The Chairman of the O.B. Lulu-Briggs Foundation, Dr. Seinye O.B. Lulu-Briggs, has reiterated the importance of ending gender discrimination and promoting gender equality in Africa.
Speaking at an event themed, ‘African Women in the 21st Century: Challenges and Prospects,’ that was organized by the African Women Lawyers Association (AWLA) to commemorate this year’s Pan African Women’s Day and the 16 Days of Activism to End Gender-Based Violence held at the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Port Harcourt Branch Building on Wednesday, October 25, Dr. Lulu-Briggs highlighted the historical significance of the dates.
The Pan African Women’s Day was instituted in 1962 by the African Union (AU) to pay tribute to the invaluable contributions of African women to the political and economic growth of African nations.
The 16 Days of Activism to End Gender-based Violence is a global campaign that begins on November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, and concludes on December 10, World Human Rights Day.
Dr. Lulu-Briggs noted the remarkable journey of African women, acknowledging the challenges they have faced throughout history while emphasizing the limitless prospects that the 21st century holds.
The renowned philanthropist acknowledged the progress made by African countries in promoting gender equality through the signing of agreements such as the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the African Union’s Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, known as the Maputo Protocol and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). However, she also emphasized the persistent challenges African women face, including gender-based violence and discrimination.
Dr. Lulu-Briggs shared a personal narrative as a widow to illustrate the struggles widows often endure.
“The experience gave more meaning to my longstanding humanitarian work to improve the plight of the underserved, the voiceless and the vulnerable majority in our midst in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, SDGs.
“I understood that as a widow – despite my accomplishments- I was invisible and at the mercy of ‘the patriarchy’ and ‘harmful cultural practices and traditions.’ Many widows are in a more precarious situation than I found myself in,” she said.
She highlighted the O.B. Lulu-Briggs Foundation’s longstanding support for the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA), Rivers Branch, in addressing discrimination and violence against women, adding that after becoming a widow in 2019, she felt a stronger personal motivation to increase her efforts to support widows and raise awareness of their challenges.
“Through the Widows Support Project, in partnership with AWLA, we reinvigorated this line of intervention by providing widows in Rivers State pro-bono legal assistance, skills training and financial support for the businesses of the widows of the Nigerian Army’s Division 6’s fallen soldiers and scholarships to ensure that their children remain in school”, she said.
She reiterated the importance of addressing gender-based violence and the need to engage influential figures in communities, both men and women, to support the cause.
Dr. Lulu-Briggs emphasized the role of organizations like AWLA in the fight against gender-based violence and called for collective efforts to make a positive impact in African communities.
She concluded by stressing the responsibility of everyone in Africa to contribute to ending gender-based violence and promoting nation-building.
The Rivers State coordinator of AWLA, Dr. Hilda Desmond Ihekaire, said the collaboration with the O. B. Lulu-Briggs Foundation affirmed the importance of celebrating the Pan African Women’s Day and recognizing the contributions of African women to nation-building.
She also highlighted the challenges faced by African women, including discrimination, violence, and limited participation in politics, among others.
Dr. Ihekaire urged for greater gender equality and emphasized the potential of women in leadership positions for a fairer future. She encouraged young girls to pursue their aspirations and advocated for women’s inclusion in politics.
Earlier in her opening remarks, the Chairman of the occasion, Hon Justice Augusta Chukwu, acknowledged the hurdles facing African women, ranging from gender-based discrimination to unequal access to educational and economic opportunities.
She emphasized the need for concerted efforts to dismantle these barriers and promote gender equality, envisioning a future where African women can fully harness their potential.
Amidst the daunting challenges, Hon Justice Augusta Chukwu also drew attention to the tremendous prospects that await the 21st-century African woman, noting the increasing recognition of women’s contributions in various fields, from politics to science, and the rising tide of female leaders on the continent.
Justice Chukwu expressed her belief that by embracing education, empowerment, and unity, African women are poised to lead the way in shaping a brighter and more inclusive future for the entire continent.
The Rivers State Commissioner of Police, Policarp Emeka Nwoyi, condemned in its entirety the longstanding injustices faced by widows in the society.
Urging an immediate end to discriminatory practices, CP Nwoyi emphasized that every individual, regardless of their marital status, deserves respect and dignity.
He said, “Widows are not to be marginalized or mistreated; they are equal members of our society and must be accorded their rightful place.”
The Commissioner further emphasized the importance of eradicating gender-based violence, a menace that has plagued communities for far too long.
He stated, “Gender-based violence against women and children is a despicable crime that must be stopped. It is our collective responsibility to protect the vulnerable and ensure their safety.”
He urged victims of gender-based violence to contact the CP Monitoring Unit for assistance, assuring them that their cases would be treated with the utmost seriousness and sensitivity.
Notable speakers delivered goodwill messages.
A former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Okey Wali, challenged women to take a bold stance on gender equality, urging them to strive for equal opportunities in all fields of human endeavour.
Wali emphasized that women had already demonstrated exceptional abilities in various sectors, including politics, law, business, and science. He cited numerous examples of women who had excelled in these domains, underscoring the point that gender should never be a barrier to achievement.
“We must celebrate and support the achievements of women and work to create an inclusive society where talent and ability, rather than gender, determine success,” Wali continued.
He called on government agencies, businesses, and educational institutions to actively promote policies encouraging and empowering women to pursue their dreams and careers.
In a keynote address at the occasion, an Associate Professor and Head of the Department of Private and Property Law at the Rivers State University (RSU), Port Harcourt, Anugbum Onuoha, described the African woman as a precious resource in her community, highlighting her challenges to include discrimination, gender-based violence education/economic challenge, isolation, sexual harassment and healthcare.
However, the academic said there are hopes and prospects for the African woman of the 21st century.
“For one, the 21st-century African woman is a full-fledged human being in her own right. She’s no longer an instrument to be passed from father to husband. She represents more than a bargaining chip to be negotiated or sold into marriage at the behest of her male relatives.
“She’s no longer just someone’s daughter, wife or mother, which are all essential wonderful, fulfilling roles”, Onuoha declared, adding that the 21st-century African woman is “something more”.
The event’s highlight was the presentation of an award of honour to the O. B. Lulu-Briggs Foundation with distinguished personalities, Hon. Justice Ihenacho Wilfred Obuzor and Hon. Justice T. S. Oji, among other recipients.
The Amanyanabo of Opobo Kingdom and former Chairman of Rivers State Council of Traditional Rulers, King Dandison Jaja and members of the Bar and Bench attended the event.