‘Our Ninth Assembly should revisit the Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill’
Dr. Eleanor Nwadinobi is the current International President-Elect Medical Women’s International Association (MWIA), founding co-chair Steering Committee of Every Woman Treaty and Gender Advisor to the Nigeria Policing Programme. The independent gender, health, women’s rights,
peace and security consultant has worked on a wide range of issues including child trafficking, girls education, peace building, and violence prevention with the African Union, DFID, ECOWAS, UNICEF and the World Bank. Nwadinobi facilitated support for passage of the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) act in Nigeria and led a team of experts to draft a Regional Strategy for Stabilisation, Recovery and Resilience for countries affected by Boko Haram. She is the immediate past sub-Saharan Africa Regional Chair of the United Nations NGO/DPI Executive Committee and has been a United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) keynote speaker. The multiple award winner is also the founding president, Widows Development Organisation (WiDO) and founding zonal coordinator of a coalition on Violence Against Women (CEVAW). Nwadinobi is an author and contributor to several publications, her personal profile is featured in Friedrich Ebert Stiftung publication titled “The Hands that build Nigeria: Nigerian women role models.” In this interview with IJEOMA-THOMAS-ODIA, she shares her drive for the womenfolk and her new role.
Tell us a bit about growing up and what informed your choice of studying medicine?
Growing up was most interesting being in a multicultural family. My father was one of Nigeria’s pioneer veterinary doctors, and my mother a nurse, from Jamaica. I enjoyed the diversity that came with the mixed marriage. My parents told me that at the age of five, I came across a road traffic crash and saw the efforts being made by good Samaritans at the roadside to assist the victims and then and there, announced that I would like to be a doctor.
Congratulations once again on your new role, did you see it coming, especially as you are the first Nigerian taking it up?
Many thanks. Yes indeed, my new role as international President-elect of the Medical Women’s International Association (MWIA) and the first Nigerian to take up this position in the 100-year history of the association is indeed a special blessing from God. I saw it coming. I prayed in anticipation of it, I visualised and dreamt it, I internalised it and worked towards it. I rose through the ranks; I started at state level and worked towards being the branch president of Enugu state in 1995. Ten years later, I became national president and here I am 12 years later, as international president-elect. The road was very winding and bumpy with obstacles. I ran in the elections for this position three years ago and suffered defeat but I learnt a lot of lessons from that experience that are now part of my repository of lessons learnt.
What prepared you for this position and what are some of the things you intend putting in place during your tenure?
I had the opportunity to prepare for this position by rising through the ranks from state president to national president overseeing 21 states branches. I was also active at international level. I served on all the standing committees, scientific, ethics and resolutions and finance, where I rose to become chair of the finance committee. Each of these roles was a volunteer role that required investment of resources, time and technical expertise, but I looked at it as a learning opportunity. It was a sacrifice, without looking at the immediate benefits but at the opportunities that would be possible from the experience gained.
What informed your passion and focus for the womenfolk?
My passion for womenfolk started with my personal experience of being marginalised by society for being a girl. I was uncomfortable with seeing the glaring lack of equal opportunities for boys and girls in society, at home, at school and in the workplace. When I then came across the degrading and dehumanising treatment of widows, I got involved in working for the rights of women who suffered harmful traditional widowhood practices. I was further motivated by the changes that were possible through persistent advocacy. Whereas as a physician I was impacting on one life at a time, I used my knowledge and experience to impact whole populations.
While championing the cause of women, what has been your greatest concerns?
Among my concerns is of women who have lived in an environment where violence is all they have known all their lives. This violence has become normalised and therefore they do not even recognise that they are suffering violence. There are situations where women have so internalised the violence that it has become the norm in their lives, and therefore when advocates like myself attempt to speak up, they see us as going against the grain or challenging the status quo that they have come to accept as the norm. I am concerned about the culture of silence by survivors and the culture of impunity regarding perpetrators. I am deeply concerned that more people are not doing something about it or speaking up. Silence can be a form of acquiescence.
When it comes to making laws and policies that are gender-friendly, how well in your opinion has Nigeria thrived?
Nigeria has a track record of signing international conventions and resolutions but scores dismally low when it comes to domesticating and implementing these international laws. One good example regarding domestic laws is the violence against persons Prohibition (VAPP) act. I had the opportunity to work with a very fiercely passionate and dedicated group of activists who persistently pursued the bill for 14 years in our parliament. It is embarrassing to note that the bill took 14 years before it was passed but the reasons for this are quite clear. When you have a Parliament dominated by men, it is more difficult to get them to understand the issues that affect women more directly. Now that we have VAPP act in place, we are faced with our long-standing reputation of poor implementation of laws and policies.
What can be done to achieve a balance?
The first thing is for our ninth assembly to revisit the gender and equal opportunities bill. If our legislators could wake up out of their patriarchal slumber to their responsibility in passing this bill, they would have made history and would have left a lasting legacy for generations to come.
You have worked on a wide range of issues including child trafficking, girls’ education, peace building and violence prevention, which of these do you find quite peculiar and dear?
Each of these areas that has been mentioned is just as important as the other. They are actually all inextricably linked, therefore, it is not a case of finding one or the other particularly dear, but to realise that they are linked and there is an important nexus. Even though individuals and organisations have their specific mandate and area of priority, we need to concentrate on bringing our mandates and resources together to address specific issues.
In your wealth of experience and dealing on women related issues, how can women live above the stereotypes that have invaded our society?
Conformity and stereotypes is a thinking that has been sold to the vulnerable by those who benefit from working on the psyche of people. That is why my message to young girls is that we are all uniquely created and need to believe in ourselves in a way that does not necessarily have to conform to the box in which society prefers to keep us. We are all different, we are created differently and those who dare to stand out and break away from the pack are the ones who accomplish extraordinary feats.
How would you advise women on living their dreams and being a better part of themselves?
The first thing is to believe in yourself and to recognise that you have a purpose. Look for role models, but be aware that you cannot be exactly like your role model because everybody’s path is different. Dream your personal dream, visualise your dream and on a daily basis take a step towards actualising your dream. It might be helping a person in need, it could be learning from a mistake, investing in a relationship, or it could be volunteering, improving on your educational qualification or learning a new skill. All these put together, constitute an investment from which you can draw upon towards actualising your dream.
How do you wear all these professional and managerial hats perfectly and still have time for yourself?
The juggling art of work life balance is not at all easy. It takes great discipline to wear different hats. It means that you engage in good time management. You know how to politely decline certain invitations because as you get more involved, society expects that you will give more and more of your time. I am not in the place that I would like to be yet, but I am working on it . Discipline requires that you need to make sure that you are not pulled in different directions otherwise you will not give your best when it is required of you. It therefore means that you will lose some of your friends . You may be misunderstood by some, but those who truly love you will understand that you have to be cruel to be kind sometimes.
What is your philosophy of life?
My philosophy is first of all to be prayerful. To treat each individual with kindness and not necessarily expecting kindness in return. To have an encouraging word for those who we come across daily, because at the end of the day, everybody needs encouragement. I came across an anonymous quote which I like very much “encouragement is like sunlight to a closed flower.” Therefore, I’m generous with encouragement.