CELEBRATING STRONG AFRICAN WOMEN- #CSAW #AKAWI (Vol 1. No. 1)
DOROTHY NJEMANZE: “If people can connect with my name and remember how many times I fell, it will help them.”
One afternoon, as a mere child of eight years old, Dorothy Njemanze’s world was shattered seemingly irreparably when she was raped in turns by her neighbor’s houseboy and three of his friends after they discovered she was home alone. Her self-esteem had already been severely battered over the years by a series of childhood taunts for having a slightly deformed finger from a childhood accident; rape seemed like a final death knell.
Born and bred in Nigeria, the frightened little girl knew something truly awful and harrowing had happened to her and instinctively, she felt fear and didn’t trust anyone enough to share her ordeal with them. She kept silent, letting the rage boil in her: anger at her rapists; anger at everything that had happened to her.
Unfortunately, that was only the first of several other times she suffered sexual abuse growing up. Dorothy admits that the experience initially affected her relationship with people and almost tainted the direction of her life. She found herself pushed into unlikely choices like being forced to offer sex in exchange for accommodation and her self-confidence took a battering each time.
She began to follow the Oprah Winfrey Show every evening and somehow constantly hearing real stories of other people helped her come to terms with what had happened to her. She began to pick up the pieces and resolved that she would do what it took to help other people not suffer what she suffered. She began to identify who she was and finally, like a butterfly she launched into her bloom.
Dorothy is currently an investigative journalist and a talented Nollywood actress and specializes in the use of entertainment media to amplify voices against abuse. She identifies as a human rights activist, a non-conformist, an unapologetic feminist and a strong woman of color. She founded the Dorothy Njemanze Foundation (DNF) and targeted cases of human rights violations especially sexual abuse, domestic abuse and acts of discrimination against physically challenged persons. She said she named DNF for herself because she hoped people would be able to connect with her name, recall how many times she had fallen, and be inspired to keep pushing forward in their own lives.
But even now, she continues to battle challenges. As an adult living in Abuja, Dorothy was again confronted with a new reality: the activities of the Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB) were giving her serious cause for concern especially their rehabilitation activities for alleged prostitutes. After Dorothy and a number of women were grabbed off the streets by AEPB and branded ‘prostitutes’ before being shipped off to a designated center, she instituted an action against the Federal Republic of Nigeria and began series of advocacy against AEPB and its activities. Her foray into this angle of human rights exposed her to several attacks, threats, abandonment by friends and colleagues and even loss of property and finances thereby reducing her to a state of abject penury and dejection. Her health broke down and she fell into depression; but somehow she found the will to live in pouring herself out for others.
Dorothy Njemanze & 3 ors v. The Federal Republic of Nigeria went to the ECOWAS court and in a landmark judgment on 12th October 2017, the court ruled that Nigeria had violated the Maputo Protocol, the CEDAW, several other treaties and constitutional rights and it awarded damages in favor of Dorothy and her co-Plaintiffs in the sum of N6 million each. To her chagrin though, the judgment awarded since 2017 has not been enforced till date and seems to have had little or no effect in deterrence.
Dorothy slowly bounced back in spite of the challenges and today is the first Nigerian to receive the Ginetta Sagan Amnesty International Award. She has also been recognized as a Naija Diamond by Ebony TV, Top Outstanding Young Persons 2016 by JCI International and is also a Commonwealth Youth Ambassador against Election Violence.
Her greatest passion is her acts of activism and giving back to society especially using entertainment media. Dorothy has recorded several success stories including the story of an 11 year old girl who had been raped repeatedly by her father and was thrown into such depression that she tried to end her life with Sniper (poison). DNF rescued the young girl and sheltered her and put her back in school; the girl has just recently concluded her SSCE.
Dorothy’s eyes light up as she confides that she is deliriously happy with the way her life is falling into place and admits that her use of entertainment media and creativity has made a lot of difference for persons living with disability like the visually challenged or those with hearing disabilities. Although of course funding remains a challenge with 80% of her personal funds going into activism. DNF currently has over 70 cases of abuse it is involved in pro bono including looking into the sex for food scandal where IDPs are allegedly made to pay for food with sex.
Her story was captured in a compelling documentary SILENT TEARS which was sponsored by OSIWA. She has produced series of educative documentaries like AKACHI that tell stories of real-life people she has encountered and she believes the media is the way forward to pass a message and promote change. She is currently working on an online TV show and continues to identify with movements like Bring Back Our Girls and other agencies. Dorothy admits that she admires Oby Ezekwesili and Aisha Yesufu tremendously. Dorothy has stamped the BBOG insignia onto her nails as a reminder that all the girls are not home.
For all her struggles and tears, Dorothy has come away much stronger. She admits she loves to drive herself even all the way to Lagos or Port Harcourt from Abuja a habit which started from fear as a result of the death threats she had been subjected to. She also admits she would love to play a stunts role in a movie with Hanks Anuku.
Dorothy bears the scars of her past ordeals but her strength is that much more glorious and amazing.
Her parting words? “It’s important for women to know that oppressors will try to break you but standing your ground is the best you can do for yourself. Now I can tell my story without crying.”
#CelebratingStrongAfricanWomen #CSAW #AfricanKidsAndWomenRightsEmpowermentInitiative #AKAWI
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