NEW AWLA PRESIDENT, EFOSA ETOMI PLEDGES MORE VIGOROUS PURSUIT OF GENDER RIGHTS
Cometh the moment, goes an old saying, cometh the man (or, in this case, woman). There comes a time in the life of an individual, a corporate organization or a national entity, when it must embark on a critical reckoning in order to assess it’s current status and fortunes in order to chart a proper course for the future. The election of Mrs. Efe Etomi as the new President of the African Women Lawyers’ Association (AWLA) is in recognition of that critical juncture in the life of that Association, and a response to it.
An influential Bar leader and member of Nigeria’s National Judicial Council, Mrs. Etomi is also a member of the Nigerian Bar Association’s Section on Business Law (NBA-SBL) and the International Bar Association (IBA). A Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Mediators and Concilators, she also belongs to such important bodies as the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA); the International Academy of Family Lawyers (IAFL), and the International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP), among others.
Her first address as AWLA President captured the import of this moment, both in her own life and career, and in the life of the Association and it’s expected role in the global scheme of things – especially as concerns the continuing fight for gender rights and equality for all under the law. She promised, as AWLA boss, to “promote the principles and aims of the African Union, the United Nations, the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, Amnesty International, the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, while also holding these organisations accountable by applying legal pressure where they fall short.”
“We are at a turning point when it comes to the battle for gender equality and justice… as individuals, as a nation, as a continent, as one world.” she said. “There is a lot of work to do and a lot of work that has already been done by so many women before me who paved the way.”
Quoting the saying, ‘Educate a woman and you educate a nation,’ the new AWLA President said that while rooted in truth, noble sentiments like that also serve to mask a societal problem behind pretty words.
“The trope of the quiet woman who gives endlessly to others, often to her own detriment no longer applies,” Etomi declared. “It is time for women to play key roles in society. It is time for us to step into positions of leadership, not just as the neck, but as the head. It is time for our voices to be heard. For us to be supported by those around us, if we are to be pillars of support for everyone else.”
The AWLA President added that it was time to put a halt to the marginalization of the female in society, from the prepubescent girl child subjected to marriage before she has fully matured in various normalised practices, to women forced to undergo female genital mutilation and a lack of equal access to education, to the much too often silenced and villainised survivors of sexual assault, to women like herself who attained positions of responsibility only to be held to higher, more critical standards than her male counterparts.
“Some may hear this and feel threatened, believing that feminism stems from a place of hate and wanting to exact revenge on our oppressors,” she said. “This happens despite multiple attempts by so many to explain that feminism is simply a call for fairness and equality, an appeal to the humanity that we all possess. Many may believe the ideals but shirk from the term itself. This is because, In a world where we are repeatedly subjected to the trauma of gross abuses of human rights, it can seem like brute force and subjugation are the only things that prevail. I am here to challenge that notion, because it is the people who shape society and determine cultural norms. Patriarchal values and entrenched misogyny may have taught us that there is only one way to survive in this world… but we are not just meant to survive. We are meant to thrive.”
As more and more women step up to positions of power and use those positions to reach out and help others to do the same, Mrs. Etomi said, they shape the world as it should be. “Our strength lies in our boundless intellect refusing to be stifled; our embracing of our emotional intelligence without the fear of being labelled as “too sensitive”. Our capacity for empathy can change the world and it will.”
She identified the core objectives of AWLA to include the following:
• Identify the pressing needs of self-identifying women and children across Africa;
• Promote, preserve and protect the rights and interests of self-identifying women and children across Africa;
• Challenge societal norms that condone discrimination, violence, abuse and indignity against women and children;
• Expand and protect the legal status of women and children in Africa, through enforcing existing laws designed to do so and pushing for legislative reform where needed;
• Innovate new ways of moving forward with equity for all self-identifying women and children;
• Develop powerful, just women lawyers through training, mentorship and constantly evolving modes of support, in order to grow competence and capacity to face legal and societal challenges; and
• Rebuild an Africa where gender does not determine status, and being female does not relegate one to the position of second-class citizenship.
AWLA, she said, aims to achieve these objectives by the following means:
• Expanding networks among female lawyers across Africa and beyond;
• Seeking sponsorships from and partnerships with like-minded organisations in Africa and the world on various empowerment & justice campaigns;
• Supporting grassroots female-led organisations and individuals already doing this important work;
• Utilizing information and technology platforms to raise awareness and develop new strategies for advocacy;
• Conducting research and launching initiatives as needs arise within the continent
• Increasing AWLA’s accessibility and profile on an individual and organisational level in order to provide those in need with a clear route to assistance; and collaborate with and learn from human rights organisations that are also proffering solutions and generating data for use by individuals, industries and policy makers.
She concluded her address by calling for more enthusiastic support of all stakeholders, without which AWLA could not hope to accomplish the aforementioned goals, which she described as ambitious but attainable. She called on stakeholders in need of information or assistance of any kind to reach the Association via it’s website and social media platforms.
“Together” Etomi ended by saying, “we will bring about a better, safer, more equitable world for women and children, and in doing so build a better world for us all.”