By Gilbert Ekezie
An activism movement, One Billion Rising, in partnership with a non-governmental organisation, IRISE, Supol Martins Martial Arts Services, Kwara State Ministry of Art and Culture and farming communities recently held rallies in Lagos and Kwara states, aimed at fighting institutional slavery and all forms of gender-based violence.
It was an opportunity to for the speakers to unite against environmental degradation as well as train the girl-child on the principles of resilience, self-control and self-defence.
The programme, with the theme “Fight for gender justice and Mother Earth, using martial arts to tackle gender-based violence and environmental degradation,” took place in FESTAC Town, Lagos, where young men and women converged to find the connection, synergy and symmetry between gender justice and Mother Earth through martial arts.
While the event lasted, children of three years and above actively participated in jogging, kick-boxing and other activities, as they went through martial arts tutorials aimed at building them to become future leaders.
In Kwara, the organization, in partnership with the Ministry of Art and Culture, as well as farming communities, met to sensitize the people to join the global call for “rising gardens,” the re-awakening of women as custodians of the earth and mother of humanity, to enlighten communities through women on the importance of mother earth’s protection for the sustenance of all lives and food.
Speaking at the event, executive director, IRISE, and country coordinator for One Billion Rising in Nigeria, Omodele Ibitoye, explained that the organisation was a global campaign founded by Eve Ensler in 2012, as part of V-Day movement to end rape and other sexual violence against women. She said it was disturbing that one out of three women stands the risk of being raped and assaulted in her lifetime, according to United Nations (UN) statistics.
She noted that the organisation’s work includes tackling gender-based violence through campaigns, advocacy, sensitization, infusing dance, culture and drama into what they do. According to her, the organisation taps into every art that can impact humans positively.
Her words: “We realize that marshal arts is not all about fighting, but about resilience, learning about self-control and self-defence. You can see a situation in Nigeria where young people are being kidnapped in schools. You can also see the surging rates of gender-based violence, where teenage girls and much younger girls are being sexually assaulted by relatives in the home front. “It is about self-control, teaching young people to be better citizens; that is what martial arts represent. Our job is to help the society become better.”
Chief instructor of Supol Martins Martial Art Academy, Shihan Mantins Alufohai Gabriel, stated that martial arts was vital for self-defence and helps in the area of personal health.
Martins, having represented Nigeria in 1995 and 1999 in the All-Africa Games, where he returned with a bronze medal, said people have seen the impact of martial arts.
The secretary, IRISE Nigeria, MaryJane, described the NGO as one that fights for women generally and helps them to know their rights.
She said: “As you can see, most women don’t really know their rights, and with the current trend, women experience in our society, domestic violence, all other the things happening to the Nigerian woman. Look at the way we are being massacred in Southern Kaduna and all the ills that are going on. We gather women regularly, every year, to educate them on their rights, and what to do when they find themselves in such problems.
“You know, climate change is really causing a lot of problems in the world. That is to say, we have climate emergency. So, we tell women that the earth needs to be protected. If we don’t protect our garden and climate, we all will go into extinction.
“This year, we are collaborating with farmers, women and, advising them to come out and join this crusade. If you train your girl-child, they will be well groomed. For instance, I am a martial artist, even if I meet Fulani herdsmen anywhere, I will be ready to fight them; they have the guns, I have the skills.”
She maintained that the trainees were made to understand that they cannot misuse their skills as the title will be stripped off such a person.
She said: “You don’t go about fighting, you don’t bully at home; it is for your own self-defence and discipline.”
She also stated that the COVID-19 pandemic has rapidly blown open the destructive veins of neo-liberalism, capitalism, racism, fascism and patriarchy revealing violent and broken systems that have been forced upon humans for far too long. She pointed out that the majority of people who are dying are those who have been historically exploited, oppressed, marginalized and discriminated against because of race, gender, class and caste.
She said: “The sacred connection that indigenous communities hold with the land has been violated through colonization, broken treaties, and the continuous human rights violations made against indigenous people. In the planet, majority of frontline workers, health care workers, homecare workers, domestic workers, and farm workers are women. Like the earth, they are the least valued and protected. So, we must rise to value, protect and uplift those who are doing essential work. We must rise for the earth, which is the most essential to all life.
“We call on everyone around the world to rise in honour and celebration of our women workers and to create and grow rising gardens, which reminds us of our enduring connection to life, and compels us to do everything in our power to protect and nurture life and all that is sacred without doing harm.
“The cultivation of plant life is also a means for survival. Growing food in a garden organically – be it your own indoor garden or a community garden – allow you to feed yourself and your community. It provides autonomy and underscores the need for food security in a world where so many are denied these essential resources.”
She said the UN World Food Programme (WFP) reported that the coronavirus pandemic could double the number of people suffering from acute food insecurity this year to around 265 million globally. Therefore, maintaining a garden is an act of resistance, as it does the opposite of what the capitalist machinery does.
“It connects people and communities to grow one’s own food, to grow beauty and life – is revolutionary in this age of ecological, environmental, societal, spiritual collapse. To put our energies, our creativity, our hearts into everything that can grow and sustain all forms of life when the current world order is bent on destruction, is a radical political act,” she said.
According to Jane, Rising Gardens is a defiant creative call for revival, restoration and transformation.
She said: “One Billion Rising Nigeria empowers and engages rural women in open and honest conversation on women’s leadership and active participation in political processes. We sensitize on gender-based violence, gender equality, community and family support to dismantle stigma and discrimination against girls and women.”