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Govt should ensure that more women are appointed as decision-makers -Barr. Rita Ilevbare

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Barr Mrs. Rita Ilevbare, the Executive Director of Gender Relevance Initiative Promotion (GRIP) and the Coordinator of the Gender and Constitutional Reform Network in Ekiti State (GECOR N). She talks to ISAAC NGUMAH on the challenges facing the organization and the need for government to involve women in decision making, among others. Excerpt:

 What is Gender Relevance Initiative Promotion all about?

Gender Relevance Initiative Promotion is a non-governmental organization registered with cooperate affairs commission Nigeria working for the interest of women and children and principally to promote gender justice.

How committed is your organization in ending gender discrimination?

My organization is very committed working in the area of policies and legal frame work around Nigeria to ensure that the right of the vulnerable especially women and children are protected. Beyond working on policies and legal frame work, we ensure that we provide legal services to women who cannot otherwise afford legal services and in addition to that, we engage in advocacies, relevant stakeholders on the needs to ensure that women’s rights are respected; women are promoted; and their rights are preserved. We also engage in communities’ sensitization; we engage political leaders, religious and community leaders on the need for them to realize that women’s rights are protected.

What are your policies and legal framework?

Like I told you, the organization is registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission, as a non-governmental organization with a Board that oversees what we do at (GRIP). Beyond that, we have organizational policies that guide our principles. We have a Constitution; we have other policies like financial policies that regulate our financial transactions. We have gender policies; we also have travelling policies; we have volunteering policies, among others. These policies keep us on perspective and ensure that we work with our policies and law to ensure we meet our set objectives aimed at promoting gender justice and development.

How would you ensure that women’s right are respected?

We have done quite a lot. I told you that we work under policies and law; we work with Ekiti State in 2011 to enact the Gender-based Violence Law in Ekiti State. When the law was reviewed in 2019, we also work with relevant stakeholders to ensure that this law is reviewed to meet current reality. Presently, our organization is a member of National Working Committee on Violence Against Person Prohibition law; we also engage in training people on this law. We are not only working with other stakeholders to ensure that laws are enacted; we also make sure that these translate to benefit women. We have intervened in over 1,000 cases including that of women either through legal advice or legal representation for women who are facing one abuse or the other. We also ensure that we train stakeholders especially law enforcement agencies. We are working on all these to ensure that this law translates justice for women.  So, we have done quite a lot; we also ensure that we sensitise women; we also train.  Training is not enough for you to enact law that protects women; women themselves need to know what this law is all about and they need to access these laws.

Can you tell us about your gender development?

Our gender development that we are doing is to empower women to let them know that there is nothing a man can do that a woman cannot do. So, we are empowering women especially; we have a component we call school outreach; this is what we engage young children, both boys and girls on the issues of gender development and respect for the female gender. So, from there, we make these children to understand what are preaching is fairness and equal access to development. So, quite a lot; we have mentored young girls into responsible women who are now leaders on their various endeavours; children who have proceeded to university as a result of our mentoring. A lot of them are even aspiring for political positions. We also work with women to ensure women participation and so on. We also engage the economical empowerment; we also empowered quite a lot of women through skills acquisitions or through learning a trade and after setting them up with trade of their choices and these women now have means of economic development and they are able to continue their development and be relevant to themselves, their families and the society.

How far with your sensitization and training for women?

I told you that we do a lot of sensitization ranging from school children, women group and community, media at different levels. We have a component, our school outreach; this is targetted at young children to solve the problems of gender inequality and women right; we also engage women group like the National Council for Women Society; Iyaolojas and other women groups. So, our sensitization is across boards. At times, we also leverage on technology and do sensitizations on social media handle like the Face book via Twitter handle and so on and so forth.

How do you empower women and girls?

