BAOBAB For Women’s Human Rights participated in a two day workshop organised for Secondary Schools in Lagos State by Action Health Incorporated. The workshop was part of the preparation for the Teenage Festival of Life that will be held in November, 2008. The topic of the workshop was Ensuring our Rights: Addressing Harmful Sexual Health Practices. The workshop was organised to expose young people to harmful sexual health practices and to enlighten them on their sexual and reproductive health and rights. The workshop was also aimed at equipping the students on how they can use creative art for advocacy against harmful sexual and reproductive health practices. It was also meant to deconstruct gender stereotypes and improve parent-child communication. The students were expected to use the knowledge gained at the workshop to produce poetry, music and drama to be presented at the Teenage Festival of Life in November. The two-day workshop was divided into 12 sessions, 6 sessions per day because of the large population of students from different schools across the state. Josephine Effa-Chukwuma, Executive Director of Project Alert made the first presentation on Harmful Sexual Health Practices. She spoke extensively on harmful sexual health practices and the consequence of such practices.
According to her, women and girls have been socialized to believe that they have to go along with the culture of silence concerning practices such as rape, incest, early marriage, forced marriage, sexual harassment, female genital mutilations and some nutritional taboos. She encouraged the students especially girls and women who are the victims of such practices to begin to speak out so that perpetrators of such acts are brought to book. Speaking further, she elaborated the consequences of harmful sexual health practices. They include among others, unsafe abortion, unwanted pregnancy, Vesico Vagina Fistula (VVF), Sexually Transmitted Infections, Maternal Mortality, death through unsafe abortion, HIV/AIDS, low self esteem from sexual violence especially rape and many others. BAOBAB’s Programme Officer, Folake Kuti made her presentation which was on Adolescents Sexual Health and Rights. She started by asking the students what they know about human rights. She then highlighted international and national legal documents that have specific provisions for adolescents’ sexual and reproductive health and rights especially laws protecting women against harmful sexual health practices. The documents include: International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD, 1994), Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), Child Rights Act (2003), Beijing Platform for Action (1995), AU Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa, National Youth Development Policy, National Population Policy, National Adolescents Reproductive Health Policy, e. t. c.
All the documents stipulates the right to equality and freedom from all forms of discrimination, right to liberty and security of the person – protection of children and girls from sexual abuse and sexual exploitation. The documents also have provisions such as right to privacy- for instance confidentiality of young person’s sexual and reproductive health information, right to freedom of thought and religion. Youths should not be coerced or forced into marriage because of cultural or religious beliefs. Right to information and education on sexual and reproductive health, right to contraception and right to be free from torture and ill-treatment such as sexual exploitation, prostitution, forced marriage and many more. Speaking further, she highlighted that all the documents listed have covered all areas of adolescents’ sexual and reproductive rights and it is there- fore not the absence of laws or policies that is confronting adolescents’ sexual and reproductive health and rights. She explained that apart from the strong hold of culture and religion in perpetuating harmful sexual and reproductive health practices, non-implementation of legal instruments and policies, corruption and lack of accountability, people’s perception of sexuality -adolescents’ sexual and reproductive health matters and illiteracy are serious challenges militating against the awareness and exercise of adolescents sexual and reproductive health and rights. Speaking on how we can ensure our sexual and reproductive rights, she identified five main points which include:
Awareness of our sexual and reproductive rights - having adequate information
Exercising our rights- protecting our rights by demand
Speaking out when our rights are violated- discussing violations with close family members after seeking counsel- reporting violations at the police station and not destroying evidence, also seeking redress in courts.
Sharing valuable information with friends
Women’s active participation in politics – Women and girls should aspire and participate in leadership so that they can be involved in decisions that affect their lives and also influence policies and laws that favour women and girls. She spoke extensively on the way forward which include constant development and review of adolescents’ specific programmes on sexual and reproductive rights education, policy analysis, health budget analysis, awareness on rights abuses and reportage of sexual abuses, continue the advocacy on gender sensitive legal and constitutional reforms, research and documentation.
At the end of the four sessions handled by BAOBAB in the two-day workshop, several questions were asked and it was so pathetic to discover that at least two in five girls or women at the workshop may have suffered sexual abuse especially incest and rape. There was the story of one of the consultants that came to facilitate the creative art session who was sexually abused by her elder brother for many years and because of the culture of silence and intimidation, the same man also had sex with her younger sister several times. According to her, she developed the courage to talk about her ordeal for the first time after listening to the facilitators at the workshop.
A 15 year old girl also wanted to know what her friend who is being sexually molested by her Police Officer father should do. Sadly, the father’s driver who is privy to the situation is also sexually abusing the girl. Most of the questions asked bothered on incest, rape and sexual harassment. At the end of the workshop, It was agreed that urgent steps needed to be taken to address the legal framework on perpetrators of sexual violence especially rapists. Participants at the workshop expressed the need for more workshops to be extended to all schools, mosques and churches. Most of the girls and teachers also wanted to know where they could go when their sexual rights were violated because they don’t trust the police. They were informed about the establishment of human right desks in police stations across the city and the fact that some states have passed into law bills against FGM and on domestic violence. Hence, the police are becoming more aware of women’s human rights issues and the importance of preserving evidence of sexual abuse. Participants were advised to visit BAOBAB, Project Alert, Action Health Incorporated and many other women’s human rights organisations to seek for help when their sexual and reproductive rights are violated.