Founder of Kasandra Haynes Foundation, Kasandra-Ikpea Haynes, speaks to SUCCESS NWOGU about gender and child issues
What at the major gender issues in Nigeria?
These issues are African problems; our culture as Africans gives more power and authority to the men. Different cultures and beliefs influence gender inequality in Nigeria, especially in northern Nigeria, where women are considered to be inferior to men. Nigerians are not accepting the modern values and are sticking to their cultural ones which consider women as maids and child minders only. Gender inequality and patriarchy in Nigeria are driven by cultural as well as religious beliefs.
Women are considered to be inferior to men in most parts of Nigeria. They are only believed to be capable of being housekeepers and incapable of holding public positions. In this modern world, Nigerians still think that a woman cannot lead them politically. Women make up almost 50 per cent of the population of Nigeria and these women make up almost 70 per cent of Nigerian population that live below the poverty line. These statistics show that gender inequality affects not only the quality of life of women but also hamper the overall progress of the nation.
Many girls are not allowed to go to school and even those who go to school have a lower school life expectancy as compared to boys. One reason for it is that parents think any money that she’s going to earn is only going to benefit the husband and not them once she’s married.
In addition to this, severe religious restrictions are applied to women during pregnancy and menstruation when, for example, they are not even allowed to enter any religious place or touch any religious book.
What are the effects these have on married women or women in relationships?
Gender Violence affects marriages, dating relationships and even families. We have had cases of husbands raping and maltreating their wives, wives taking the law into their own hands and killing their husbands over allegations of infidelity and more, and gender bias treatment which includes a lot of unjustifiable restrictions imposed on a person because of their gender.
Interestingly women are beginning to speak up now. It’s time for Nigerians to realise that gender equality is important for the economic stability and progress of the country. The issues will be solved with time. In time, women and men will begin to see each other as human beings first.
Do you think that gender violence is on the increase in Nigeria?
Women are commonly subjected to physical, emotional, psychological violence and sexual harassment. One in every five Nigerian women experiences violence in her lifetime and in most cases, the abuser is a family member or a close friend. Unemployment, financial issues, drunk husbands or even wife earning more than husbands are some of the factors playing a major role in most domestic violence cases. The number of cases of domestic violence reported by women has increased in the past years. However, it’s still an unanswered question whether the cases have actually increased or it is just that women are becoming more comfortable in discussing and reporting this issue because in the past, women were afraid to report the incidents because of the stigma associated with it.
Although the number of cases being reported is now increasing, there are still a large number of cases that are not reported due to the fear of further abuse and blame. Women are now waking up all around the world. They are taking back control of their lives. Gone are the days when men were the providers. Now women are beginning to take up these roles. Several legislation and policies have also been introduced against women violence but it is still a challenge to completely eliminate violence against women.
Often times people view gender violence as only when husbands maltreat and beat up their wives, do you agree that wives also maltreat or beat up their husbands?
(Laughs) This reminds me of Nollywood movies. Usually being violent is considered to be a male problem. Women are thought to be more patient as compared to men. The cases of women being violent to their husbands are fewer but surely do exist as men and women both can be aggressive. Women are usually viewed by the law enforcement agencies and courts as victims.
Aggression can have many causes and it can take many forms. Women fight for different reasons as compared to men. They are less likely to be aggressive than men but on provocation, they can be violent too. Sometimes fear of getting hurt makes them aggressive or maltreatment by their spouse can be the reason. Violence, for whatever reason, is never the answer and should always be condemned.
Usually men who face domestic violence do not report the abuse because of the social stigma they face. Their masculinity is questioned and judgment by other males is another issue. Society does not recognise violence against men as much as that against women which also stops men from reporting such incidents.
Both men and women need to develop patience and learn to share their problems with their life partners as couples who discuss what bothers them with each other are less likely to have fights than those having communication gap.
How can gender violence on both sides be curbed or stopped?
Gender violence can be controlled, prevented but not totally eradicated. The first step towards curbing domestic violence for me would be that the government should make penalties for domestic violence consistent and firm irrespective of the perpetrator’s gender. Justice should be served.
Secondly, we ought to look into the way family courts handle domestic violence. Usually, the judicial system would handle the issues separately with one judge presiding over the divorce, and another hearing the criminal violence case. This is tough on the victims who have to deal with multiple sets of legal proceedings. This is traumatic on the victims.
Thirdly, the need to help women become economically independent is vital. This will help reduce poverty. People should tackle problems with dialogue and diplomacy.
We all have an important role to play in stopping domestic violence. Violence can be stopped by addressing its root causes. Kind and compassionate behavior should be encouraged among boys and girls during their younger learning stage. They should be taught to be more patient and respectful towards each other and to settle their arguments and conflicts without violence. Respectful relationships should be promoted. Believing in gender equality is very important in preventing violence so special importance should be given to it.
Government also has a responsibility to help end this evil. Laws should be introduced and strict punishments should be given to offenders. Just introducing the laws is of no value, prosecution should be made mandatory. Awareness via media, newspapers and other platforms can also play an important role in putting an end to violence.
