|Helena Ishaku Iko|
Helena Ishaku Iko
"INCRESE has changed young peoples' lives a lot,
because young people in INCRESE's programs are empowered to make informed
Lyn Messner, IWHC: How did you get involved in women's and girls' rights and start working at INCRESE?
Helena Iko: I started working at INCRESE in 2001 because I was passionate about INCRESE's vision, mission, and activity. I felt there was so much injustice committed against women, and they needed a voice. INCRESE creates a voice for women who are not empowered to speak for themselves.
LM: What kind of injustices and discrimination have you seen that brought
about this passion?
HI: At the job I had before joining INCRESE, my boss wanted to take advantage of me. When I refused, he said he wanted to kill me. I had to file a petition to the police commissioner, and then he was arrested. If this had happened when I was at INCRESE, I would have taken more drastic action against the employer; now I know the provisions of the law. I would have sued him for sexual harassment, and he would have had to pay some damages. But even taking him to court was atypical.
LM: How do you see that the work of INCRESE-and your work in particular with INCRESE-has changed young people's lives?
HI: INCRESE has changed young peoples' lives a lot, because young people in INCRESE's programs are empowered to make informed decisions. They are not likely to be taken advantage of. They can resist peer pressure. They have good relations with their parents and are doing well in school. And for those who are out of school, they have the skills to have jobs.
INCRESE has done a lot to empower young women.
We handle individual cases of young women who are in the position to be
married against their will, or who are about to drop out of school, for example.
We counsel them, and we collaborate with the Sharia'h court.
LM: What are some of the challenges facing women and girls in Niger State and Minna in particular?
HI: Young people don't have information about HIV, drugs, and sex. They aren't comfortable talking about these issues, so young women end up abandoned, having to care for children themselves. INCRESE provides information to young people to counter the taboos about these issues. They can talk freely about their bodies. Girls can come and ask me for information.
LM: How is Niger State, which is under Sharia'h law, different from other parts of Nigeria where Sharia'h law is not instated?
HI: In Niger State, Sharia'h is practiced, and it is typically used by men to deal with issues of morality. It affects a range of issues - from rape to marriage. Under Sharia'h law, if a girl has been forced to marry a man and then wants a divorce, she has to pay back every dime the man paid for the wedding. But the man can wake up and divorce her without returning anything.
Or, a father can send his seven year old daughter off to be married. If she doesn't want to marry the person chosen by the father, he tells her to produce someone else she wants to marry. If she can't find someone, the father has the right to marry her to the person he chose.
LM: Can you talk a
little bit about how INCRESE works with the Sharia'h court?
LM: What are your dreams for the future, or what is your vision as you're moving forward?
HI: My vision for a different world is a world that protects women's rights and human rights -where people are free to make choices. A world where women are in power. At INCRESE, I have learned a lot. My life has changed. I'm now empowered. I'm well informed.