Winner of Commonwealth Youth Award, Nigerian Oluwaseun Ayodeji Talks to Us about her Initiative – Stand to End RapeIdes Ofune 16th April 2019 0 COMMENTS
Desert Bloom initiative is designed to identify and support small Non for Profit Organisations in Africa. We profile outstanding and credible organisations, make their programs/projects visible, and assist them in disseminating and promoting their upcoming projects/events. These set of organisations work tirelessly on the field doing great work and improving the lives of people living in small communities but rarely get the attention of large networks. We support these organisations by hosting their contents on all our online platforms for free (website, social media, blogs, and weekly newsletter). By profiling them and documenting their stories, we gain insights into how they operate, the challenges they face and the opportunities for potential collaboration.
Could you please tell us more about yourself?
My full name is Oluwaseun Ayodeji Osowobi. I completed my first degree at Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria then went on to Swansea University UK for my masters degree. I had a clear cut understanding of what I wanted to do so I focused on gender studies: gender equality, gender security, violence against women and girls. After completing my Masters degree, I knew that gaining paper knowledge wasn’t sufficient and I had to get work experience. I got an internship at the United Nations and after that, I realised that there was still much to learn. I did another internship at an organisation called “show of force” – they work with issues of child abuse, human trafficking to Cambodia, gun violence in the USA. Before moving back to Nigeria to start my own movement, I used my pen as an advocacy tool. I wrote articles around gender based violence and violence against women and girls. The more I wrote, the more I realised that people opened up. I started the Stand to End Rape Initiative in Nigeria in 2014 but I didn’t stop there because the more you work with other organisations, the more you learn. I also did consultancy work: I worked with the UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) Nigeria on a FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) Project in Osun state where I trained young people to become advocates. One of the people I trained is the leading advocate against FGM in Osun state. I also worked with UNICEF as a young advocate on child abuse. These work experiences gave me the practical knowledge and technical skills to create proper interventions to address problems.
Congratulations on winning the Commonwealth Youth Award. Tell us more about the nomination process and how you felt.
Initially, someone sent me the nomination encouraging me to apply. Sometimes, because of hands-on cases and projects to handle, I procrastinate other things up until the deadline is over and it’s a weakness I am working on. Then the nomination deadline was extended by one week because the organisers wanted young people from the Pacific region to apply. This meant that everyone else could be nominated. My team members then nominated me although I was not hell-bent on receiving recognition. It is one thing to be nominated and it’s another for the reviewers to see that your work is valuable. Three months later, I got a call from the commonwealth secretariat informing me that I had made the top 16 finalists. I was so excited because there were over 500 nominations from 45 different countries. For me, this means that my work is not only valuable in Nigeria but all over the world. I say this with all humility because sexual violence is something that’s so “dirty”, time consuming, unappreciated in social norms and there is a bit of silence around it which we are working to break . I didn’t think it was going to be recognised at such a level. Even if I didn’t win, I was already feeling honoured making top 16 and top 4 from the Africa-Europe region. On the day of the awards in London, I heard the speaker announce that the Commonwealth Youth Person is female. I looked around and I realised I was the only female among the regional winners. It was such a great moment for my team and I, because the movement started when survivors of sexual violence were shamed and were made to believe that they were at fault. it was such an honour to be recognised for making survivors more comfortable to share their stories. I am also honoured to be the first West African and Nigerian to win such an award, specifically for the issue I am pushing. The award is a reminder that I have only just started and need to do more work.
For the Stand to End Rape Initiative, who would you say are your target audience?
Our target audience are survivors of gender based violence (GBV) whether women, men or children. While we support GBV on a large scale, we work with both survivors of sexual violence and domestic violence but sexual violence is our core. When we started, the main goal was to break the silence. It’s bad enough for someone to get raped but it’s worse to shame them to silence. To me it did not make sense and I did not know why it was a culture. You say you don’t support rape but you are angry with the person who got raped and then you silence that person allowing the rapist to go Scott free. The society is basically supporting the rapist and the action. I wanted to contribute my quota towards breaking that silence by helping survivors not just to speak up, but to receive services. If we were to go by that goal, we have achieved it to a large extent.
Researching about your organisation, I found out that you give therapy to Survivors. How does that work and do you partner with other organisations?
Therapy and mental health balance is very important for survivors and we have a team of in-house experts who provide such services. Survivors could easily fall into depression, have post traumatic stress disorder, and the biggest of all, have suicidal thoughts. We also provide legal, medical, mental health and psycho-social support. For medical assistance, we collaborate with medical facilities and take care of the medical bills. We collaborate with the Nigerian Police Force because they have the mandate to charge cases to court. For the legal aspect, we have lawyers who serve as counsels to the survivors.
From your experience, are Survivors willing to take legal action against their Perpetrators given the kind of society we live in?
Our own belief is that Survivors have the right to tell their story the way they want to, when they want, how they want and to whom they want to tell it to. We have different survivors who reach out to us; those willing to take legal action against their perpetrators, those who only want to receive medical attention, those who only want mental health services, and those who only want to receive psycho-social support. And it is very valid. We also encourage people who want to take action against their perpetrators in order to get rapists off the street. To answer your question, it depends and we receive all of them.
How do you come in contact with Survivors who receive your services?
It works through social media and direct contact. We go to them in local communities and schools during our outreaches. Most times, they are referred to us. On social media, when someone calls in on a radio station, or when someone tells a neighbour or their friend, they automatically contact us.
What would you say are the major challenges your organisation faces?
One of the major challenge is the prosecution of perpertuators. The second is the attitude of parents and community members. When a survivor comes forward and wants to take up a case, the parents are there to say, no, don’t bring shame to our family. We try to educate and enlighten them that their priority should be to protect their child and get justice not to shut them up. By doing this, their action says “I am not in support of my child” and that’s not a good way for a child to feel. We engage community members, parents, traditional leaders through different outreaches to support their children to take action. With the police, we try as much as possible to work with the senior officials. Unfortunately, sometimes before they charge a case to court or take any action, they ask for money. It’s really very tough but we are able to work with them and remind them that their mandate is to protect citizens and survivors are part of citizens .
Funding is a big challenge for organisations, how do you access it?
We get funding through donations from people and grants. However. we are trying to morph into a bigger organisation. Our income generating phase will be a bit different, and we will not be heavily reliant on grants anymore.
Feature Image: The Obama Foundation & Oluwaseun Ayodeji Osowobi
Thanks Oluwaseun for talking to us and enlightening us on this delicate but very important topic. If you want to support this initiative, send us an email via info@desertbloomadvisory or reach out to them via Stand to End Rape Initiative. Please follow us on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter @desertbloomadvisory for more of such wonderful initiatives.
Ides Ofune is currently a PhD Student at the University of Leeds. Her research focuses on civil society and accountability in improving the quality of education. She is the founder of Desert Bloom Initiative and editor of Desert Bloom Advisory. Ides is very passionate about education and creating an inclusive society. She speaks French and English fluently. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org