What do you think about the cases of child abandonment in Nigeria?
Child abandonment in Nigeria has been on the increase. It is a very alarming situation and needs to be addressed and stopped. Child abandonment is a topic that is very dear to me. I was never abandoned as a child, however, the abandoned child story feels very personal to me. Babies are found in the dumps or public toilets. Some women leave their newborns in the hospitals. In Nigeria, the instant a child is born, they are abandoned by any of the following: government, parent or community.
From pregnancy to delivery, the woman is frustrated. No money, no job, no electricity, lack of affordable homes, no good hospitals for the masses, no good schools and the list goes on.
Here I am talking about the average Nigerian, over 90 million people, who cannot afford the basic necessities in life. They see no other option but to abandon their children. Lack of these basic necessities has led many people to abandon their babies after delivery.
We have a project through which we are single-handedly building homes, schools and rehabilitation centres for abandoned children and mothers. The project began over two years ago when stories of children being thrown away in dustbins came to my attention. We won’t remain silent. These children have no voice and the project is the voice of each abandoned child. It is building upon the initiative of getting the abandoned child all their basic needs as a Nigerian child.
In Nigeria, the causes of child abandonment are many. No reason is justifiable enough for a parent to abandon their child but family conflicts lead to broken homes, poverty, lack of basic necessities of life i.e. food, shelter, health care, electricity, water force parents to abandon their child. Almost all the causes point to one common cause, i.e. lack of good leadership. We do not have leaders who have the best interest of Nigerians at heart.
As a nation we have focused on oil and gas for over 50 years and neglected the citizens of Nigeria. We should not even be asking for the basic necessities. The government is obliged by oath to protect and provide for us. We are no longer demanding, we will be taking over what belongs to us.
How can the problem be solved?
Social welfare programmes should now be introduced by the government. Facilities that are our right should be provided for us so that no child should suffer such a fate because of the lack of basic facilities. Every one of us must begin to become the change we want to see in Nigeria. We have to make little steps to save an abandoned child. Family conflicts should be resolved without involving children.
What has been your experience with taking care of abandoned children?
Oh, it hasn’t been easy at all. My findings show that many women are mentally unstable due to their life experiences. One woman we accommodated recently ran out of the rehabilitation facility and said we wanted to arrest her. I found this very abnormal. So we are very optimistic and looking forward to a better future.
You appear to be from a privileged background, so what experience motivated you to look into the problem of abandoned babies?
(Laughs) I haven’t always been privileged. As a woman, I understand abandoning your child isn’t normal. There must be an underlining factor so I started investigating the situation and in 2019, I started the foundation.
What has been your career path?
Coming from a family of entrepreneurs and humanitarians, I have simply followed in my father’s footsteps as a businesswoman.
You identified lack of family planning, poverty, postnatal disorder and lack of sex education as some of the things that lead to child abandonment, what are you doing about those things beyond trying to take abandoned children off the street?
Yes, we are partnering with the government to introduce compulsory sex education to secondary schools and our rehabilitation centres are one of the avenues to spread the word. We are also creating a learning platform through social media to send the message across, as well as working with young women who are interested in this cause to spread the information in the country.
Looking back today, what aspects of your childhood would you say you miss most?
To be honest, nothing much.
What piece of advice was given to you by any of your parents that has lived with you till this day?
My father taught me the importance of honesty irrespective of who is involved.
As a little girl, what sort of dreams did you nurse?
I always wanted to be a lawyer. But getting to university, it all changed.
As a growing lady, did you have time to attend parties, especially on school campus or were you the type that stuck to books alone?
I partied every Friday in my first year until it started affecting my studies, so I switched to once a month.
Do you think you were pampered by your parents?
(Laughs) Pampered? We thank God my family’s situation changed in the early 90s. Before then, it was hard. My parents disciplined me a lot as a child. At age 11, I was sent to a boarding school. I had a balanced upbringing.
You have a short video on Youtube in which you talked about your time in Nigeria and you were seen buying local food, for how long were you away?
I am in Nigeria very often. I should be there right now; however, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, flights were cancelled.
What was your impression of Nigeria when you came into the country at that time?
Nigeria is a beautiful place. It is my home but we are a work in progress. I’m very optimistic.
Since you were not based in the country at some point, how well do you think you understand the terrain?
I have been in Nigeria for most of my life and clearly understand the terrain well enough with the help of my team.
What local Nigerian food do you look forward to eating all the time?
It has to be small chops and Chicken Suya.
What is your typical weekend like?
I hang out with friends and family at the beach.
Where is your favourite holiday destination?
Amsterdam in The Netherlands.
As a stylish woman, what informs your fashion choices?
Each day of the week has a different vibration to it. So I wear colours that match the vibe of each day. A lot of people may not notice this but I wear particular colours each day of the week.
Being a good-looking woman, how easy or tough has it been for you to handle advances from men?
I carry myself with respect and it shows. As an African woman, you must dress responsibly and dress accordingly. The later will follow.
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