After learning of the Leading Women, Building Communities Award I was honoured with by the Government of Ontario, my father decided to introduce me to his neighbour, Ijeoma Chinakwe, the founder of The Prudent Women’s Foundation. We spoke on the phone and by e-mail and Facebook. I learned that Ijeoma has worked with Baobab for Women’s Human Rights, based in Lagos, which is a Nigerian women’s rights organization that I have been following with much interest for years. I have taken a great interest in the work of The Prudent Women’s Foundation as well after learning more about it from Ijeoma.
The Prudent Women’s Foundation came into existence as the result of personal experiences and research carried out by women’s rights and legal activists. The team is composed of about 25 people including women right activists, school directors, social scientists, doctors and religion workers. The Foundation aims at addressing on a grassroots level women’s rights issues in Nigeria such as high rate of unwanted pregnancies among Nigerian women, some resulting in early death caused by abortion; the high school drop out rate among female children; the intimidation of widows; and the spread of HIV/AIDS.
According to Ijeoma “Our goal, to help youths and adults (mostly mothers and widows) to adopt healthy behaviour and sustainable life styles. Our mission is to equip the women with much knowledge and services that will improve their physical, mental and social well-being; also to promote and protect women, widows and young girls.”
For example, The Prudent Women’s Foundation conducted a workshop in Imo State, in Eastern Nigeria aimed at supporting widows. Widows who have no male children are particularly vulnerable to intimidation by their late husband’s family. According to Ijeoma, “ a case was reported of a woman with three girls without any male child. The woman was forcefully pushed out of her matrimonial home by her husband’s relatives. This is because she had no male child for their brother for the years they lived together as a couple. As a result of these, she was sent out with her three female children with nothing to fall back to.”
While looking to learn more about Ijeoma’s work, I discovered a fascinating article about Nigerian sex workers and their allies. On March 3 2011, Nigerian sex workers in Lagos celebrated International Sex Workers’ Rights Day by marching for their rights.
Celebration of the day began in 2001 in India when Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee, a Calcutta based group whose membership consists of somewhere upwards of 50,000 sex workers and members of their communities, organized a sex worker festival. Sex worker groups across the world have subsequently celebrated 3 March as International Sex Workers’ Rights Day. For the first time in Nigeria, sex workers publicly teamed up with their counterparts in cities across Africa, mobilized by the Africa Sex Workers Alliance (ASWA), to celebrate the day.
According to Margaret Onah, founder of Safe Haven International which aims at supporting girls and women who are victims of violence and co-ordinator of the Africa Sex Workers Alliance in Nigeria, the day is important in order to put an end to “the human rights violations against sex workers and to build in its place an enabling human rights environment in which sex workers enjoy the full-scale of their rights. This include being afforded equal protection of the law and opportunity to practice sex work without fear of prejudice in their communities.”
The march culminated in a gathering under Falomo Bridge in Ikoyi, Lagos where Ijeoma Chinakwe spoke to the crowd and told the women to “be proud of what you are doing. Do not let anybody trample on your rights. Everybody passed through something before they became what they are today.”
I will continue to follow the work of The Prudent Women’s Foundation and Ijeoma Chinakwe.
Violence Against Women Without a Male Child by Ijeoma Chinakwe, article from Baobab for Women’s Human Rights blog available online
Blessed are the Sex Workers by F. Adebayo 2011 article in Tell Nigeria’s Independent Weekly available online
2008 Interview with Margaret Onah avaiable online
Video of the 2011 International Sex Workers Rights Day march in Johannesburg available online
Baobab for Women’s Human Rights Website
Africa Sex Workers Alliance Website