Sheroes: In Nigeria, Artists Explore the Power of Art in Combatting Violence against Women and Girls

Abuja/Nigeria Ukie Ogbonnia, started out as a young artist, he recalls fondly his childhood growing up: “My mates and I used to play under the shades of the big trees at the village arena. While others playfully ran around chasing one another, I would sit in a corner, doodling in the sand”

The winner of the Sheroes art competition knows all too well about violence against women and girls and harmful practices having grown in the southeast region where 75% still practiced female genital mutilation (FGM) between 2017-2019 according to National Orientation Agency (NOA). His work is a depiction of this act.

Ukie’s work ‘Never Again’ won the first prize in the Spotlight Initiative Nigeria art competition out of 659 entries. His work is a representational painting with a rural setting.  Sitting on spread banana leaves on the ground is a woman forcefully holding a girl against her wish, in preparation for the female genital mutilation. The girl is scared and seen screaming loudly for help as she tries to firmly grip the woman’s hands off her in a protest-bid to be free.

It was always painful for me to watch parents offer their female children for genital mutilations in the name of circumcision because it was regarded as a culture

The award presentation was marked side by side with the launch of the Spotlight initiative Virtual Barometer to mark International Women’s Day 2021. The Virtual Barometer the first of its kind will be used to track sexual and gender-based violence responses across Nigeria.

The event brought together government representatives: The First Lady of the Federal Republic of Nigeria Dr. Ms. Aisha Buhari, The Honorable Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation Mr. Abubakar Malami, The Honorable Minister of Women Affairs Dame Pauline Tallen, Minister of State for Budget and National Planning, National Assembly, Nigerian Governors Wives against GBV, Civil Society Representatives, the EU Ambassador in Nigeria Mr. Ketil Karlsen and the UN Nigeria Resident Coordinator Mr. Edward Kallon.

Mr. Karlsen expressed his happiness towards the launch of the Barometer saying, “it will be instrumental in tracking the implementation at the state level of the legislation”. The Honorable Minister for Justice and Attorney General also reaffirmed the mission of the Nigerian government to build a nation where no one is left behind,

Art is arguably a universal visual language of communication. It is an important tool for awareness creation and education. Where survivors of violence are unable to talk about their experience, a piece of painting can be used to depict such unfortunate situations. This will create the needed awareness of the menace and give voice to survivors.

Ukie hopes to use his artworks to support the elimination of violence against women and girls in Nigeria.  He describes the plague as a “pervasive humanitarian crisis”

At the end of the event, dignitaries pledged in line with the 2021 International Women’s Day theme “Choose to Challenge.”

Spotlight Initiative in Nigeria works to ensure that women and girls live free from violence. Breaking the culture of silence through art is one of the ways it creates an environment where women can speak out and denounce sexual and gender-based violence.

Spotlight Initiative is dedicating more than US$43 million to ending violence against women and girls in Nigeria.