Lawyer and a women’s rights advocate, Adebola Tolulope Adeoti was subjected to experiences of gender inequality from a young age. These unpleasant events spurred her passion to seek avenues to educate women and advocate for their rights.
She is the founder of Ladies Connect Initiative, a non- governmental organization which seeks to influence policies from a gender perspective in a bid to seek alleviation of marginalization towards an equitable society.
In this interview with Daily Sun, Adeoti addressed fundamental gender issues surrounding women and the girl-child. She spoke on how the law frowns at all forms of discrimination against women in Nigeria.
Following your focus on female gender advocacy, was your study of Law deliberate or by chance?
I remember I told my father that I wanted to become a lawyer right from a tender age. It began as superficial infatuation because I was fascinated by external features affiliated to the profession such as the wig and gown. However, as I advanced in age, I shed the weight of initial conception, got curious about details, shaped in prospects and became genuinely passionate about the profession.
My journey into female gender rights advocacy bears its root from my line of a career which crudely stemmed from attraction before it was inflamed with and informed by knowledge later in the years.
What are the experiences that spurred your passion to advocate for women and girls?
My journey into female gender rights advocacy began with my personal experience while growing up in my mother’s town, Eruwa in Oyo State.
My mother had just two girls and during that period, when I told people that I didn’t have a brother, they would either look on with weird disdain or offered contemptuous comments in line with traditional deep-seated gender-discriminatory perspective.
In the course of time, my initial culture shock got more riddled as events within formal social settings reinforced my vicious experiences. I had come first in the class in primary school, and at the end of the term, I was called out for the first position to receive handshake from the headmaster while a boy came second. He shook my hands casually and told the boy, ‘You are such a lazy boy. You permitted a mere girl to excel better than you’.
I felt attacked by the unfriendly environment and aroused my curiosity to search about my gender. Completing my primary school, I was enrolled at the Federal Government Girls’ College (FGGC), Oyo. That was a redefining moment for me. It was my first time seeing thousands of girls in such a multitude from diverse tribes.
Through my interaction with multitudes of girls at FGGC, I found it disturbing that thousands of girls were experiencing the same gender profiling stereotypes and discrimination in their various communities. That was the birth of energy, ignited me with a passion for women’s rights advocacy.
What are the unforgettable moments during your formative years of fueling your passion?
I remember in the night, we would sit around the quadrangle in our hostel at FGGC to discuss gender issues ranging from gender-based violence, early child marriage, teenage pregnancy, female genital mutilation, and other related social-cultural milieu. I just had that strong notion to make the world better and safer for thousands of girls and women.
Even though, it has been over ten years since leaving secondary school, I still remember clearly the experiences of the girls and these shaped most of my activist outreaches.
Retrospectively, most of my free period in FGGC was spent in the library, where I was exposed to intellectual works on history and women issues. I read about stories of great women who had played vital roles in the development of Nigeria.
While at the University, I also recall that my long essay in my final year dissertation at the Obafemi Awolowo University was anchored on ‘Feminism Jurisprudence’. I privileged to be supervised by Prof Ademola Popoola who encouraged me and gave me full support in my pursuit. My mentor, Bar. Olalekan Oladeji molded my perspective in feminism, too.
What are the basic rights of the woman as provided by the law of Nigeria you are most passionate to communicate to the women folks?
Section 42 of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended forbids and frowns at discrimination on the basis of sex .There is the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights. Section 18 (3) of the Charter provides that the state shall ensure the elimination of any form of discrimination against women and ensure the protection of the rights of the women and the child as stipulated in international declarations and conventions.
These laws and others provide women with the legal right to challenge any social, religious, cultural, religious or economic discriminatory practices melted to them as well as challenge archaic gender-stereotypes traditions such as gender violence, harmful widowhood rites and genital mutilation.
Most religions do not appreciate divorce. Based on your experience with gender discriminations, should a woman file for divorce or accept a divorce paper from her husband?
