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Hasfat's new war

Originally published in:

Funmi Johnson

It is the dream of every woman to be loved, pampered and respected. After all, honour they say begets honour.
Sad to say though, the reverse is the case these days, as women and girls from different parts of the world are faced with one form of violence or the other. Research has it that about two-thirds of women in some communities in the country face one form of violence or the other. These range from rape, incest, domestic battery, female genital mutilation, etc

It is for this reason that Hafsat Abiola Costello decided to bring V-DAY to Nigeria using her Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) KIND, (Kudirat’s Initiative For Democracy) which was named after her late mother Kudirat Abiola. V-DAY is a global movement to stop violence against women and girls. It is a catalyst that promotes creative events to increase awareness, raise money to fund anti-violence organizations. V-DAY generates broader attention for the fight to stop violence against women and girls.

Working hand in hand with Ms Joke Silva, a renowned actress, the initiator has been working effortlessly to realize this goal.
Globally, through V-DAY campaigns, local volunteers and college students produce annual benefit performances of Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues to raise awareness and funds for anti-violence groups within their communities. In 2005, over 2500 V-DAY benefit events were presented by volunteer activists in the U.S and around the world, educating millions of people about the fact of violence against women and girls.

In the case of Nigeria, Mrs. Costello has teamed up with Ms Joke Silva, whose theater group will stage the Vagina Monologues. The play will be performed at various centers in both Lagos and Abuja starting from 8th of March to 19th of March 2006.
In an interview held at the KIND’s office, Lagos, Hafsat Abiola Costello espouses more on V-DAY. Ms Joke Silva was also present to chip in word. Excerpts of the interview:

What is V-day movement all about?
V-day is about saying no to violence against women, and men, and women to say no to violence against women. The global movement is going to take place in over 80 countries involving millions of people, and the way in which we create awareness to support this campaign is to stage a play called “The Vagina Monologues” which gives testimonials of women from all over the world, all the interest groups, about the violence they’ve endured because they’re women. Violence like domestic violence, rape, incest, female genital mutilation, early marriage, problems that women encounter just because they have vaginas.

What are your goals about V-day?
Our goal is to ensure that at least five thousand Nigerians in Lagos and Abuja are able to see this award winning play and to that end, we’ve been able to enlist Ms Joke Silva, an acclaimed actress, who has been working with all acts for decades in Nigeria theater and she’s now working to make sure that this play translates in our own society, so that the people that come will be really energized, engaged and really excited to be part of this campaign.

:So what have been the challenges so far?
V-day movement requires me to perform the Vagina Monologues and I’ve given aunty Joke the script about a year and a half ago, (laughs) to see if we could do this in Nigeria, and over that year and a half, she talked to people, and she can share her experiences with you, but she has only just now been able to find a group of actors that are willing to perform the play. So, that was one big challenge. Another challenge really for us, is that all over the world where it’s been performed, usually, it’s done for free. All the actors, everything is free. But you know in Nigeria, the cultural industry, the arts theater have not been funded at all .I don’t know what has been funded in the country. Health has not been funded, education has not been funded, so, our art industry is not in a place where they can say they’re doing this for free. So, they’re doing it at a very low cost.

We have to raise the money to cover this cost. So we’ve been really having to go out, to engage Nigerians to support the call by giving money so that we’ll be able to stage the performance. You see, the reason we have to do that is not because we’re not expecting to have the audience, I have a feeling that we’ll have probably a greater audience than we can contain, but the truth is , part of the commitment of V-day as you’ve asked, is to be able to raise money from ticket sales from The Vagina Monologues and to give it to a shelter for battered women or some organization that wants to end violence against women. So KIND from the proceeds of the play will decide to give the money to Sophie’s House, a shelter for battered women in Lagos, run by Project Alert On Violence Against Women. So, we want to really weigh all the production cost, so that as much of the ticket sales can go to the shelter as much as possible.

The exciting thing though, is that, given the challenges that we face about raising the money for production, we have to go, myself and Ms Joke Silva have had to go to a lot of women and men in Nigeria and asked them if they want to support, and you’ll be amazed, they’ll say yes. It’s so surprising that we’re getting so many people that wants to support. I’ve been making a lot of phone calls and when I asked people, they’ll say yes, I want to do something or let me see what I can afford, and I just love that. I love it especially when it’s a woman that says that because, in our society people always say” you women are your own worst enemies”. A lot of women I’m calling have probably never even encountered their husbands slapping them on their faces or even raising their voices at them, and yet because they know that many of our women in Nigeria encounter this violence and other forms of violence, they want to say to these women that they are assisted where ever you are or whoever you may be so long you’re a Nigerian woman, you’re my sister and I, want to support you. It’s very nice.:

You just answered the question I was about asking you and that is what has been the responses of Nigerians so far?
I’ll like aunty Joke to also speak about that.

Ms Joke Silva: It’s been quite fun actually. Like Hafsat said, one and a half year ago, she just got in with the play. In fact it was from her that I heard about it .when I read it, I found out we’re not ready for this. At that time, my company was actually running a film called “Shylock” at Glover hall. So, I went back and I talked to people that I want to do this play called “Vagina Monologues”, virtually all my actors on set were like; fantastic! Aunty Joke, so when can we start, but these are the younger ones in the group. So, I said let me test it out among the older ones, so I just briefly mentioned it to some people and they were like; I saw it in England, I saw it in America, but; are we ready for it in Nigeria? So you know, that’s the kind of response that one kept getting. So we now sat down and said when will we ever be ready? Until somebody brings it to Nigeria, which was what Hafsat did and then you know, I said come on.

I don’t think in Nigeria we’re really ready for any women issue. And then something happened a couple of years ago. I saw this young girl on the bridge,(Falomo bridge), just at the by way to go to Falomo, instead of going on to Kingsway road, there was this young girl, she couldn’t have been more than twenty, she’s fair skinned, and, there she was lying flatly on her face, I can’t forget it, with sparkling white knickers, early morning . And I began to say to myself; there has to be a story behind this.

It’s just not normal, it’s not as if she probably got drunk and ended up sleeping there. Somebody, somewhere must have dumped her there. Somehow, she must have died in some incidence, because she was dead and instead of going to the police that’s what they have done, because it was early in the morning, before 7am and I remember saying to myself at that time that something has to be done about it. So this is like an outlet. Most of the actors that have performed in English- we have professionals actresses performing and we also have people that we call celebrity women, that will also be performing. People like Funmi Iyanda, Morin Desalu and others .All of them are coming together with the professionals because somewhere along the line, they have stories to tell, not against themselves but against somebody that they know. There are some of us ,actually who have had this done to them within our group. What was wonderful about the performance was that, this was an opportunity for people to share some form of the violence that they have seen, and we hope that , that is what the Monologues will do. It will generate discussion and also stop violence against women.