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AWB seek end to SGBV in legal profession

By Ijeoma Thomas-Odia
04 December 2021   |   4:08 am
Research from the International Bar Association (IBA) has shown that one in three female legal professionals will be subject to abuse during their careers.

L-R: Chief Compliance Officer and Company Secretary, Oando Plc, Ayotola Jagun; Corporate Relations Director & Company Secretary, Guinness Nigeria PLC, Rotimi Odusola; Founder and Co-Chair, African Women on Board Dr. Nkiru Balonwu and Chairperson, African Women on Board, Prof. Chioma Agomo, while unveiling AWB’s Gender Equity Certification.

Research from the International Bar Association (IBA) has shown that one in three female legal professionals will be subject to abuse during their careers. Hence, the African Women on Board (AWB) have chosen the legal sector, which is the emblem of rights and equality, to ensure there is an end to Sexual and Gender Based Violence against women in the legal space.

This was the thrust at the project launch of Safety in the workplace initiative with focus on the legal and private sector organised by the board in Lagos.

According to the founder, AWB, Dr. Nkiru Balonwu “We want to shine light on this issue that has been plaguing women and young girls for as long as I can remember and it’s time we call attention and figure out how to create a solution. The importance of what we’re doing is the coalition we are creating; just like we have the faculty of law, we have law firms, people in the NBA and other practitioners. This is a coalition of change where you have people working together to start change from the ground upwards.”

Balonwu noted that having worked and experienced harassment in the workplace, it is a common phenomenon for women to go through either bullying or sexual harassment, which can be traumatic.

“That’s why we’re here, to talk about it, because we keep protecting the bad men while the good men don’t even know the situation of things; they’re shocked at the story they’re hearing.”

For Chairperson, AWB and Professor of Law at the University of Lagos, Chioma Agomo, law faculties need to understand that there is a problem that must be addressed.

“If you don’t acknowledge that there is a problem, you cannot begin to address it? That’s a top priority.
“There should be evolved new norms of conduct and elaborated relevant policies on addressing violence; we have to popularise the awareness of these new norms and undertake structured campaigns and advocacy to change the prevailing culture and introduce countering norms.”

She noted that curriculum should be designed to engage and teach students to deal with violence, sexual harassment, bullying and empower teachers to take a stand against in appropriate conduct by colleagues and students.

Vice President, Nigeria Bar Association Women’s Forum, Chinyere Okorocha stressed that sexual violence against women has been ongoing from time immemorial. In the Nigerian context women are unable to speak up most of the time because of the stigma associated with it.

“I think it’s a heinous crime, the fact that someone would subjugate you in such a manner and make you lose your voice.

“The NBA recently launched a sexual harassment policy and has set up a six man panel to implement it. The policy is seeking to eradicate sexual violence in the legal space because there are cases reported almost on a daily basis. The NBA had to step in and do something about it. So, I’m very hopeful because when there’s a repercussion, it will serve as a deterrent for those who want to go into it in the future.”

Okorocha added that this menace affects career growth of women, “he fact that you’re in an organisation, your boss makes advances at you and you refuse, immediately you’ll be passed over for promotion, that means you’re stuck on side of the ladder and can’t go any further. Just having the law is not enough; there was a sexual harassment act that the National Assembly passed, but can we actually say anything has changed and what mechanism do we have to ensure that we implement the laws.”

Speaking further on the implementation of laws, A Senior Partner at Strachan, Yemi Candide-Johnson noted, “You cannot enforce any law without political will, which is created by the polity. When you talk about women being 50 percent of the population, are they participants in the polity to the extent that they can put their imprint upon how we respond? The power is in the hands of men by large if women don’t participate in the polity. Political will is the only way laws are enforced to protect women and the only way to enforce it is to participate in the polity that forms that country.”