Sola Abe is a Sexual and Reproductive Health expert who educates underprivileged girls about menstrual hygiene management. In this interview with HENRY TYOHEMBA, the human rights advocate spoke on the rising cases on rape in Nigeria and warned against reopening of schools amongst other issues.
With schools closed due to COVID-19, the issue of rape is becoming prevalent. How best do you think we can curtail this?
The closing of schools due to COVID-19 didn’t just escalate the issue of rape it only helped to see how unsafe young girls and women are. From the case of Uwa who was raped in a church in Benin to Barakat who was raped in her home in Ibadan, it shows that women are not safe anywhere. Sadly, too, we have been reading stories of fathers sleeping with their own daughters. One of the best ways to curtail this growing menace is that policies addressing this matter should be implemented. Rape cases should be taken seriously and when it involves children, it should be considered a government case versus the perpetrator. Meanwhile, it is also important that justice is quickly served and appropriate punishment is given to an offender. Government agencies like the police should work together with non-profits who are vigorously fighting to bring an end to this menace.
What will be your advice to the government on the reopening of schools?
It is very important to note that the lives of students are really important and shouldn’t be put to risk just for school to reopen. As of Friday, June 19, 19,808 cases of coronavirus were recorded in Nigeria, although some states are more affected than others. If schools are going to reopen, the government must first consider the rate of cases in the different states. Schools also have to ensure that they strictly follow all instructions as listed by the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, to ensure that their students are safe.
There’s been an increasing attention on the global efforts for gender equality. What, in your opinion might still be missing?
Gender equality is simply about giving women the same opportunities that are available to men but not many people understand it. It is often seen as a power tussle between the male and female genders. Although some people choose to stick to what they think of it, however, I think it is important to educate people on what gender equality really means. You would be surprised that some women who are also advocating for gender equality do not have a good understanding of it. I think that there is a need for people to be enlightened about what gender equality means and how discrimination and stereotyping hold women and girls back from attaining their full potential.
Why do you think there is need for Sex education in schools?
It is so sad that in Nigeria, the curriculums are not tailored to meet the needs of students. We do not have to stick to what we were taught years ago. Times are changing and people have to change too. With the growing rate of abuse cases, it is important that sex education is introduced in schools. Young people should know about their bodies and how they are the only ones entitled to it. Boys and girls need to be taught about consent and why they must respect the opinions of others. They have to be taught how to say no and mean it. They need to know who an abuser is and how they can report their abusers, among other topics. Schools should also create counselling centres and employ professionals who have been trained to work with young people.
What advice would you give young girls today?
I believe girls have enough advice to last a lifetime as they have been receiving them since they were little. It’s time society listens to what girls also have to say. So, on behalf of others, I’d say girls want to be safe. Girls want to have access to quality education. Girls do not want to be married off at a young age. Girls want access to a good healthcare system. Girls want to be visible in politics and every other industry. Girls want to have access to the opportunities that are available to their male counterparts. Girls want everything. Girls want to fly.
Recently, you were selected as one of the 300 Women Deliver Young Leaders of the class of 2020, advocating gender equality. What do you hope to achieve in your campaign?
I hope to be able to normalise the discussion on menstrual matters, especially to young girls. For me, it is important that young girls have deep and quality information about menstruation. One of the things I hope to achieve is the way menstrual hygiene management (MHM) is taught in schools. From my conversation with young girls about MHM, their teachers hardly touch on the topic and when they do, it’s just a shallow discussion. Meanwhile, a 2015 UNICEF report on the assessment of menstrual hygiene management in some Nigerian secondary schools revealed that there were inconsistencies in the subjects that addressed menstruation as well as information shared in schools. The report also stated that teachers were uncomfortable with talking about menstruation matters, which indirectly has an effect on what young girls know about it.
Tell us about the Women Deliver Young Leaders Programme?
The Women Deliver Young Leaders Programme (WDYLP) is an international leadership initiative focused on gender and health equity. The programme helps to elevate the work of young people like me taking a stand for gender equality by giving us the training and resources to extend our influence and actively shape policies that affect the health and rights of girls, women, and other young people.
What is the most daunting challenge women face today?
There are various challenges women faced today. The reality of one woman is different from the other hence you cannot belittle one to highlight the other.