National President of Young Women Christian Association (YWCA) of Nigeria, Mrs Temilade Gbolahan in this interview by SAM NWAOKO speaks on the activities of the association, the rising cases of sexual violence and domestic abuse and what she thinks are the way out of the problem. Excerpts:
What really is YWCA? What is the organisation all about?
YWCA is a grassroots organisation; it is one of the first ever non-governmental associations in the world. Because we are church or bible-based, that is why you find us mostly in churches but normally, it should be a community association. The YWCA started in Great Britain in 1838 and it was brought to Nigeria in 1906. It started at St Peter’s, Ake, Abeokuta in 1906. We are taking care of vulnerable women and girls in the society by empowering them and giving them a future. When they started in Great Britain, it was during the Second World War. There wasn’t any place to put the sick soldiers, so it was that time that they decided to have a hostel where they can put the wife of the fallen soldiers. When they come to our hostels then, they would train them, give them handiwork or teach them a trade so that they can sustain themselves and feed their children. That was when YWCA started.
So, who is eligible to be a member of YWCA?
Anybody that is a Christian can be a member of YWCA. We have three types of membership: We have full membership, we have associate members and we have life membership. The full members are eligible from age 12-18 (we call them Y-thing). At age 18 to 120 years you are still a YWCA member because we believe that it is not age but your mind. Whether you are young or not, it is not the age that matters but your mind. So the full members are those who can vote and be voted for; they are registered, they have cards and they pay dues to the association. Associate members could be even a Muslim. Alhaji Yusuf Maitama Sule was our associate member and he was a Muslim. Associate members can be part of our meetings but they cannot vote and they cannot be voted for. Life members are those who are old members of YWCA, who have retired but we still recognise their contributions to the association. The world office can make them life members of the association.
Some of such life members were people like Mama Alakija, Mama Orleans from Lagos Area Council; Mama H.I.D Awolowo, who was the Chairman of Western State then, Mama Alice Longe and Mama Olori Ebun Andrew. Those people inspired us a lot. We looked up to them so much as small girls from our local churches then. As young girls, we ran errands for them and we learnt a lot from them. It was through them that we learnt that NGOs were meant to take care of people, not to share money. You rather bring your own money out to help humanity in whatever little way you can. YWCA is the oldest women NGO in the world. Those people inspired us, especially me. Mama Andrew and Mama Longe were under Mama Awolowo and the knowledge trickled down for the benefit of people like us. They were accountable and didn’t hide anything from us.
When you consider the YWCA of that time and that of now, what differences can you point out, especially regarding the level of participation of young women?
Sacrifice is lacking now. Our leaders then sacrificed a lot and our leaders did not look at faces before they did their duty. But now, sacrifice is lacking, it’s unlike before. Another thing is that some of our members thought that it was a church affair alone. Even if its church alone, there are still the needy there. I tell our people that we have boys in Bere who need our care, whether we like it or not they are our children and one day, they will not allow us and our children to sleep. We have many people who need our attention and they are not only in the church. YWCA is a good weapon we can use to reach the vulnerable and that is one of the things our people don’t seem to understand.
So, what are you doing to make the YWCA reach the vulnerable beyond the churches where members find themselves?
We have been doing the little we can to renew the awareness. My predecessor, Chikwe Ochiagha, tried her best. She went from state to state to tell members what to do as YWCA, that it is not a matter of our churches alone. She campaigned that we have to reach the vulnerable people wherever they are and where she stopped, that is where I have taken it up from. We have to reach the vulnerable everywhere, there is no way there would not be the needy in your community. You have to touch their lives. Touching lives should be the paramount duty of the YWCA. When children are to buy WAEC form in your church, as a YWCA member you should be able to help where necessary. There are widows whose children are still small. We have been talking to leaders in zones so that they can talk to our members, who should also talk to their children – girls and boys. We have to include the boys now.
On the issue of boys and young men and their behaviour, there seems to be a gap in the general attitude of the young people. What do you see?
There is a very wide gap in the behavioural patterns of then and now. Parents don’t seem to have time for their wards again, they are more after money. I remember that my mother would close her shop, the only provision store in our village in Akinyele LGA of Oyo State then, as early as 11:30 or thereabouts on Saturday because she wants to prepare her teaching manual for Sunday. Not many parents have time to pray with their children in the mornings anymore. We seem to have lost it. Chasing money has affected parenting in Nigeria. This is affecting our future. Not everybody have the privilege of having children and those who have should realise that children are a gift from God. We must train them well.
Do you see a correlation between the spike in violence in homes, marriages especially and sexual violence against women as a direct result of this?
Apart from this, I think a lot has to do also with upbringing. Then there is the issue of broken homes. Our Society and the government are the other factors that I think are major factors too. All education starts from home and if there is a crack from the home, definitely, you cannot build anything on a cracked foundation. There is so much divorce and single-parenting and “baby mama”, their new terminology. All these do not augur well for upbringing of a child. Now, the society does not care where a person’s wealth comes from or what the wealthy person did to earn their money. Our culture does not permit that; we should not do that. In our days, everyone in the compound or house has the right to correct your child if he errs but now, people don’t even go to say hello to each other in the estate, let alone correcting them. I think there should be a change regarding that. The government should look into the case of irregular dressing, hair cut and behaviour. For me, I will say that they should be arrested by the government and questioned. I think there should be a way of curbing anti-social behaviours by the young people.
Going by the speed with which our society is losing values, what would you say to young mothers and fathers out there?
We have to go back to our source, our culture. In our culture, it is said that one person gives birth to a child but 200 would partake in his upbringing. We have seen cases of parents going to school to attack teachers because such teachers disciplined their wards. We should discourage such attitude because it is alien to our culture. We need young parents to know that children should be brought up in the way that will not turn out to haunt them and the society in the future. We have moral decadence now because we are fast losing our culture, and we must go back to our roots and culture. Secondly, we should not limit our efforts to making the girl child good; we should also focus on the boys and give them equal amount of attention.
The recent rise in the number of reported rape cases is a cause for alarm. What do you think is the reason for the surge and what should we do?
I think that the lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to the rise in cases of domestic violence and rape. An idle mind is the devil’s workshop. The perpetrators of the rape are often people within the vicinity of their victims. In many cases, they are family members or friends; they are trusted people. We have even heard of boys being raped. The increase is so much during this lockdown. There are so many cases that are unreported so I believe that the event corona virus has led to the increase in the cases, and this is sad. We need to educate our boys that ladies are so sensitive. They need to be respected. Let your boys at home know that women are to be respected. Don’t say because your children are boys, you won’t teach them how to cook or do other domestic duties. Some would even burden a girl among boys with all the domestic duties on the dangerous premise that ‘she is a girl’. There should be equality at home in training the children. When the boys are well trained, then we should expect a good man and it is a good man that would be a good husband and a good father. So, there should be equality in bringing up the children.
Now that the cases are on the rise, what should the government do?
If the government can prescribe the capital punishment, that might curb the menace. There could be those who are doing it for rituals because I don’t think it is all for the fun of it. For example, the one that happened at in Akinyele Local Government Area of Oyo State, a pregnant woman was raped and was stoned to death; I don’t think that is ordinary. That tells me there could be something beyond that despicable act. There should be tough government action; death by hanging could serve as a deterrent. It is not our fault that God made us women more beautiful than the men and women should not be seen as playthings for the men.
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