By Johnson Adebowale
In support of victims of domestic violence and showing love to them this festive season, a non-governmental organisation, Foundation for Resilient Empowerment and Development (FRED), recently trained and empowered 150 women with vocational skills at Surulere, Lagos.
The women were empowered with skills in culinary arts, catering, shoemaking, hairdressing, make-up arts and tailoring, among others. They were trained for a minimum of three months and can now fend for themselves.
The founder, Rosemary Ngozi Echewe, said it was a spotlight initiative, an European Union-funded initiative, but the direct donors were the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
Rosemary noted that the initiative was meant to end violence against women and girls, stressing that the organisation has zero tolerance for violence against women. She noted that it was not as if violence against women and girls just started and it was not as if the awareness was just beginning now but the anomaly has been on the increase over the years.
She said: “We hope to curb it, bring it to a level of zero, we don’t even want it to reduce but we want it to be zero.
“You will agree with me that, during the lockdown last year, the violence really increased with the statistics that we got. Violence against women has always been there. In fact, for Africa, it is almost like second nature. People have grown with it, generations after generations, which is supposed not to be so.”
She told the gathering that bills have been passed at the National Assembly but have not been domesticated in many states. According to her, Lagos State, fortunately, is the only state where such a bill has been domesticated.
She urged government to “put their weight more behind the initiative though they have been supporting us. Ministry of Women Affairs, Ministry of Justice, Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team (DSVRT), Lagos State Office for Disability Affairs (LASODA) have been supporting us both at the state and national level.
“Also, communities where we actually implement them at Yaba and Ikorodu, we have the local government and even the development centres supporting us.”
The founder disclosed that 150 women have been empowered in the country this year, comprising 80 women in Abuja and 70 women in Lagos. Last year, 87 women were empowered.
She enjoined women to speak out, not suffer in silence: “They should not play numb because, if they keep quiet and violence is going on around them, they might die from it. So, let us cut down on the mortality rate, speak out, let it be reported and let it be handled.”
“If a woman has a case of domestic violence, she should not just keep quiet. In our communities, we have community response action committee members that have been trained by this initiative. If they don’t want to go to the Ministry of Justice, they should go to the community members, who will link these women to where they will be attended to, like the Ministry of Women Affairs, Social Welfare and Ministry of Justice. There are pro bono lawyers and there are people who will fight for you,” she further said.
One of the beneficiaries, Chimamanda Nwabuwanne, a caterer, said: “I was one of the women that experienced domestic violence. I had an issue with my husband and he deserted me and my children. We couldn’t trace his whereabouts because he’s based outside the country. He stopped all forms of communication with us and this made us have financial problems and on the verge of giving up hope. The foundation, FRED, came to our rescue when they discovered we needed assistance. I was empowered with the opportunity to be trained as a professional caterer.”
She encouraged women going through one form of domestic violence or the other not to keep it to themselves but come out of that bondage and be set free.
Another beneficiary, Offor Stella, a chef, said many women were being violated in their homes and FRED wants to stop it by every means: “Some women have died because of domestic violence, while some have sustained injuries. Some marriages have broken. FRED is doing its best to see that violence against girls and women is brought to an end in the country.”
She recalled that she was violated in her home. The problem started with her father-in-law who began beating her when she was pregnant and the crisis got bigger as her in-laws didn’t want to see her anymore. She continued with the marriage but wasn’t getting the desired results and she made moves and got across to this organisation.
“Since I came to this organization, they have done a lot for me. I can now stand on my feet doing something on my own and this has made me happy.
“I encourage women who are violated that they should speak out, talk to neighbors that will be able to help them. once they open up, help will come to them,” she said.
Another beneficiary, Mojisola Adeleye said: “I am here as one of the beneficiaries of the empowerment programme. I found the organization through DSVRT because of my marital issues and the fact the father of my children didn’t respond to his responsibilities.
“I have always been working, feeding the kids, paid the house rent, paid all the bills and sometimes had to beg before he could do what he is supposed to do with insults. At a point, things got difficult and I couldn’t do what I was doing anymore. I met some of my sisters in the church and they introduced me to DSVRT and some months later, I got a call from them saying that if I would like to be empowered and I said yes and that was how I got the opportunity to be empowered.
“The challenges I faced while I was still married were so much, like abuse, my husband beating me and that exposed me to a lot of trauma. I have never experienced such a thing, I got married at the age f 23 years and later gave birth to a son. When I was pregnant, my husband would beat me. He would sometimes drag me on the floor with the pregnancy and I had to leave the marriage in order to save my life and that of my child.
“Since I got connected with the organisation, I have learned a lot of things like defending myself as a woman. There are people out there who are working hard to see that violence ends and men should learn to take on their responsibilities, especially those who go outside their marriage to have extramarital affairs. They impregnate other women and they don’t feel ashamed of themselves.
“Silence is a deadly disease. Society condemns it when you open up to say something about it. Women should realise that their lives are at stake if they keep quiet and they are dying inside gradually until one day they will eventually give up the ghost. Women should not be deceived, they have a life to live, they should go out and talk when they experience domestic violence. Even when you are abandoned, pick up, be brave, stand up and talk.”