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In Abuja, ActionAid canvases safe cities for women with photo exhibits


Kaltume hawking during school hours

ActionAid Nigeria, last week, opened a photo exhibition to canvass friendly environments for Nigerian women in public places. With the theme, ‘Women Access to Gender Responsive Public Places,’ the exhibition was strategically mounted at the foyer of Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Abuja.
Although it ended the same day, the exhibition, however, succeeded in drawing attention of art lovers, government functionaries as well as other personalities, especially those who share in the vision of safe cities for women, to the intrinsic message of the exhibition.
ActionAid, a movement working together to enhance human rights and defeat poverty, has, in the course of its operation in Nigeria, placed gender empowerment at the front burner. Working directly with the constituencies of the poor and excluded communities, it has reached over 140,000 people, particularly women and girls. This time, the organisation recognises the place of arts in its campaign and concluded that life photos of various challenges encountered by women in the use of public places, would best deliver its messages. Its target audience being governments of the day, whose responsibility it is to ensure better living conditions for citizens.
Consequently, ActionAid has engaged with photographers in line with the general theme of the exhibition. The photo collection on display was gathered from various cities and towns the organisation operates in throughout the country. Aside photos taken personally by Actionaid, others were shots taken by some other individual artists.
All the photos comprise of female figures of distinct age brackets, each representing a peculiar challenge confronting the feminine gender as they operate in male dominated environments. The photographs are further complemented with true-life tales of individual experiences in public places.

For ActionAid Nigeria, the choice of photo exhibition as a medium for campaign was informed by the understanding that art speaks in entirely different ways from the written text.

According to a staff of ActionAid, Mr. Tunde Aremu, “The visual image tells stories in a manner that viewers are able to connect with them and internalise issues faster than the written text. At a glance, the visual images tell full stories. The power of photos is so much that people can easily identify with them. Art brings into the consciousness of people things that are already in their sub-consciousness.
“It is not as if people do not come across these issues in their everyday lives, but they hardly have the time to stop and reflect on them. But when same issues are presented in the form of an exhibition or documentation, people have the opportunity of understanding them differently.”
Over 50 pieces of artwork featured in the exhibition, highlighting various areas of lapses in public places. Searchlight was particularly beamed on the nation’s public transport system, security situation in both cities and rural areas, girl-child education, agricultural financing for women as well as inadequacies in the public health sector across the country.

Through the lenses, the viewers are able to identify with a helpless family of mother and her children in Abuato community of Delta State. The low class woman narrates her ordeal in giving birth to her children in a community that lacks basic health care facilities. The exhibitor decries lack of government presence, especially in the provision of primary health facility, thereby exposing women and their children to maternal and infant mortality.
There is also Kaltume from the Northern part of the country. The photo of a young, female of school-going age, who is hawking during school hours in the 21st century is thought-provoking. Kaltume is the third in a family of four children. The look on her face is that of an unassuming young girl, oblivious of what the future holds for her. Though she is in her teens, she is totally ignorant of her age due to illiteracy.

Kaltume would have loved to go to school like her mates, but her mother, a widow, cannot afford the hidden charges attached to free primary and education. So, ‘Kaltume’ hopes against hope that some time, some day, divinity will beam its light on her. But ActionAid emphasises that ‘Kaltume’ is not alone in her world. In fact, she speaks for over 10.5 million out-of-school children across the country, whose future is evidently bleak.

ON the shoulder of ‘Kaltume’ also lies the burden of the phenomenal sexual assaults that have become prevalent in the society. Due to lack of security in public places and lack of street lighting, several young women, who roam the streets in search of livelihood, have been assaulted, raped and even murdered.
Another artwork titled ‘Farida’ represents expectant mothers in a society that pays little attention to the group. ‘Farida’ is the photo of a heavily pregnant woman struggling among men to gain enter public transport in an urban area. In the circumstance, she is left with two options – to walk to her destination or risk being injured as she struggles to secure a space in the public transport. Beyond ‘Farida,’ the lens of an Abuja-based photojournalist, Wale Elekolusi, equally captures another woman struggling to jump into a moving bus. The yellow-coloured of the bus aptly situates the scene in Lagos State, where vehicles hardly stop for passengers to board, thus making life unbearable for women and children who have no personal means of transport.
Country Director, ActionAid Nigeria, Atuluku Ojobo, who was represented at the opening of the exhibition by the Manager, Women’s Right Programme, Nigeria, Nkechi Ilochi-Omekedo explained that the organisation was not expecting a separate society for the women. Rather, bringing such issues to the fore through the exhibition was the organisation’s way of drawing government’s attention to the needs of its citizens. The Safe Cities Campaign is one of ActionAid’s International global campaigns.
“The aim is to improve safety, mobility and access to public services for women and girls living in poverty and exclusion. The campaign, among other objectives, seeks to reduce violence against women and girls as they move around the city in transports routes, market places, factory sites, and around university campuses. Additionally, it seeks to support the enactment and implementation of gender inclusive urban policies and legislation that can result in reduction of violence and fear experienced by women and girls in various public spaces.”

There is also the portrait of a middle-aged woman, Adenike, toiling in the farm. From the artwork, the labour is huge, yet she makes do with local implements. The look on her face is also that of a woman overwhelmed by her situation. Adenike epitomises the large population of women, who lack access to agricultural loans for mechanised farming.

Ilochi-Omekedo, while explaining the artwork, stated that about 80 per cent of the nation’s agricultural produce comes from small farmers, who are majorly rural women and added, “Unfortunately, these women do not have access and control over land and productive resources. They also struggle to access credit facilities and farm inputs required to improve their livelihood.”

She decried women’s use of local tools, while labour-saving devices benefit mostly the male farmers.According to her, “Women need labour-saving farming equipment to make their work easy. Government can provide these for the women through low interest loan facilities or selling the equipment at subsidised costs.”
The exhibition also looked at the general security for women and several other areas the female gender has not functioned optimally due to lack of necessary facilities in public places.

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