Correspondent Irmiya Jenis Manni reports on the United Methodist Women of Northern Nigeria’s Women Arise campaign.
Stigmatization is a cancer that has been spreading within society throughout the world. It is a degrading attitude that discredits a person or group because of illness, deformity, color, tribe, nationality, religion, etc. It is said to be as old as man since it was present in early days when health issues like leprosy resulted in exile. HIV and AIDS may be one of the most stigmatized medical conditions in humankind’s history.
Nigeria has experienced a rise in stigmatization due to rape, which is having a devastating effect on people and the country at large. The victims suffer physically, socially and psychologically. Their participation in society’s development and productivity has dropped drastically and further harms the economy.
A Faith-Based Approach
In Christianity, stigmatization is discouraged and preached against. The Holy Bible encourages Christians to love their neighbors as they love themselves.
Mrs. Doris Adamu, the Women’s President of the Northern Nigeria Episcopal Area started a sensitization program by first reaching out to victims of stigma. She stated, “My heart bleeds whenever I observe a case of stigma, especially when the victims are young people. That was what motivated me to embark on such an outreach to help victims and make them feel loved and cared for.”
One of the victims, Mrs. Margret John, expressed her excitement about the program and shared the story of her daughter.
Ladidi was a victim of rape that resulted in HIV infection which cost the young girl her life at an early age. People distanced themselves from her, like she had the plague. Mrs. John felt inferior and rejected until her meeting with Doris. Others heard about Ladidi through social media and reached out to offer comforting messages. Mrs. John said she never expected people she didn’t even know to care. She thanked all those who recognized her situation, sympathized with her, and she prays that God will bless everyone accordingly. She added that it means so much to her and the rest of the family, and that they will forever remember this show of togetherness.
Another recent case of stigma in Northern Nigeria involved a Muslim girl of only three years old who was violated by a man over 40 years old. Because the girl was so very young and couldn’t say much, her mother spoke for her, sharing that no one identified with them in their time of crisis. They felt rejected and discriminated against. On our encounter with them, the mother said, “I am really overwhelmed by this kind of love and care. It beats my imagination that the people around me that I expected would stand by me abandoned me, and now people from another religion are the ones showing me love and concern. May the great Allah reward you abundantly for this selfless service and compassion you have shown to us and may Allah sustain the unity among us as one in spirit regardless of religious differences.”
It has been observed that the coping behavior of affected persons results in internalized stigma. This perceived or internalized stigma by the victim is equally destructive, whether or not actual discrimination occurs. The victim feels discriminated and inferior, thereby sidelining themselves from others to avoid stigmatized look or mockery. Sometimes they have suicidal intentions which they think is the only way out from the bondage of stigma.
To eradicate this menace and put a stop to this act, people need to be oriented on the need to care and associate with affected people. We need to help them feel loved and cared for. This can reduce the level of negative effect on them so they become socially and psychologically sound, and feel free to associate with others. This can also boost their confidence level by helping them socialize and attain the height of their goals. They can soar higher and be celebrated for the betterment of our societies, peaceful living, advancement and achievement in unity and love worldwide.
Editor’s Note: Doris is an integral part of Harper Hill Global’s international team who is supporting her in this work. Your prayers and financial gifts help make this possible. Please share this article and donate!