The International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (25 November) is a day to stand taller. We begin the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, collaborating and working together at all levels to root out gender-based violence that damages communities everywhere.
Over my life, I have learnt much about the vital role women play in society. As a migrant and a woman, for me, violence was unavoidable during my journey that took me over land and sea. The women I know from home and those I have met have had little control over their own bodies. I have seen women experience terrible pain with no one to speak up for them.
Growing up in Lagos, women were perceived primarily as caregivers. Their main duty was to take care of household chores, cook, get married and have children. I faced challenges that made it impossible for me to have a say when making important decisions. I saw violence against women and girls ranging from genital mutilation to sexual violence to domestic violence. Women are expected to endure all this and say nothing. Then, seeing how women face abuse as migrants as they seek opportunities abroad made me decide to be a voice for them in my community.
Where I come from, every girl is taught to fear the elders and do only what elders instruct them to. This has a powerful influence on people’s life decisions, and can put them at risk of unsafe migration, child marriage, human trafficking and exploitation—the many dangerous situations that happen due to our vulnerability as a girl child.
I left to try to reach Europe in 2017. Even at the age of 26, I did not have as much power as I do now to say no to the migration offer made by my cousins. In my conversations with other women migrants in Libya, and from my own experience, the number one problem I identified—and desired to solve—was overcoming barriers to information.
It is important to me that more attention is paid to women’s and girls’ access to information. This is because the women I meet seem to have similar ideas, aspirations and almost always the same challenges. I see how women are unaware of their rights.
Women often do not have the right to education. Women do not speak. A woman is meant to listen even if what she’s told affects her; she is to accept it, digest it and live by it. This has made many women stay low for all their lives.
Chylian Azuh taking part in an IOM awareness raising workshop in 2018 Benin City, Edo state, Nigeria
This is why I decided to start a women’s migrant returnees’ association called the Female Returnee Forum. Its aim is to support girls and women to be less vulnerable to violence and exploitation. We give support to female returnees who have been victims of human trafficking and several forms of violence. The organization helps their process of healing.
As survivors, we inform women and girls on safe ways to migrate and how to stay safe and healthy, and advocate for their access to education, future opportunities and leadership in public life. Returning from Libya, I brought information to my community that can be a catalyst towards the growth and development of women and girls, by informing them of the risks and barriers they face.
A few months ago, I conducted a survey in my community on women’s role in public life. Out of 45 women and girls I interviewed aged between 14 and 45, about 60 per cent said they had not been able to develop skills, move their initiatives forward for businesses they hoped to launch or take part in decision-making within their community. This needs to change, and urgently. A healthy society is one that enables the equal participation of women and girls.
I believe that, a few years from now, many girls will be liberated from the challenges that bury the beautiful ideas they have. That will increase their motivation to make a positive contribution to society without fear of being judged, ignored or abused.
Women’s essential role in society must be recognized and appreciated. Women should have equal rights as men in every sphere of life; that’s the only way to create a better environment for everyone.
For the 16 Days of Activism, I will lead several campaign events to educate women about their rights.
Chylian Azuh is a writer and public speaker from Nigeria who was trained in 2018 as a Migrants as Messengers (MaM) volunteer—an awareness raising programme about irregular migration led by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in West Africa. Chylian returned to Nigeria voluntarily under the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration, and founded ‘Female Returnee Forum,’ an organization for women returnees, supporting a growing network of returnees involved in raising awareness about unsafe migration and challenging the stigmas often faced by migrants who have not reached their intended destination and return to their place of origin.
The views expressed in the article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of IOM.