Olawunmi Ifeoluwa is a gender and inclusion specialist, a development practitioner, and senior manager at Gender Mobile Initiative. She is a passionate advocate against any form of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV). In this interview with Persecondnews, AJUMA EDWINA AMEH, Ifeoluwa talks about the increase in SGBV cases in Nigeria, the challenges of addressing SGBV, and cultural norms, among others.
About the Gender Mobile Initiative
Gender Mobile Initiative is a youth-led non-governmental Organization (NGO) leveraging technology to prevent and respond to SGBV, with a focus on policy advocacy, research, and service delivery. At the Gender Mobile Initiative, we envision a just society devoid of all forms of gender-based violence that are capable of undermining the existence of girls and women in all forms and degrees.
We provide specialized support services such as medical, legal, psychosocial, counselling, and rehabilitation, among others, through a dedicated 24/7 service helpline for victims and survivors in a simple and dignified manner.
The organization’s pool of professional volunteers—medical doctors, legal practitioners, public health officials, and psychologists—is matched with the survivor or victims based on the recommendations of their professional service agents.
Understanding Sexual Abuse
Sexual abuse is actually a form of abuse that is perpetrated on a person, whether male or female, sexually without consent. We have different kinds of sexual abuse people do not know of; they feel it’s just rape. The word ‘consent’ is very important. Educate young people about the importance of consent, healthy relationships, and the roles of schools and parents.
From a tender age, we should start teaching our children the ‘Yes’ and ‘No’. Let’s teach them the real names of their private parts and not use words that are confusing. Let the child know that this is what it is called, and the moment anybody is trying to go to that area, tell them ‘No’. Let them know that the reason it’s called a private part is because it’s for them alone. From a tender age, allow them to wash their private parts by themselves; even you, as the mother, should not help them but rather guide them. This way, they will know that if my mother cannot even touch it, that means nobody should touch it. Also, teach them not to take off their clothes for any reason. Then we move upwards to secondary schools, where we have teenagers. You start teaching them about abstinence and safe sex because, as far as I’m concerned, we can actually avoid it. Either we introduce safe sex, the use of condoms, or abstinence. So we need to put all these side by side. Let’s not assume they are not having sex because this is one of the things that’s leading to the teenage pregnancy we are seeing everywhere. We should also let them understand the effect this will have on their lives.
Challenges of addressing sexual-based violence and how to overcome them
The justice system in Nigeria should prioritise cases of gender-based violence and, at the same time, look at how we can have a separate court set up for cases of gender-based violence where we have judges that have empathy, understand these issues, are well-grounded in these issues, and are proactive.
Another way to address this issue is through gender budgeting. Gender budgeting is how the government can have a separate budget; maybe they can saddle the responsibility on the Ministry of Women Affairs. Whichever ministry they want to saddle the responsibility with, it should be a couched-out budget that strictly addresses cases of gender-based violence, because sometimes you go to report to the police and end up using your money. You’ll buy a file, you will transport the police officers, you’ll buy fuel, etc.; it’s tiring. But if things are done free of charge, the victim won’t feel it. How will someone go through trauma and still spend money to get justice? It’s actually discouraging. If there is a separate budget allocated for these issues, it will go a long way. We also need to look at how we can make a behavioural change. We need to know that everyone is equal, irrespective of their gender.
Also, grassroots mobilization and sensitization are key. Let’s get down to the grassroots, where the woman in the village becomes somebody who is well informed—not just well informed but also an advocate among her peers. It’s important that we use the approach from the bottom up to be able to address these cases.
It will also be a great achievement and a huge milestone if women are allowed to be at the decision-making table. Women are actually given that room to be able to hold appointive and elective positions. You are there at the decision-making table because women understand their issues. If a woman is there, it’s easy to say this is what you should do to address these cases, but a man who doesn’t understand the issues of sexual and gender-based violence will trivialize it because he probably has not experienced it.
The patriarchal system in Africa is our major problem. We live in a patriarchal system where you are not supposed to be heard as a woman, but seen. You are also trained not to question the system; you are trained to be quiet and act in a certain way. It’s supposed to be humanity first; you look at the person as a human, not because the person is a woman or a man. So, we need to learn how to actually address these cases from the grassroots, like I said earlier. So, from home, let’s start preparing our children.
Role of men in preventing gender-based violence
They can become our allies. We have to start training men; that’s what the initiative is all about. I’m a fan of when you have the men’s fellowship thing, or boy’s fellowship, where you train and sensitize boys to be aware of these issues and the effect they are having on women.
Social media, indecent dressing, and a high increase in sexual violence
For me, I don’t think it’s a contributing factor, but it’s actually a major problem when it comes to engaging in sexual activities. You should learn to control yourself, which is why I’m talking about behavioural change. When I mean behavioural change, your mindset already tells you it’s a no-go area and you should not engage in it. So if a lady decides to dress in a way she is comfortable with or even decides to walk naked, that doesn’t give you the right as a man to rape her. Even for a woman, it doesn’t give you the right to violate a man. If we say indecent dressing is the cause of most rape cases, how about a two-year-old wearing diapers? Is she sexually appealing? Or a woman covered in a hijab with no part of her body showing—is she sexually appealing? So, whether dressing or not, social media or not, it’s a no.
You also see the situation of ladies being lured into hotels after chatting on social media, and their nude pictures or videos are taken either with or without their consent. So, there’s also online gender-based violence.
Online gender-based violence happens when you start talking to the lady, professing love to her, and beg her to send her nudes to you. The moment she sends her nude pictures to you, you start blackmailing and extorting her. You threaten to post the pictures online if she stops giving you money. Another form of gender-based violence is body shaming or slut shaming. It psychologically affects the woman. The biggest one is girls being killed and used for different forms of rituals after meeting a guy online. At the same time, we also need to be assertive; let’s be able to do our background check. The lady should also check who this person is. Do not visit anyone whose identity you do not know; do not be swept away by the desire to visit a stranger. Be sure to know one person or the other he knows or you know in debt. If you must meet, let it be an open place. People should also know about your whereabouts; at least tell someone about who you are speaking to. Do not do things in secrecy; secrecy actually breeds evil. Even if you cannot tell your parents, at least tell a friend or sibling. It is important that we are also very wise.
Blaming the victims’ stigmatization
People should understand that the perpetrator should be shamed and blamed, not the victim or survivor. Our mindset is so porous in this part of the world that if a person is raped, we discriminate against that person. I am aware of a case where a woman’s fiancé rejected her a few weeks before their wedding after learning that she had previously experienced rape. The man said he ”can’t marry a woman that another man has slept with’’. I asked myself, “Is it her fault that she was raped? Those people have a very strong culture, and culture is playing a very strong part in this whole discrimination and stigmatization thing. So people should understand that it is not the fault of the person; the person didn’t ask to be raped.
Advice for victims of sexual domestic violence
The advice I have for victims of domestic violence is that if it’s a life-threatening case, please leave so that you can live. Most women will say I’m staying for the sake of my children. If you die now, another woman will come and take care of the children. It’s important that you take action before it’s too late. For rape survivors, I stand with you, and I understand that it is a lot of trauma, but the first approach is for you to please get help to get a form of therapy to help you heal. Do not ever blame yourself; it is not your fault. Shame on that person who actually raped you.