I said we have the school outreach; we broaden the knowledge of children both male and females. Our target is not only the girls in schools, most schools are mixed schools; so, during our school outreach, we empower these young girls, even boys who are in schools for the need of gender inequality; that’s one means we use to empower these school girls. Women, we empower women through setting them up with trade of their choice, making them learn a trade and thereafter setting them up, increasing their knowledge of their self world and women right. Those are all different levels we empower and we engage them on.

How many women and girls have you been able to reach out to through your NGO?

We have been able to reach out to over 10,000 women and girls in different levels either through sensitization or through economic empowerment; and through legal representation, over 1,000 women and girls have benefitted from our legal support from our sensitization and from our capacity building and economic empowerment, even 10,000 across Nigeria not only in Ekiti have benefitted from our interventions.

How many of your projects have you executed so far?

We have executed so many uncountable projects.

Who are your sponsors?

Our sponsors are our board of trustees. We have individual sponsors; we have sponsors at different levels, we have religious bodies sponsoring us; we have some local donor agencies and some foreign agencies but basically, our organization is targetted at people with like minds and our legal services, we have four lawyers who are members in our board, so, we leverage on our strength. The strength of this organization is the fact that it is a legal support intervention. With the four lawyers in our midst, we don’t need to hire any lawyer, we don’t need to go and get any lawyer to oversee our legal support for our clients.  We can handle our legal support interventions; so what I am trying to say in essence is that funding or not funding, we have our local in-house that we use to reach our target need.

Do you get any support from government?

Yes, we get support from the government; they provide us with enabling environment and partnership.  

What and what do you want government to do to support your organizations?

Government is already supporting our organization. In Ekiti State for example, our organization is a member of Ekiti State gender-based outlet management committee. Our organization is coordinating the sexual assaults referee center established by the government. Government is supporting our organization through collaborations and enabling environment, government can still do its best; government also supports some of our women who are survivors of gender-based violence through economic empowerment and relocation of these women. So, government is doing a lot, government can still do better.

How many years have you been running the organsation?

For 12 years now. It was established in 2011.

What are your challenges running the NGO?

I won’t say really, but there are challenges. Our challenges are kind of our stepping stones, there are not too many challenges that we can’t surmount. Of course, manpower is a challenge because of the volume of work that we have to do; a lot of people need our services. Our legal services, the staff what we have on ground are not able to meet up. Then of course, as you know that as it is in every strata, finance is a challenge.

What inspired you to start the organization?

It was to meet the yearnings of my community than I met it.  What inspired me was to ensure that women and men have equal opportunities; to attend to their potentials as a growing up child.  I saw that development and gender gap between men and women and I saw that my mother was empowered to an extent. So many things that women have to contend with and we the children do not have to contend with it and I know that if every woman is empowered, then these discriminations will be minimal that was my inspirations to ensure that every child who is a female grows up to be a woman who is relevant through empowerment. I know that an empowered woman is less vulnerable to indiscrimination.

What is your focus?

Gender justice, promoting women’s right and child development

What are your experiences while running your NGO?

Fast tracking is a major challenge; a lot of people still think that when you are asking for better rights for women, it means that you do not recognize the male folk; that is not the focus. The focus of asking gender inequality recognizes that women too are human needs to be respected; it is not to undermine my experience. I notice that fast tracking is very, very strong. Culture varies is because you want a better life for a woman, there is this barrier at times we are labelled as someone who does not  have regards for the male folk as a feminist we are at a level-playing ground for the men and women have a lot to contribute for development.

What is your commitment on women in politics?

When we say women in politics, a lot of people think women in politics is just women should be spectators, dancing and follow men around.  People should join me to say enough of the clapping around; we need women at the table where decisions are being taken and so, we are empowering women to let them know that they deserve more than clapping. They deserve more than wearing aso- ebi; they deserve more than following the crowd, we are also holding government accountable for the 35 per cent affirmation that on every appointment that if women cannot get it by appointment, they can get by election. So, we also lobby government to make sure that in every appointment a sizeable number is reserved for women and that women are brought into the leadership position so that they too can be at the table where decisions that affect the society are being made.

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