In the words of Edith Chukwu: I want to see a world free of violence against women and girls

Date: 22 April 2015

Edith Chukwu, 29 years old, is a Girl Guide from Ebonyi, Nigeria. A trained peer educator and a biochemistry graduate, she is a Committee Member for the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) in the Africa Region. She is among a team of lead trainers who came to Zambia for a week-long training of trainers workshop, supported by UN Women and Zonta International, to roll out “Voices against Violence”, a unique non-formal education curriculum co-developed by UN Women and WAGGGS to prevent violence against women and girls. The curriculum is part of WAGGGS’ global campaign, “Stop the Violence, Speak out for Girls Rights.” Here, Edith shares her story about how she got involved in the programme and the impact she has seen. In her own words…

Edith Chukwu, 29, is among a team of lead Girl Guides trainers in Zambia for a workshop. Photo: UN Women/Urjasi Rudra
Edith Chukwu, 29, is among a team of lead Girl Guides trainers in Zambia for a workshop. Photo: UN Women/Urjasi Rudra

“As a young girl, I was sent to live with my relatives, who abused me physically and psychologically. When I joined Girl Guiding in school at 10 years old, it gave me a safe place to share my experience and slowly heal, with the right support. I grew up with a passion to work with girls and young women who have experienced gender-based violence so that they did not suffer in silence.

I live in Ebonyi, in the eastern part of Nigeria. Violence against girls and women in my country is endemic. According to the national review of the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action submitted by the Government of Nigeria earlier this year, 1 in 3 women and girls aged 15 – 24 have experienced violence. Female Genital Mutilation and Circumcisions (FGM/FGC) of girls is very common, based on the myth that it is an honourable practice and prevents promiscuity. Rape of girls is rampant, because girls are not aware of how to access justice, and even when they report, the rapists often go unpunished. Wife-battering is seen as a normal way of life, because once the husband has paid the bride price, he “owns” her. I grew up watching women live in fear and die in silence every day, because they were too ashamed to share their story.

What constitutes a healthy or an unhealthy relationship? Participants examine photographs as part of a train-the-trainers workshop in Zambia. Photo: UN Women/Urjasi Rudra
What constitutes a healthy or an unhealthy relationship? Participants examine photographs as part of a train-the-trainers workshop in Zambia. Photo: UN Women/Urjasi Rudra

In my community, women work hard and often provide for their families by hawking goods on the streets or parking areas. It is common for a man to have three or four wives so that he can send them out to work and then collect the money from them and spend it on alcohol.

Girl child labour is a common problem too. Girls are often sent away to live with distant relatives or acquaintances as domestic workers because the family prioritizes schooling and food for the boys. Most of these girls experience violence and have no one to speak out for them.

When I attended the WAGGGS Stop the Violence Campaign training towards the end of 2012, which introduced the elements of the Voices against Violence curriculum, I gained new skills on awareness-raising and campaigning. I learned how to lobby community leaders and local governments to speak out for girls’ rights and to prevent violence against girls and women. The training also empowered me to reach out to my peers, talk about issues that are often painful and taboo, and to take action to stop violence in our communities.

Edith Chukwu (right), helps guide fellow Girl Guides at a train-the-trainers workshop in Zambia to help roll out the “Voices against Violence” non-formal education curriculum. Photo: UN Women/Urjasi Rudra
Edith Chukwu (right), helps guide fellow Girl Guides at a train-the-trainers workshop in Zambia to help roll out the “Voices against Violence” non-formal education curriculum. Photo: UN Women/Urjasi Rudra

Together with other Guides from my association, we decided to tackle three main issues – rape of girls and young women, female genital mutilation, and girl child labour. We first appealed to the wife of the Governor of my State capital, Abakaliki, who was a Girl Guide member. With her help, we invited the wives of government officials from 13 provinces to a series of Stop the Violence Campaign events between February 2013 and June 2014. We talked about the issues impacting women and girls in these communities and identified the harmful practices that perpetuate violence against girls and women. Thereafter, the wives, who had influence in their communities and with their husbands, started to share the messages of the campaign. They became our voices for girls in communities where we were not present. As a result, more girls started reporting the abuse they were experiencing, often directly to the Girl Guides, who would help them in seeking further support.

Working as a Girl Guide, I have learned the value of non-formal education first hand. In my State, Ebonyi, where the majority of girls and young women do not have access to formal education, a non-formal curriculum, such as Voices against Violence, is a powerful tool for community development.

Training trainers

From 17-22 April in Zambia, Edith and her team trained almost 50 youth leaders and trainers from Denmark, Italy, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Portugal, South Africa and Zambia, who will go on to train others in their countries and deliver the “Voices against Violence” curriculum to children and young people. Through content appropriate for young people aged 5 to 25 years, it educates them about the root causes of violence, how to access support if violence is experienced, and involves them in prevention efforts. Upon completing six training sessions, Girl Guides and Girl Scouts earn a “Voices against Violence” badge and go on to take action in their communities. The Zambia workshop is the second in a series of four regional workshops to implement the project.

During my first meeting with girls in my community, I realized that a lot of them did not even know they had rights. Some thought violence was a normal or inevitable way of life because of their religion or culture, and others thought it was a way of disciplining girls and women. They believed that they could not talk about being beaten by parents, or being molested or raped, because it would bring shame to their families.

Now that I have been trained to deliver the Voices against Violence curriculum, I can pass on the knowledge that I’ve gained to others. When I return to my country after this workshop, I will train 13 national trainers who represent the 13 districts in my State. Through the non-formal education activities provided by this curriculum, by the end of next year I will be able to inform and empower some 1,500 girls between the ages of 6 to 25, some of whom may not even be able to attend school, to learn about their rights and break the silence about violence. It’s the first step towards ending violence against women and girls.

Upon completing six training sessions, Girl Guides and Girl Scouts earn a “Voices against Violence” badge and go on to take action in their communities. Photo: UN Women/Urjasi Rudra
Upon completing six training sessions, Girl Guides and Girl Scouts earn a “Voices against Violence” badge and go on to take action in their communities. Photo: UN Women/Urjasi Rudra

Since my Girl Guide Association got involved in delivering the Voices against Violence curriculum as part of their education programme, they have developed a child protection policy, an important tool for an organization like ours. Our membership has increased, as more girls and young women started coming to us for information and the demand for the education programme increased. In other parts of Nigeria too, Girl Guides have organized community campaigns to raise awareness about harmful practices against girls and young women, and engaged churches and community leaders in prevention efforts.

I want to see a world where girls and women are free from violence and are treated as equals to men and boys. Voices against Violence takes us on a journey to make this possible. One day, I will look back and say, ‘I was part of this, and now the world is a better place for all of us’.”

The views expressed in this article are of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of UN Women.

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