‘Chibok girls, abductees shouldn’t be stigmatized on return’ – Dr Lola Mabogunje
– Published on Friday, 15 May 2015 04:00 Written by Ojoma Akor (www.dailytrust.com.ng)
Dr Lola Mabogunje is the country director of Ipas Nigeria, an international nongovernmental organization working on women’s reproductive health and rights. Mabogunje has worked on several other health programmes in the country including HIV/AIDS, malaria and immunization/polio. In this interview, she spoke on rehabilitating and reintegrating abducted women and girls, maternal mortality and combining work and the home front among others.
You initiated the idea of planning rehabilitating the Chibok girls and abducted women and girls after their release, what inspired it?
Firstly, I am a medical doctor and practicing medicine is basically about ensuring good quality of life and saving lives. I was worried about the abduction of the Chibok girls which was all over the news then. This was followed by the clamour for the return of the girls by the Bring Back Our Girls group and others.
While this was going on, I said to myself in my office, ‘What can I do to support this cause? If the girls are brought back are we ready to receive them? How do we receive them?’ Fortunately the idea just came into my head that we need to plan on how to receive these girls when they return.
I was hoping they will return on time and I discussed it with two like minds, Dr Adeniran of the Federal Ministry of Health and Dr Uwem Esssiet(AHI). Who bought into the idea and asked that we need to call for a meeting. Dr Uwem came in from Lagos to start planning on how to involve more partners.
That led us to looking for Dr Salma Kolo, the commissioner for health in Borno state and she said she was happy to join the process of planning .We at this junction also made a call to Prof. B. Osotimehin the Executive Director for UNFPA who immediately linked the group to UNFPA country director. Thus a meeting was called and more joined.
So how far have you gone with the plan now?
On the 12th of May a stakeholders and partners meeting was held. About 36 partners including federal and state government ministries and agencies, and national and international organizations, along with Dr Kolo participated in the meeting to look into possible health issues the abducted women and girls may be faced with after release. Some members of Chibok community joined the meeting.
We first focused on Chibok girls but later realized that the issues of abduction were bigger than Chibok girls alone. So we started profiling the abducted women and girls from the North east Zone.
The possible problems that could confront any abducted women and girls were classified into broad headings: psycho-social trauma, gender based violence like rape , health problem like malaria, vomiting and diarrhoea; sexual and reproductive health- STI,HIV/AIDs and protection.
We analysed that they could also need protection. If you have been traumatized, the first thing you need is love. And we started gathering clothes together, because when you meet such people you try to show them love and empathize with them. Since they were abducted they may not have appropriate and clean dresses. We bought clothes and many people also brought to me.
So based on the key areas of intervention, implementation of the plan commenced include building capacity in the areas of psychosocial support, general health, sexual and reproductive health and protection
For instance UNFPA, Save the Children, IOM, UN-Women and UNICEF are providing psychosocial support. Some other organizations are working on the women and girls reproductive health, while other organizations are working in the other areas of health intervention.
To help in delivery of all the services described, the partners came up with an algorithm that can be used once one is in contact with the abducted persons.
Engenderhealth/USAID produced 1000 laminated copies of these algorithm and they are already in the field, used as a guide to provide care and support for the abducted women and girls.
UNFPA donated dignity kits and has also trained health providers from counsellors up to the community level.
We have also been providing community counselling for the past one year. Much as we are waiting for the victims, the people waiting for them also need assistance. The thought that your mother or daughter is missing is traumatic so we are counselling them.
And the good news is that more organizations are coming in to support us. Last week the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) joined us and are presently coordinating all activities of partners .
We are also discussing with the Victim Support Fund
Recently several women were released from the Sambisa forest. Have you been able to reach them with assistance?
Partners have been on the field and are providing update through NEMA We have doctors there that I am in touch with. We don’t only reach those in IDP camps but those who were rescued and are staying with relatives in their communities.
In what way do you think people can help the Chibok girls and other abducted women and girls when they return?
Oh the abducted Girls not Chibok alone as we were told earlier .When they return from the Sambisa forest and other places, I think Nigerians should work with their communities to start to accept them back. Nobody wants to walk on the street for other people to be pointing at him or her saying ‘Ah that is an abducted person’ that is a stigma in itself.
Aside supporting them as displaced persons, there should be an ongoing session, probably using the church, the mosque and others to reduce the stigma of the people that have been abducted by the insurgents.
One key thing is rehabilitating and accepting them into the community, that is accepting everything about them that they returned with. The other thing is the protection of their rights.
The reproductive right of a woman that has been in the Sambisa forest must be protected. There are different stages of the effect of the abduction on the women and girls. There is short term which we are looking at now, medium and long term effects. Psychological problems cannot be cured in a day. It will take time.
Another one is empowering the women. Some of them were engaged in little businesses before they were abducted, there should be a way to reintegrate them back so that they can continue with their livelihood.
I have seen cases of husbands finding it difficult to accept their wives who have been raped, how much more a man knowing his wife has been a way for maybe a year or more. The husbands of the women abducted and that are still alive must be counseled to take them back.
I just received an email from a trauma counsellor who said she is willing to come and counsel on these kind of issues particularly their families and children .
As someone working in the area of reproductive health, what is your assessment of maternal mortality in the country?
According to the National Demographic Health Survey 2013 the maternal mortality ratio I think is about 576 per100,000 hundred thousand live births. It is still not acceptable for our nation. Firstly, looking at the wealth of this country I think we can do better. Because a woman dying in child birth is more than her death. She could have left other children and relatives behind. The death of a mother in child birth could cripple a family. So no maternal death is acceptable for me. More so most causes of Maternal death are preventable.
Reproductive health is the right of every woman. A woman must have access to the family planning of her choice. She should be able to determine when she wants to get pregnant herself – a woman must not be forced into a pregnancy that she doesn’t want, and men must support women in their reproductive health issues.
What is your advice for women who still refuse to go to the hospital and prefer home delivery?
It is very difficult because my mother gave birth to me at home. The point is not delivery in a facility but for the person supporting the birth to be skilled and trained. So if I go through an antenatal and the person looking after me does not foresee a problem, I could actually deliver at home.
But it means we must have good antenatal for the women. It is advised that a woman should go for antenatal at least four times during her pregnancy. Not for her to go the month she is putting to birth.
I want to encourage women to go for antenatal, ensure their blood pressure is checked, they take anti-malaria, they rest and eat well, and also decide with the service provider where to deliver.
So if a problem is envisaged during delivery proper and adequate steps could be put in place to prevent the problem. But they need to be ante-natal care.
Your tip on combining career and the home front?
No matter how much of a career woman you are, you must have time for your family, because you can lose out at the end. If you do not balance your family life with your career, you may achieve the highest in your career and end up a very lonely person at the end. So you must have time for your family, friends and the community otherwise you will end up alon and unsuccessful at the end.