Posted March 10, 2014 from Nigeria

I am fascinated with women… I always have been. From the time I was a little kid I always wondered what made women thick. What is it about a woman that seemed to make men think that they were worth waging wars over? What is in her physique that causes sane men to lose their consciousness? Is there something in her gait that makes a man feel threatened if she even shows the slightest interest in encroaching on his territory? How do they bring out the ability in men to snap from rational beings to lunatics in the blink of an eye? I have sat down for 4 hours straight racking my brain for the one thing that makes a woman; reasons that will help me understand the singular quirk that explains her strength and magnitude. Her tenacity and steadfastness, the patience in her steps and pride in her shoulder… the mischief that dances in her eyes and the cockiness in her chin when she wants something she knows she is going to get. I have come to the conclusion that a woman is a Pandora box that cannot be completely understood neither can she be studied nor wholly made sense of. We are fascinating in our complexities… interesting and fresh in our mood changes… playful in pleasure and thick as the darkest night in the fire of pain. To commemorate this period when we take time out to celebrate Women I feel a great pleasure to realize that the female folk have come so far that there is a day set aside in the year to celebrate us. We have made long strides in the fight for recognition, equality and fair justice and we have been largely successful even though the road ahead remains long and hard. I celebrate all mothers who have the most difficult jobs of raising children. My former neighbour in Lagos Mama Tobi has four children. Her husband never held down a job for a long period of time so it fell on her to provide for her family. She was a real pillar Mama Tobi. She would wake up at 5:00am to get ready for work so she could leave the house by 6:00am to beat the early morning Lagos traffic. By the time she returned from work at around 8pm she would be really tired; sometimes she still mustered enough energy to check her children’s homework, cook dinner, put them to sleep and take care of her husband’s needs. I under appreciated her at the time because I was so young and it was rare for me to see a female breadwinner who was so humble and dogged at the same time in her efforts to ensure that her children got a good education and were brought up under the right conditions. I celebrate career women like Mama Tobi who have found a way to have an ambition and raise children at the same time. Making the conscious decision to become a full time stay at home wife, mother or both is not easy. It requires a selflessness that not all humans possess. To put the need of your partner and children before yours, making it your life mission to bring happiness to them and make sure the kids have a strong parental figure to guide them at all times as they go through life. To negate the selfishness required to have personal ambitions in the work place is a strong sacrifice that lots of women make today yet are taken for granted by a large number of the populace who fail to recognize the huge role these women play in shaping the lives of their children. A large part of the personality of children is determined by their parents, especially mothers. The ways they view the world and people in it tomorrow are shaped by lessons that we teach them today. Thus I urge mothers on the importance of teaching our children to observe before they judge. To stamp in them the importance of gender equality right from the home front because each child with an open heart goes a long way in molding more adults who are less discriminative and more supportive. I laud the efforts of feminist activist all over the world who work day and night to ensure that women’s rights are upheld; those who fight for justice and defend women who have no one to take up their cause. I draw strength from Shadi Sadr; the fierce Iranian lawyer and journalist who use her abilities to represent women who have been sentenced to execution. She is one of the Iranians who have campaigned to eradicate the capital punishment of execution by stoning particularly of women in a campaign called end stoning forever. She has been beaten, arrested and tortured yet her resolve has not been broken as she continues to support women rights in a conservative Iran that suppresses women. I am humbled by the courage of Cambodian Human rights advocate whose effort in the fight against human trafficking in her country has been widely praised. She was raped till the age of 14 sold to a brothel and forced into prostitution where she was later married off to a stranger who beat and raped her. She escaped to France when the threat to her life intensified and built a new life there. She returned to Cambodia to help women caught up in similar situations as she previously suffered and founded the NGO AFESIP (Agir pour les Femmes en Situation Precaire or Acting for Women in Distressing Situations) that provides sanctuary to women survivors of human trafficking. I pay homage to a fearless African, Christine Schuler-Deschryve who works to help victims of sexual abuse in the rape capital of the world Bukavu, Congo. In 2000 Christine Schuler-Deschryver watched her best friend’s rape and murder, just before she had an infant die in her arms. In the face of this horror she made a decision: she would do whatever it took to change things. She would alert the world to the horrors that she witnessed, and the horrors that were concealed in the Congo. She has helped to further the campaign “Stop Raping our Greatest Resources; Power to the Women and Girls of the Democratic Republic of Congo”. What is truly remarkable is her work in creating and overseeing City of Joy – an organization and center that serves as a refuge for women in the Congo. This organization shelters and supports the victims of rape and torture that have been left bereft of family and community in the wake of their ordeals. Co-founded by Christine and the NYC playwright Eve Ensler, this organization believes that these women don’t just need help, they need power. It offers them a place to spend 6 months not just in shelter, but it’s a place of safety, education, and empowerment. Christine’s courage is not just simple survival in the face of horror, but is the courage to seek joy in a world that contains the horror of men raping an 18-month old baby girl! Her courage is making a difference helping women to escape the ravages of abuse, and connect them to their power so they can help others do the same. We can feel blessed that we do not have to live in such a world, and Christine’s cause is one that should inspire us all to demand that the world change this abuse of women, both here and abroad ( I am happy when I think about Agnes Pareiyo, the Kenyan woman who established Tasaru Ntomonok Centre as a safe haven for girls. She is on the fore front in the fight against female genital mutilation and early childhood marriage in Massailand. Her effort has saved numerous young girls from the cut and has given them the platform to have an education. It is hard to imagine that there was a time when women could not vote or hold public positions or a period when women were not allowed to own properties or businesses individually. We have come a long way in the fight for emancipation and equality yet the road ahead is tumultuous and fraught with bumps. There is need for more female representation and visibility in government and key sectors of economies around the world. We must endeavor to create or join existing groups that awake our sense of socio-political and economic consciousness; groups where we can stick together and be encouraged to soar. Governments in third world countries have to do more to protect women from discrimination suffered in work places, public areas and even at home and provide better education for girls living in rural areas. The Legal marriage age must be raised far higher than what is obtainable in poor countries around the world where government leaders see this issue as a low level of priority. Sex offenders must be punished with the full wrath of the law to show the attitude of the government towards sexual abuse to the public. I urge you all, especially women living in third world countries to not lose sight of the goal. Keep fighting for what you believe is right even when myopic people will try to bring you down. We must be courageous as those before us have been to ensure that our children have a better chance of a good life than we have right now. We have been strong In the face of despair and endless persecution our dreams have not died… In the agony of pain and the hopelessness of our dire existence we have refused to lose hope When we have been beaten down and tortured we rose from the fear that they attempted to drown us in… Strong sisters… Pride of our nations… visionaries of the future… We will be strong!

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