‘I want a Nigeria safe for all women and girls. A country that nurtures the girl child to a meaningful future’.
‘A Nigeria where the voice of girls and women are heard. Where women and girls are seen as part of the development and growth of the nation. Where women are given leadership roles and responsibilities. Where women are not seen only as meant for cooking and child-bearing’.
‘A Nigeria where the rights of our women and girls will always be protected by the Government. A Nigeria where whosoever molests our women and girls will be brought to book’
‘A Nigeria where women and girls will be able to reach their full potential’
‘A Nigeria where cancer will be understood as not an attack from witches’
‘A Nigeria where ladies will be given employment without ‘trade by barter’
‘A Nigeria where our women and girls are treated with due respect and not as sex slaves. A Nigeria where our women and girls will not be discriminated against in the corridors of power. A Nigeria where our women and girls place will not be limited to the kitchen. A Nigeria where one day a female President, State Governors and Senate President will emerge’
These are the comments people left on my Facebook wall over the past couple of days when I put up a flyer advertising the Nigerian Women’s Dialogue scheduled for November 27th-29th in Abuja, ‘The Nigeria We Want’. I thank the organisers for inviting me to Chair this very important event. The NWD has been organized by a coalition of feminists and women’s rights activists from around the country, interested in addressing the root causes of women’s exclusion, marginalization and abuse, and I am proud to be one of them.
The issues are very familiar and have been addressed so many times. However, it was felt that this National Dialogue needed to be convened in order to put our thoughts together as a women’s movement, understand different perspectives and agree workable strategies. This event brings together activists, policy makers, researchers, grassroots leaders, politicians, faith-based leaders and so on.
We come together with our various identities as grassroots, middle-class, elite, ruling-class women, irrespective of age, education, religion, ethnicity, marital status or physical ability. Our locations are different. Our experiences are different. Our platforms are different. Our understanding of the issues might be different. Yet, there is one thing we all have in common.
We are tired.
We are tired of saying the same thing over and over
We are tired of nursing our raped and battered children back to health
We are tired of mourning our sisters beaten to death by their spouses
We are tired of searching for our children who have been snatched away from our arms and have not returned
We are tired of singing, dancing and clapping for political leaders only to end up with nothing to show for it
We are tired of being assaulted and discriminated against because of our disabilities, as if we are not women too
We are tired of being old, lonely and abandoned, mostly because our children are too poor or indifferent to take care of us, or have died and left us alone in the world
We are tired of not being able to go to our farms for fear of being raped
We are tired of being tortured and dispossessed when our husbands die, all in the name of tradition
We are tired of all the blades, knives and scissors used to mutilate our little girls all in the name of culture
We are tired of seeing children giving birth to babies
We are tired of watching our sisters and daughters die while giving birth
We are tired of living in such poverty and desperation that we resort to the only tools we have to survive
We are tired of being harassed, intimidated and even burnt alive because we dared to raise our voices
We are tired of sex for grades, sex for jobs, sex for food, sex for appointments
We are tired of seeing the driver, gateman, Teacher, Policeman, Politician, Bank Manager, University Lecturer, Pastor, Imam, Traditional ruler all go scot free when they rape us or our children
We are tired of all the excuses for the lack of political will
In the famous words of the civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hammer, we are sick and tired of being sick and tired.
We will talk, argue, disagree and hopefully agree. At this dialogue, we need to ask questions for which we might not know the answers. There are some answers we will talk about without even understanding the questions. It doesn’t matter. We are here. This is our platform.
This is our conversation. Let us use our voices. We will say what we want, we will describe the present and the future that we want for ourselves and our children. At the end of our time here, we will be able to tell the world about the Nigeria we want as women. Hopefully, it will be a place everyone else would like to live in. I wish us a productive and joyful time together.
Opening remarks as Chair of the National Women’s Dialogue, Abuja, November 27th-29th 2019.
•Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi is a gender specialist, social entrepreneur and writer. She is the founder of Abovewhispers.com, an online community for women. She can be reached at [email protected]