Mrs. Gloria Stene Agboola, the District Governor, Zonta Club International, District 18 is an American from Louisiana who is married to a Nigerian. She is also an active member of Nigerwives, an association of foreign women who are married to Nigerians. Here, she discusses various forms of violence against women and what her organization has done to reduce this abuse of the rights of women and girl child.
What is the contribution of your club to check violence against women?
Zonta International has a special committee that is concerned with eradication of violence against women. This is one of our major programmes. Recently, in November, we started a programme whereby all Zontians around the world had an enlightenment programme to educate people about violence against women.
In Ibadan, we had a long walk all the way from the Broadcasting Corporation of Oyo State, to the Nigerian Television Authority, to the governor’s office. Over 60 of us carried placards. We stopped on the way, talking and enlightening people on the roads and in buses about violence against women. The people got our message and this happened in 64 countries around the world.
In Oyo State, the wife of the governor, Mrs. Florence Ajimobi has a programme where she is trying to get a legislation passed on violence against women and we supported her and other organizations which are concerned about violence against women and violence in the home. So, it is one of our major projects and programmes. We are trying to end violence and discrimination against women.
Women make up half of the population in the world. How can you say or think that half of the population that makes up the world does not have the kind of human rights they deserve. We say that it is wrong. We think once everybody has equal rights, we would have a better world.
There are existing laws against rape. Are you saying the punishment against rape is not commensurate with the offence?
It is difficult to get those who commit rape prosecuted probably because the laws are too lenient. I think they should make the laws more stringent especially when an old man rapes a girl of 9, 10 years old. Those young girls will not possibly give consent. So, we need to make the laws more stringent and they must be enforced. Some laws are not enforced.
Do you solicit funds from politicians?
If anybody who believes in our cause wants to fund our projects, he or she is welcome. But, what we really want from politicians especially the ones in Oyo State and in Nigeria is to have laws that would make it criminal for anyone who commits violence against women and children.
It is not acceptable to beat and maim your wife or your children. It is not acceptable to prevent a girl child from going to school. What we want politicians to do is to have specific laws that would prohibit violence against women.
Every two years, all Zonta Clubs in Africa meet to plan on strategies to be used in advancing the cause of women in Africa. Over 3,000 Zontians around the world in about 64 countries are in the club. It is the time for District 18 to have a meeting here in Nigeria and we hope that the Zontians from all the clubs from Africa would come and we sit down for four days and plan on what we want to do in the next two years.
Is the programme specifically for women?
We are concerned about improving the status of women worldwide and we do this through our programmes. But that does not mean we don’t have men. We don’t discriminate. Any man who believes in our cause, that is, advancing the status of women can join us. We volunteer.
It is a voluntary organization. We don’t get paid for this. We give our time, money and any other talents or resources we have to further our cause especially when we are concerned with trying to outlaw customs or laws that prevent women from developing their full potentials. We are particularly concerned about the education of the girl child.
We are concerned about education of all women because they are sort of backbone for the family. If women are educated, they would educate their children and family and through them, we would have a better home and a better family. But they have to be given that opportunity because you find out that in many places, women, girls are not allowed to go to schools because they feel that they don’t need to educate them. They only need to get married and grow up somewhere.
But, that is the kind of idea we have to change because wherever a woman is, she would have a family and children and she needs to train those children. She also needs to rule her home and keep her home clean, feed her children, prevent them from contacting some diseases and it is only by going to school that she can know all these things.
If your club is not funded by anyone, how then do you get money because all these programmes you have listed involve a lot of money?
Yes. We don’t have particular funds except money we as individuals pay. We pay, we give donations, we raise money. For instance, the District programme that is coming up, we don’t get any money anywhere.
So, we are asking people to help the Zontians so that we can have money to do these things. We need money to pay for conference hall. But, we don’t keep such money in banks but used it to do our various projects. Zonta International has a number of international projects. We have six major international projects and three of those projects are in Africa.
It is not the zontians in Africa alone that would pay for the funding of those projects, it is all the Zontians around the world that would put their money together to help fund those projects. The project in Liberia has to do with obstetrics vesicular. Zontians have paid in amazing dollars through a United Nations agency to fund this programme. We, in Africa don’t have that kind of money. We have another programme in Rwanda which is an HIV/AIDS transmission from mother to child.
This programme also costs millions of dollars. The programme has been going on for the past four years. Another programme is on in Nigeria. We are trying to enlighten people on social norms and practices that are harmful to women and girls in the society. We still have other projects across the world. Every year, we put money together to fund these programmes.