This is a question of allegiance either to the law of the land or to religion. Religion and law are not the same. We must bear in mind that every religion is bound and regulated by the law. Religion does everything to make sure people don’t separate so as to sustain the values of marriage but what happens when marriage becomes toxically dysfunctional? W
hen it becomes apparent that the two can no longer live together, there is always a venue to explore the provisions of the law to file for separation or divorce. Marriage and divorce are extensions of constitutional freedom of association. Constitutionally, you have the right to choose who to live with and the right to call it quit to preserve life, sanity and to ward off abuse.
If a woman has been served divorce paper, she should accept it and move on with her life. Divorce is not the end of the world. There are many divorcees living meaningfully. Perhaps society needs to change its discriminatory attitude and perception. We should stop sexism languages like ‘single mother’ and ‘ incomplete’ mother’.
How can the woman get the man to still be financially responsible to her or the children especially, if the man becomes lackadaisical about it?
Where a man has the means to do this but neglect the wife, any of the children who is of age can apply to the court for an order to grant maintenance reliefs and to also compel their father to provide such.
How far should a woman tolerate her husband‘s excesses in terms of flirting and abuse before she files for a divorce?
The question is to be determined personally. It is an individual’s choice to make, bearing the legal perspective in mind.
Paraphrasing Section 15(2) of Matrimonial Causes Act 1970, which provides that a court will conclude that a marriage has broken down irretrievably where any of these can be proved: Willful and persistent refusal to consummate marriage, Commission of adultery and the partner finds it intolerable to live with him, behavior in such a way that the partner cannot live with him, abandoning for a period of at least one year, that the parties have lived apart for a continuous period of at least three years, that he has for a period of not less than one year failed to comply with restitution of conjugal rights, that he has been absent from the partner for a long time that he is presumed to be dead.
The question of intolerable behavior as one of fact is mirrored through certain conditions in which a petitioner is expected to prove. Abuse can be either physical or emotional abuses. I advise women to report such issues to appropriate authority like the police.
What should a lady do when the person that raped her threatens to kill her if she speaks up?
Three things are expected of her: establishing evidence of rape, the courage to bear the scourge against all odds, and contacting a sound Legal Practitioner or NGOs who will anchor report professionally to the appropriate authority that is the police.
The burden of proof in rape allegation is a tedious task. It is fundamental to establish evidence immediately and most especially through medical means at Government hospital otherwise a victim of rape may also turn to a judgment-debtor where the assailant gets the upper hand as a result of the absence of proof and he launches civil action.
Victims of rape should be courageous to endure as stigma only exists in the mind of the coward. The act of rape is a criminal offence and compounding it with a threat to life is also grievous. Once the matter is reported, the protection of the victim becomes a burden of the state.
What’s the best legal punishment a parent can inflict on a man for raping their daughter?
A parent does not have any right whatsoever to inflict any form of punishment. Rape is a criminal offence. Jurisprudentially, all criminal offences are a crime against the state.
A complainant is a mere nominal party. Once you detect this, report to the nearest police station and then go to a hospital to check-up so that you can have the medical report which will serve as evidence. I also need to add that the punishment for rape is life imprisonment while an attempted rape is fourteen years.
As a divorcee, can the court in Nigeria issue another marriage certificate if he/she chooses to remarry?
The court does not issue marriage certificate .It is issued by the Government through authorized agencies. It is settled law that a marriage is dissolved after the order of the court had been made. Legally, marriage is a contract.
That there is a breach of contract which led to a consequence does not foreclose an individual from entering into another contract. Similarly, a divorcee who still has interest in marriage can still approach any authorized agency and would be issued a fresh marriage certificate.
Is there provision in court for handling verbal and psychological abuses in marriage in court or it’s only physical abuse?
Cause of action on psychological abuses in marriage may come under the law of torts which is subjected to proof. However, it is an area that has hardly received the attention of adjudication.
Meanwhile, Section 14 and47 of the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act, 2015, consider it a criminal offence to attempt to or cause emotional, verbal and psychological abuse on another person irrespective of the sex of the offender and the victim. Though, this law is enforceable only in Abuja. Similar laws have been enacted in Anambra, Ebonyi and Oyo State.
Can a marriage which has been dissolved in court be re-contracted if both parties wish to make up?
A marriage dissolved by the order of the court is dead. Any settlement or amendment after this would mean they are celebrating a new marriage and a new contract without a record of the past.