After a lot of outcry, both on social media and in traditional news outlets, by feminists and human rights activists about the manner in which the proposed #GEO Bill was thrown off the floor of the National Assembly, the senate president, Senator Bukola Saraki, agreed to re-introduce the bill. It passed a second-reading, and was stalled pending a public hearing which was postponed due to the absence of the members of the senate committee in charge of the hearing.
It is important to note that on June 13,1985 Nigeria ratified, with no exceptions, the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) which is also considered the international bill of rights for women, but since its ratification, the convention has not been domesticated. The #GEO Bill actually incorporates a large part of the CEDAW.
In this interview, Jolomi* who trained as a ‘chemist’ (drug dispenser) discusses issues bordering on sexual autonomy, the high rate of abortions amongst women in her community, women’s lack of knowledge about their anatomy and inability to take reproductive health decisions due to this ignorance. She also discusses the state of primary health care facilities and the impact poor reproductive health decisions on the population.
Interview with Jolomi
My name is Jolomi, I went through primary school and got my SSCE before venturing into business. I sell medicine and run a chemist [patent medicine store]. It is common amongst women of my age that there’s a lot of ignorance about their bodies and how it works, particularly as it pertains to their reproductive health seeking behaviour. For example, most of the common cases women bring to me are about pregnancies. Like some of them they might be nursing a 2 months old baby and then they’ll come and tell me that they are pregnant. Meanwhile, this same woman might have had four or five children. This goes to show that we, women, need to know the period we should share intimacy with a man. So these women come to me asking me for a solution because they really don’t want to be pregnant yet, or some of them will say they are already pregnant and want to use something to terminate the pregnancy.
Audio excerpt 1
As you well know, prevention is better than cure, so its really important that we know our menstrual cycle so that we’ll know when we should have sex and when we shouldn’t.
I usually carry out a pregnancy test to confirm whether they are actually pregnant or not, it is important to first test for pregnancy. Because some women panic when they don’t see their period two months after delivery, so it’s important to carry out a test, if it’s positive, but if it’s negative then one will confirm that the person is not pregnant.
Usually after the first abortion and I’m able to tell them about their menstrual cycle, and their ‘safe period’, they are usually able to maintain the cycle and will stop making that kind of mistake. Once they learn about it and know it, they never return to me with the same error. And they even go ahead and teach other people about their bodies and their safe periods.
Men don’t experience the kinds of problems women have. It’s god that will have mercy on us women. It is only women that they tell about how to avoid getting pregnant, and the period they have to use condom. This is because its only women that can get pregnant, men don’t get pregnant. On the other hand, men don’t need any kind of warnings or education because they are free. For example when some women are pregnant they won’t feel like having sex again, because of this, such men knowing that if they ask their wives for sex they will get turned down, the man will prefer to have sex with other women.
What I’m trying to say is that a lot of men lack self-control when it comes to the matter of sex. Even medically it’s difficult for men to control themselves. When men abstain from sex it gives them stomach upset, and this is due to the way their anatomies are made. The stomach upset is caused by the fact that their semen is inside them and they need to release it, so that they’ll become lighter.
A lot of women don’t think about the impact having many children has on the population. For example, let’s say the government did a census last year and counted ten people, whatever plans they have in mind will be for those ten, but if on their return they find out that instead of let’s say 12 people they expected to see, they now find out that there are 2000 people, this causes a lot of difficulty for the government.
The government should make policies and laws that will mandate that female children must go to school up till a certain age, at least until they leave SS3. This will empower them to be able to join in moving the country forward and enable them contribute meaningfully to the society. Many people don’t believe in educating their female children. In some homes they’ll have four children, let’s say two boys and two girls, but they will educate only the boys in a meaningful way. This is because they believe that no matter how well-educated their daughter is, she will end up in the kitchen.
But it’s not supposed to be like that. It shouldn’t be like that. They should understand that women should participate in decision making, so that we women will have power too.
Children should be educated about their reproductive rights and health from the age of 11years. We are all civilized now, and things shouldn’t be covered up again. Sexual rights education should be part of the school’s curriculum, it is also important that parents should have knowledge about these things so that they can also teach their children.
I use family planning methods, the 2 months injection. My children are well spaced, and I don’t suffer from any side effects. Once I stop taking the injections, after six-months, I usually get pregnant. Although I use the services of the health centre in our neighbourhood, I really don’t like going there often. They are always complaining that they don’t have one thing or the other. Their services are never complete, so I prefer going to a private clinic.