The Global Association of Female Attorneys (GAFA) is headed by a woman that is truly committed to giving a voice to the helpless in the society. Imo state-born Mrs. Chinelo Iriele is president of GAFA and talks with BLESSING UKEMENA about her life and her work that is people-oriented.
She is a lady that is so warm and friendly with everyone around her regardless of the person’s societal status. Having just concluded an eventful GAFA week, she highlights the main objectives of the organisation. “Like you know, GAFA is an association of female lawyers called to the practice of law globally, we have branches everywhere. It is a non-profit organisation, non-political and non-governmental. Our major objective is the representation of indigent persons in court free of charge. We do this because they cannot afford the service of lawyers”.
She goes on to tell of what inspired the creation of the organisation. “GAFA is passionate about fighting the societal menace and ills that kill nations. In seeking avenues that bring to fore the knowledge of all the ills that have been taking place globally and for the need to stop violence globally, GAFA was formed. It was founded in Nigeria by a group of female lawyers who felt that it is time to speak out, not putting your mouth under the table, time for everybody to know the difference between right and wrong , time for the poor people to have rights and be heard”.
Explaining the focus of the organisation, she says. “We desire to give voice to the voiceless and help the helpless. So whenever we get cases, although not all the cases we get ends in court because we usually start with counseling.
But where it is a case that would go to court, we do it free of charge for them. We do not limit our services to only females and children, we extend our services to men as well, that is why we are ‘Gender Nexus’. Our motto is promoting a non-violent society and not just violence against women. Violence in every facet of it. We are concerned about conflict between nations, states and even local governments. We are not happy about what is happening in Jos. We pray that it stops; that violence in its entirety stops globally”.
On violence against women she explains.“You know violence against women is a huge issue. It includes practices against widows, genital mutilation and rape which is another major problem. We pray to put a stop or at least reduce rape incidents to a large extent. In line with our GAFA week, we visited Kuje prisons. Of about 104 convicts that were there, not one of them was convicted of rape yet we have so many cases of rape all over the nation.
I asked them if there was anyone convicted of rape and they said ‘no’. It was mainly drugs, robbery and other offences. So you can see that we still have a long way to go. When rapists in our society are not adequately punished then we have a problem because under the criminal code, the offense of rape attracts life imprisonment. If we have such a law and yet do not have a single convict of a rape case in the prisons with the number of rape cases happening each day then we have a huge problem. GAFA has been speaking and will keep speaking.”
For Iriele, women are highly discriminated against, they are easily prone to being battered and taken as a property at home despite the fact that the law is against this and it extends to the leadership of the country, she states. “Even when you look at our government. How many women are there. 30 per cent affirmative action is not enough, why not make it 50 per cent? Is there any difference in the male and female species intellectually? We are not just talking because we are women. People say women are always asking for rights.
For God’s sake, this concerns everybody. If you give it to a woman you have given it to everyone. Many men have sisters and daughters; no man is without a mother. If the men feel that the woman out there is not your concern, then they have to redress themselves. It is ironical when some men beat up their wives but will protect their own married sisters and daughters. It’s not just women talking but we want a better society. We want to end war and violence in every perspective of it”.
She vehemently objects to the idea that rape is engineered by the victim herself, “everyone can believe whatever they want. If you tell me that a lady caused her being raped what about 2, 3 and 12 year old children that are raped. Did they consent to it? Some people say it is because the ladies dress indecently. I totally disagree with this.” She explains more. “Sometimes you find some men dressed indecently in public in the name of taking fresh air. What about those that wear bikinis to swim? Should they be raped because of that?
What about the mad women on the street who go about naked, why are the men not attracted to them. It’s just the wicked state of their minds. You see a man of 60 marrying a girl of 13, 14, when she gets pregnant and has Vestico Vaginal Fistula (VVF), she is abandoned. Those that do this are lawmakers and they get away with it because they have money.
They feel they can always pay the parent of the girl. This is part of what GAFA is against and we will not stop” she insisted.
As she remembers her childhood as a sweet one, “I thank God for my life so far. My childhood was a sweet one. I had loving parents though my father is now late, I had lots of care from my parents. I studied law at University of Nigeria, Nsukka, I did my Masters at the University of Abuja” she explains. Mrs. Chinelo Iriele who got married to a very loving husband from her home-state, Imo, says she has three children, two boys and a girl. One in the United States and two here in Nigeria.
Her younger son came out with distinctions and will soon proceed to further his education in the US. She tries to find time to relax from work at least once a week and when the kids are on holiday, she takes a leave from work to travel with them to meet her husband who works as a medical doctor in the United States to enjoy some serious family time.
In her opinion, a woman does it better. She cites the finance minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as a shinning example of a successful woman, she says, “Okonjo-Iweala is doing very well and we all know that, because she has been tested. There are a lot of women like that. Yes there are some women who would get into power and be all about the money, but about 98 per cent of women would look at what they can do for their nation. I think we would have a better country when we have more women in power”. Her pride in her cause is evident. On the future of GAFA, Iriele states,
“GAFA members are very passionate about the cause. We finance this cause with our own money, sometimes we get support. Like the seminar during the GAFA week was sponsored by Open Society Justice Initiative(OSIJ) led by Prof. Chidi Odinkalu. I tell my members that as lawyers, we should use what we have to help people. As you help others, God empowers you and that is what He is doing for GAFA members. I will not be able to do what am doing now if I am hungry. God is blessing GAFA members because of the heart and devotion they put into this cause. In the next two years GAFA will be on a different level”.