Sunday, 1 March 2015

#ProjectKuuliza: "Gender Based Violence + Adolescent Girls' Sexual/Reproductive Health & Rights"

 "Just like darkness, the most effective way to end Gender Based Violence is to shine a light on it...till it disappears."
- Ayotola Tehingbola

Groundbreaking history was made on Saturday, 28th February 2014, as #ProjectKuuliza empowered about 62 adolescent girls to curb Gender Based Violence and exercise their full Sexual Rights.

The Gender Based Violence session was facilitated by the very passionate and unapologetic feminist - Ayotola Tehingbola. Ayotola set the ball rolling with a close examination of the concept of GBV, pointing out that violence targeted at women and girls usually stems from the perception of women's status as "subordinate". Expressing their thoughts on this, the girls proffered some reasons why women/girls are perceived as "subordinate", ranging from religious to socio-cultural beliefs and practices. One of our super girls - Desola, referred to the christian creation story - where God created the man first and assigned the woman the "helper" status. Ayotola further shared the disheartening statistics that 1 in every 6 girls (age 0-11) has been a victim of GBV. She also gave the girls the 3 key concepts through which GBV can be identified - Abuse, Assault & Gender Violence.

Moving the discussion further, Ayotola defined the scope of GBV. Here, she emphasized the misconception of GBV being limited to physical violence and urged the girls to note that GBV includes psychological and emotional abuse meted out to girls & women, on the basis of their gender.  Together with the girls, she identified the various stages of life during which GBV mostly occurs;
- Pre-birth: Where the female foetus is expelled/aborted, solely on the basis of gender.
- Infancy: In cases where domestic workers, care givers and even relatives molest or assault girls.
- Adolescence: Usually as a result of date rape or economically coerced sex.
- Marriages: This includes domestic violence and marital rape.    
The girls eagerly exchanged their views on the reasons why victims of GBV hardly speak out and report the perpetrators of violence; fear of being blamed, threat of more violence, the shame/stigma attached to victims of sexual assault/rape, their "love" for the perpetrator of the violent act and fear of losing the case (where the perpetrator is prosecuted). Ayotola pointed out that the justice system in the world (especially in Africa) is not doing a lot to combat GBV - especially sexual offences: Only 1 in 50 women who report rape is given justice. Concluding her discussion with the girls, Ayotola insisted that "eradicating Gender Based Violence starts with YOU." She strongly admonished the girls to boldly stand up for themselves and expose the perpetrators of GBV.
Soon after, Women Deliver Young Leader and Sexual/Reproductive Health & Rights enthusiast - Dr Tunde Ajidagba, came on board to discuss "Adolescent girls' Sexual/Reproductive Health & Rights". He started the conversation by taking the girls through basic concepts which underscore Sexual & Reproductive Health: Puberty, Sex, the Reproductive system/organs and the most effective ways of keeping these vital organs clean. Taking cognisance of the girls' reservations when it came to identifying and talking about reproductive organs like 'vagina' and 'penis', he encouraged the girls to never be ashamed of describing their body parts. Dr Tunde went further to debunk the socio-cultural myth that directly speaking about these organs amount to vulgarity. In his words, "if  we can talk about our eyes and nose, why can't we talk about our penis, breasts and vagina?" He emphasized that one of the most important ways of enuring sexual & reproductive health is to be very familiar and comfortable with every part of the body.
The conversation got more interesting as he discussed the various aspects of sexual exploitation with the girls. He emphasized that every girl possesses inalienable sexual rights, which include; the right to say NO, the right to protect themselves from all forms of sexual abuse and exploitation, the right to decide when to have boyfriends and when to have sex. Dr Tunde moved on to share various helpful tips with the girls, which they chould adhere to in order to reduce their vulnerability to sexual abuse. These include: trusting the natural "danger alert" given by their sixth sense, not trusting anybody (i.e. being conscious that even a brother or an uncle can be a sexual predator), not to visit boys alone - always visit in twos and threes, standing their grounds in the face of iminent sexual abuse and adopting the "flight or fight" rule, and to generally avoid places that are not safe, e.g. wild parties, blind dates and lonely paths. Dr Tunde passionately urged the girls to look out for each other and never sell any girl out to people who want to take advantage of her. He closed the discussion by addressing many anonymous questions and encouraged those who have been victims of sexual abuse not to feel guilty/worthless, but to always be at alert to ensure that such ugly incidents never occur again.
We wrapped up the day's wonderful conversations by engaging the girls in quasi-activism.They happily made some wonderful call out cards advocating against Gender Based Violence, which they pasted around their classrooms, hostels and on the school notice boards!
We are excited to groom so many BOLD agents of CHANGE. Lend a voice for super girls...Join the conversation on our Facebook Page!

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