Aloysius Attah, Onitsha
Ifeoma Anyaka is the president of Gallant Ladies International, a non-governmental organisation. Anyaka believes that women should not only be given a voice in society but should be supported to advance the cause of humanity to greater heights.
Through her organisation, she is changing the narrative as it affects women, mostly in the southeastern part of Nigeria. She believes that when women are empowered, they would become more productive and at the same time possess the strength to fight societal ills affecting the girl-child such as early marriage, rape, domestic violence and even the Osu caste system in parts of Igboland.
What spurred you into setting up this organisation?
The inspiration came as I realised that there was an urgent need to do something different to raise the living standard of women in the society. It is also imperative to give them a voice because there has been age-long marginalisation and cheating of women in the scheme of things. Even the government has short-changed women.
The inspiration to start this organisation came from the feeling that it was the right time for women to rediscover themselves, know their rights and raise their voices up. So, our objective is to use this platform to eradicate poverty among women. We sensitise women on the dangers of child labour, early marriage and the need to value themselves.
They need to also know the value of being financially independent by engaging in productive ventures, instead of depending wholly on their husbands for everything.
The issue of marginalisation of women in political appointments and other spheres has been a dominant discourse, but some women who want to challenge the status quo are sometimes regarded as domineering. What is your take on that?
It is high time people realised that women are not competing with men in the society. They complement them to succeed. All women want is recognition, to be given the opportunity to show their potential, in order to make society better.
I believe that the best advice for any man who wants to succeed in any endeavour is to recognise the role of a woman and court her support. If you involve a good woman in any worthwhile venture, she will go far. History is replete with such examples in governance, business and the corporate world, and in other sectors.
A good woman is an asset that should be cherished, as it is said that beauty may attract a man to a woman but the woman’s character would make the man stick with her.
In the same vein, women must realise that their husbands are their most valued asset, too, because a man is like a shelter to the woman. My father died early and my mother would always drum it into my ears to realise that my husband was my most prized gift.
She would tell me never to hesitate a second in doing anything that I knew would elongate my husband’s lifespan because she suffered in early widowhood and would not want me to suffer the same fate.
The increasing spate of rape in the Nigerian society has assumed a frightening dimension. Defiling of minors and violence against women are also daily occurrences. What are you doing to address the situation?
It falls under our purview and we are fighting to stem the ugly menace. I believe in the saying that real men don’t rape. Women also have a great role to play in this direction because those rapists on the prowl were born by mothers. We have been involved in the preaching about reordering our family values.
No man of noble character engages in rape, as there is no justification for the act. Some do it and blame the devil, while some others say that it was the indecent dress of the woman that pushed them into it. Rape is evil and mothers should intensify efforts in training their children to be responsible because I still believe in the saying that when you train up a child in the way he should go, when he grows, he will not depart from it.
On the issue of full-time housewives, is there any plan by your group to provide business start-ups for some of them?
It forms part of the targets in our upcoming national convention. We have been into empowerment programmes but we shall intensify our efforts after the convention. There are interest-free loans in the offing, while some will get working tools like sewing machines, polythene production machines and other small-scale industry equipment, which they will fall back on and make something meaningful and productive from them.
The Osu caste system is a big issue in Igbo society. Recently, two lovers reportedly committed suicide in Anambra State because they were not allowed to marry owing to the Osu issue. What you think of such practices?
It baffles me that in this 21st Century some people are still taking some retrogressive actions associated with the primitive era. Frankly, nobody should be denied any right because of Osu caste system. The Nigerian constitution outlawed it, churches also are against it and no educated person should regard another citizen of Nigeria as an outcast or second class citizen.
We preach against that. People should be allowed to exercise their freedom to marry anyone of their choice. We all are created in the same image of God and we share equal rights and privileges in the Nigerian constitution.
I know that many communities in the South-East have passed resolutions abrogating the practice but there are some people who still encourage it despite their level of exposure and education. I believe that more sensitisation is needed to finally stamp out such archaic practices. We should not relent.
Women cannot be wished away when it comes to electioneering. As Anambra prepares for the guber election, is there any role your group plans to play in the process?
We are not a political platform but it is natural to get involved in politics because human beings are political in nature. The truth is that women constitute the larger number of people who vote during elections. The records are verifiable because most men choose to do other things on election day, while women stand in the sun, join the queue, to vote and exercise their civic duties.
So, we are not shying away from that and that was why we said we shall not be onlookers during the next election in Anambra but be active partakers. We shall profile party candidates and choose that person we know can deliver in his commitment to the Anambra people. Anybody we throw our weight behind must surely clinch the seat and the person must in turn empower our women too when he assumes office. No politician in Anambra State should underestimate the power of women anymore.
With your national convention around the corner, what should Nigerians expect?
The convention is going to be the mother of all gatherings in Anambra for now, despite the fact that we are going to observe all the necessary COVID-19 stipulated guidelines at the Women Development Centre, Awka, venue of the event.
It will feature charity walk, cultural carnival, where the 21 local government chapters in the state shall showcase their unique cultural identities. Our national patrons shall be honoured too, including those we call Ojiugo Igboezue and the Umunwanyi Odu Gallant Ladies. Government functionaries and governorship aspirants as well as traditional rulers shall also grace the occasion.
What are the challenges you have encountered so far?
At the outset, we encountered various obstacles. Those pessimists and naysayers who bent on discouraging you from taking that bold step made all kinds of snide remarks but we knew where we were headed to so we were not deterred.
I had fair weather friends who pretended that they were with me but, behind me, they worked against me; still I was never perturbed, knowing that in every12 there may be a Judas. It is said that surely they would gather but because it is not of God, they must scatter. Upon all the obstacles, God has been with us and we have been too busy to be distracted.