With a passion for advancing the cause of the female folk, Mrs Peju Nwuga, a physiotherapist by profession, joined the Zonta Club which has branches in 67 countries in the world. The newly inaugurated president of the Zonta Club I, Ibadan, speaks with BLESSING GBARADA about the reasons for the rise in domestic violence and her goals and aspirations for the biennium.
Did you have any experience that informed your decision to join the club?
I joined the club in 1978. A friend and I started the Ile-Ife branch of the Zonta Club while I was a lecturer. I had learnt of the ideals of the club and it was something I was very interested in. I left the country for a while but I rejoined the club about five years ago.
What are some of these ideals?
Zonta stands for honesty. It symbolises the combination of honesty and trust, the inspiration and ability to work together for service and world understanding. From time past, women have always come together to fight for a common good. It is the oneness to stand together that helps them achieve their set goal. For instance, there was the Women Suffrage Movement where women, especially in Britain and the US, fought for women to have a vote. They were not just given; they fought for it.
Zonta stands for empowerment of women all over the world, that no woman will be treated shabbily or with violence and our women rights should be fought for and advocated for.
The empowerment of women comes in the form of advocacy, in terms of passing laws and so on. This is to ensure that women are treated in a proper way.
Empowerment in some countries also entails giving women some money to start a trade and so on. I can still remember back in the days, in our country especially in the south west, women were the backbone of the family. The woman got married, the man gave a sum of amount to his wife and from this amount, she traded and fed the family. A lot of men and women who have achieved and gone to the height of their profession like judges, lawyers, professors and so on, got there because of the efforts of their mothers. Most homes were also polygamous so there was a lot of struggle to see whose child was going to succeed and this responsibility fell on the woman, even though she was not educated.
How has being a member of Zonta changed you?
It has made me realise that we are not alone. No man is an island and no man can live for himself. It has also made me realize that women all over the world have a common background, future, fate. When you consider the things that happen to women all over the world, you see how it makes all of us sisters. So, when I see a woman suffering, it doesn’t matter where she is from; she is a woman and therefore my sister.
You’ve just been inaugurated as Zonta Club I President, what are your plans for the biennium?
My plans for the 2016-2018 biennium are in three sections. I will focus on health, advocacy and empowerment.
As regards health, I would want to focus on the reduction of maternal mortality which in Nigeria is pretty high. Most times, in our society, women prepare for the naming ceremony and not birth (prenatal, para-natal and post natal stages). There is no need for any woman to die in childbirth and the causes of this are multiple but not things that we can’t handle or look out for. There is the issue of poverty where you hear women say that they can’t visit the ante-natal clinic because of cost and money for transportation. There are also social issues, for instance a Muslim woman wouldn’t want to be examined by a man, and would prefer a female doctor. Another cause of high maternal mortality is sepsis or infections; eclampsia; obstructed labour. But these are all preventable and/or manageable with proper education.
I would also want to focus on screening for diabetes and hypertension among market women. These two diseases are silent killers and people who have them don’t know they do until they are almost dying; whereas these are diseases which when detected early can be properly managed.
In the area of advocacy, I will be looking at legal means of advancing the cause of the woman. The Oyo State government recently passed a bill prohibiting violence against persons. This is a welcome development for the women folk who are usually the victim. So, I intend to work at raising awareness in the community about such rights.
Regarding empowerment, I would like to replicate a project from the last biennium which entailed the provision of solar bio mass dryer for rural women farmers. The solar bio mass dryer is used to dry farm produce using solar power so as to prevent wastage and boost storage and preservation. With this dryer, farm produce can be dried without any form of contamination. It was distributed to some women during the last biennium and the women were very grateful because with the dryer, their excess produce could be dried and stored; they also didn’t have to worry about contamination from dust and animals. Because if you notice, animals like goats usually eat off produce spread in the sun to dry. Their children could also go to school since they didn’t have to stay back to chase goats and other animals from their produce. I would like to empower more women during my tenure.
I would also focus on educating the girl-child and encouraging leadership roles among them. Zonta International has the ‘Z’ Club established in secondary schools and the ‘Golden Z’ in universities. In these clubs, we train the girl-child to govern themselves and carry out some outreaches for their immediate communities. The idea is to train them on discipline and taking up leadership roles.
How do you intend to fund these projects?
At Zonta, we get support from good-spirited individuals in the society. They encourage us in so many ways, financial and otherwise. We, as members, also task one another. However, the government does not give us anything. They don’t even acknowledge that we are there.
In Nigeria today, there has been an increase in cases of violence against women and children, what would you attribute this surge to?
I’d say financial stress. A man is supposed to look after his family; if he doesn’t have a job or if he has a job that doesn’t pay well, he will be stressed out and when a man is stressed, he takes it out on the next person to him. There is this lesson I learnt during a psychology course. It derives from a story about a man who was so frustrated at work. He went home and the wife says something that upset him and he hit the wife. She looked around and then hit the child. The child also looked around and kicked the dog who then ran out, saw a postman and then bit him. So, you see, violence is transferred because of the internal stress of the individual. The man under stress from the economic crises in the country transfers the anguish and frustration on someone else, most likely the wife.
What are your dreams for women in Nigeria?
I will like to see women in Nigeria being able to read, write and do arithmetic. She should be able to gather information about what is going on around her. Whether it is in the English language or any other local language, she should be informed about what is happening in her country and beyond.
I also dream of a Nigeria where women are able to take care of themselves safely in a secure environment without harm or distress. They can stand on their own feet either in trade, academics, career or vocation I hope for women to also have the spirit of independency; not to depend on any man or family. This would boost her dignity and sense of self worth. I will like to see women have a voice and take active part in all that goes on around them. I want to see women with the kind of confidence men usually have.