings. Unfortunately, this vision is not realisable at the moment owing to the state of insecurity in the country, and the prevalence of religious doctrines and harmful cultural practices which support human rights violations.
How would you assess the protection and enforcement of Human Rights in Nigeria?
The early 19th century has been characterised by a surge in human rights advocacy, as various countries across the globe have developed diverse strategies to ensure the advancement and protection of human rights. Unfortunately, the narrative is different in this part of the world as many are unaware of the rights enshrined in the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended).
We equally have another category of citizens who are aware of their rights, and in a bid to exercise these constitutional rights, they have suffered hardship, and some paid with their lives. In light of these, Nigeria compared to other countries is lagging far behind in the protection and enforcement of human rights. An average Nigerian can attest to the dismissive attitude of some of the organisations /agencies charged with the protection of human rights in the country. Some citizens are deterred from pursuing justice owing to the lengthy duration taken during the investigation. Others have complained bitterly about the absence of funds being responsible for stalling persecution of cases of human rights violations thereby allowing perpetrators to roam the streets freely. At the moment we have various Non-governmental organisations striving to ensure a change in narrative but overall, the human rights arena in the country is a work in progress. In changing the existing status quo there is a need to undertake intensive training of our law enforcement officers on human rights borrowing from international best practices.
Also, it is very important to fund agencies/organisations charged with the protection of human rights to encourage ease of dispensing their duties. As mentioned earlier, the importance of awareness creation amongst citizens cannot be over-emphasised. I equally advocate for the strengthening of our domestic legislation, and the domestication of various international human rights instruments in the country as this would provide for effective protection and enforcement of human rights.
What policies would you like to see enacted at both federal and state levels to protect the rights of special persons (not women & girl child alone)?
The United Nations for the Rights of Persons with Disability (UNCRPD) would definitely be the first, and the rationale for this is simple. The UNCRPD has created a shift in the way the discourse of disability is being approached. It provides a human-rights-based approach which replaces the charity approach that views persons with disability as individuals to be pitied, who are not entitled to basic rights under the law.
Although in 2018, the Disability (Prohibition) Act was enacted this law falls short of the provisions of the UNCRPD. Again, the Child Rights Act 2003 is another piece of legislation with enormous potential to protect the rights of the child and foster the principle of “best interest”. Unfortunately only 28 states have domesticated this piece of legislation. The plight of the Violence against Persons Prohibition Act (VAPP) 2015 cannot be overlooked. This legislation has been applauded as being progressive and addressing in much depth the subject of violence against persons. As forward-thinking as this law is, some states in the federation are yet to domesticate it.
The Convention for the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) is another international instrument that is capable of transforming the approach to women’s rights in the country through the promotion of equal rights for women and girls.
With the rejection of 5 women -related bills by NASS and all the brouhaha that followed, would you attribute it to a misogynistic inclinations/ tendencies? How do we make Nigeria follow suit like South Africa, and others that have given their women deserved places in line with international provisions?
The rejection of the bills that addressed citizenship issues, indigeneship, affirmative action, gender equality and seats in parliament demonstrates how backwards we are as a nation in recognising women as individuals entitled to all legal rights like the male. While the bill was presented before the lawmakers, Nigerians painfully watched as one male senator after the other withdrew their support on the grounds that the word “equality should be expunged” from the title of the bill. As pathetic as this is, it is obvious that the bill failed because of the desire to subjugate women in the country.
To change the existing status quo would require a mindset change through advocacy and awareness creation. Also, abolishing customs and doctrines that view the woman as second class is vital.
Domestic violence & Gender inequality is still rearing it ugly head in different quarters, though efforts have been made by different persons to arrest the situation, what do you have in mind to do differently at any given little opportunity –all efforts geared towards advancing Women and Girl’s Rights?
I am of the opinion that laws play a pivotal role in addressing issues of domestic violence and gender inequality. I would continually lend my voice through advocacy for the implementation of the Violence against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act 2015, and the domestication of the Convention for the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).
What has Tabitha Empowerment Centre practically done to eliminate domestic violence and advancing the rights of women? What do you still want me do better?
Tabitha Empowerment Centre (TEC) has kicked-off diverse projects to eliminate domestic violence and advance the rights of women most notable amongst them are: Anti-gender-based violence campaign: This project targets communities within Abuja through organising anti-gender-based violence sensitisation, and liaising with government agencies, traditional gatekeepers, and international organisations to foster commitment on the part of key stakeholders to eliminate this menace.
Anti-gender-based violence school drive: This project is targeted at disseminating preventive messages on gender-based violence to schools within Abuja. To ensure continuity of the project’s impact, the organisation establishes a school club to encourage students to speak out against all forms of gender-based violence. Training of Anti-gender-based violence community champions: TEC has continually trained individuals from various communities in Abuja, to enable them to acquire sufficient knowledge to tackle issues of gender-based violence in their respective communities. The organisation has equally embarked on various media drives to ensure members of the public get acquainted with information on domestic/gender-based violence. TEC also makes frantic efforts to safeguard the welfare of survivors through the provision of psychosocial support/rehabilitation.
What do you want to see in the long run in the girl child as you offer mentorship programs to young girls & women?
Growing up in a patriarchal society exposes the female to various forms of marginalisation with regard to accessing education, resources, and finances. This is because she is viewed as embodying the role of a career and any attempt for her to aim for better opportunities is met with strict resistance and extreme criticism by society. It is therefore my desire to create a sense of value amongst the females, an awareness of the enormous potential possessed by the female, and equally change the existing mindsets that society has construed over time about the female gender. This would in turn create a cycle of females that are self-motivated and change makers.
What makes your virtual Human Rights mentorship program unique and worth banking on?
The human rights mentorship with Gladys Emmanuel Esq. is a virtual platform which was launched in 2021, for the sole purpose of providing an in-depth appreciation of human rights. This mentorship does not view the discourse of human rights strictly from the legal perspective, it considers human rights from an interdisciplinary standpoint. Through this program, the selected participants are coached by academics, policy strategists, activists, lawyers, medical personnel, and clergy from various parts of the world. Upon the completion of the 3-months virtual mentorship, participants are then paired with any of the coaches that suit their interests for the purpose of providing long-term mentorship/guidance.
In what aspect have you contributed towards humanity?
I have provided pro bono (free of charge) legal services for indigent women and children whose rights have been violated. Also, I undertake capacity building programs for groups on the subject of human rights.
Most notable amongst them was the webinar centered on “Addressing human rights violations: issues and challenges” organised by the School of Law, the Northcap University, Gurugram in India.
What advice would you offer to young female students who are afraid to pursue law as a profession?
In responding to this question, I would pose the following question to the young female;
How passionate are you about accomplishing this feat? Once she is able to provide a satisfactory response to this question, she has unconsciously shifted from the arena of fear to possibility. Overall, I would encourage you to take the plunge and go for it. This in essence does not mean that bagging a law degree is extremely easy, as it requires many years in school and constant studying but it is an enjoyable and rewarding journey.