Issues  

We need to build more shelters to make leaving abusive relationships easy – Osasu Edobor

Osasu

One of the many reasons why women stay in abusive relationships is due to lack of information on where they can go, where to report, and how to leave without “Poking the bear”. The pandemic has in no little way birthed an epidemic of incessant cases of rape and domestic violence. A situation that is fast becoming the order of the day, with different hashtag trends to help bring it to the fore.

Osasu Edobor is one of the women on the fronlines advocating for victims of Domestic Violence, and using her voice and resources where it matters.

A social development expert with over twelve years experience as a gender advocate infusing new media and technology to propagate gender inclusion, she is the curator of HERfessions mobile app, an anonymous online platform for survivors of sexual violence to access resources, group support, information and ultimately a community to work-out the journey to recovery.

She holds a Master’s degree in Managerial Psychology from the University of Lagos, a 2016 African American Institute Scholar with a certificate in Social Sector Management from the Enterprise Development Centre of the Pan Atlantic University, Lagos, and also a 2018 Mandela Washington Fellow with a certificate in Civic Leadership from Rutgers University, the state of New Jersey, USA.

She previously worked as the Programme Director of the Bimbo Odukoya Foundation where she facilitated the provision of GBV intervention schemes such as a temporary safe house for survivors of Domestic Violence and Sexual Abuse, and gender responsive programming for young people. Prior to full switch into the development space, she worked in Media and Advertising producing family content and branding, whilst volunteering with numerous non-profit organisation. She is versatile, exploring the boundaries of social development via her organisation. She shares her Inspiring journey and recent feat with Esther Ijewere in this exclusive Interview.

Childhood Preparation
I grew up in a family of 5 girls and an only brother; my father, despite wanting a boy or two, didn’t spare us. We did everything a man would do around the house, it did not help that he was an Engineer. So, we lived by the rule maintenance culture. This, however, was a huge contrast to what we saw in extended family; it toughened me to see family members being victimised. The high point of growing up was watching my mother turn her biology lectures to sexual reproductive health conversations and continually counselling girls my age and building self esteem in as many as sought her help in our neighbourhood.

Inspiration behind HERfessions
I had run a shelter for domestic violence and sexual violence survivors and for the women it was a great concern that we couldn’t maintain therapy for them, as it became next to impossible to get them to come back physically. We thought that by providing an online platform of engagement, it minimises the physical movement, helped to build a community for much needed support

The Journey so far
It has been rewarding, fulfilling and hectic all wrapped in one. Whilst one delights in the increased awareness and heightened knowledge of self worth in women, the lags of poor enforcement of law makes seeking Justice the path of a rabble rouser, which is a cape I wear proudly.

Working in different sectors across board, and pitching tent in the GBV sector
Indeed, with my career start in media, I saw that the women were portrayed continually as objects of enjoyment instead of human beings capable of great things. Pivotal to my switch was a volunteer training I involved myself with in the Makoko axis of Lagos. Despite being an empowerment initiative, I found I engaged with quite a number of battered women, who were helpless and lacking in knowledge of how to pursue Justice. That spurred me to build a career in non-profit management with a huge focus on gender based violence, despite having held jobs that spoke to civic education, sexual reproductive rights, education, health and others.

Being a fellow of different development organisations
As an avid knowledge seeker, two fellowships stand out for me; at the Enterprise Development Center, Of the Lagos Business School, where I partook in The Social Sector Management, and most recently as 2018 Mandela Washington Fellowship, an exchange programme facilitated by the US Government for young exceptional African leaders. These fellowships opened a network of people, resources and allies, whilst also ensuring I garnered skill that were best practice.

HERfessions helping to nab an abusive man
Indeed it was a great achievement for us as an organisation. The perpetrator in a brazen act had beat up his spouse and posted on a social media bragging about the ability of the police to effect an arrest against him. Being the tool that social media is, it received a lot of attention, as well as the speedy intervention of the state. He was charged to court and the legal process of ensuring the safety of the survivors is still underway.

Nigerians knowledge of the GBV Sector
We have a long way to go in first domesticating the laws that will protect women and girls across the country, and a longer road to change the narrative and culture of impunity towards women. Whilst some states have done extensive work, there is need to ensure the advocacy done is implemented through laws institutionalisation and enforcement. As a country, we need to begin to engage all facets of endeavor to change the narrative attached with rape, domestic violence or sexual violence in general. Sexual violence is perpetuated in any environment where there is power; we must ensure we have systems that can check power, be it at the office, church, mosque, market, home, school, or community. We must engage the media (with special reference to Africa Magic) to tell better stories; tell corrective stories that can shape a culture of zero tolerance to gender based violence.

Why I created the HERfessions App
The HERfessions mobile app is a great resource for women and girls available on play store. It is an anonymous platform to receive support and find help to deal with all forms of sexual violence, available on play store now.

Also, in commemoration of the June 19 (elimination of sexual violence in conflict) and the recent epidemic of several rape killings on your girls, we have through our Cast Project launch a series campaigns to address men with the hashtag #menchangingthenarrative series.

Challenges as an Advocate
People’s general assumptions of you being a rabble-rouser, particularly as a young woman; one continually contends with people, who do not value the work being done. The greatest really is the ingrained culture in women, who do not believe when issues escalate, the governments help can be sort via the Police. Asides this, the grave challenges of systemic failure in pursuing justice is a sad tale every advocate can attest to. Finally, justice comes at a great cost; we need structures that make leaving abusive situations easy. Structures like shelters, half-way homes, cost of therapy, and legal fees. Whilst advocates continually gives this services at no cost to the survivors, there are huge cost that must be offset for justice (and healing) to be served. It is my earnest appeal that individuals begin to make it a part of their lifestyle to support a charity with donations or volunteer their time or skill for social good. I must reiterate, it is a rewarding work.

Being a mental health advocate, counselor, convener of an inspiring platform and managing it all
Contrary to what people say, you can’t have it all. I didn’t start on this journey today; it’s been over a decade of building my work, harnessing low hanging fruits, and just doing work that I love. I can be described as a multi-potential person, which comes with it nuances of creativity outburst and continual personal critiquing. I live by two personal philosophies – To thyself be true and live one day at a time. I am not under any pressure to impress or shine; I do what I set out to do and I pace myself always.

Other projects and activities
The Intersection of my work is gender based violence, with a great link to mental health because there is a great need for. We, however, use the medium of technology and new media to deliver our messages. With the HERfessions App, it was we anticipating difficulty in movement of survivors due to varying reasons (which was foresight considering the COVID-19 pandemic). Our services also include engaging survivors physically through the TEHILA series, a replica of the conversations on the mobile app. Via new media, we use our social media platforms to push narratives that empower the woman via our storytelling mediums. It is our belief that, to change the culture of silence, we must subliminal affect the minds of our community via its music, movies, and entertainment. This gave rise to our CAST project- a commissioned theatrical performance we use to teach and educate in public domain such as markets, Malls, and gatherings.

Being a Woman of Rubies
Primarily, I am passionate and dodged in my belief that women can be better and treated better. Women must believe in themselves enough to thrive and collaborate

Vital nuggets for the Girl child during the Pandemic
The conversations have always been screwed to what girls should do. Whilst that is both responsible and one-sided, I would add that girls need to invest in protective skills and gadgets. Learn how to defend yourself; own a pepper spray. In addition, I would like to address the men folk and say, ‘NO is a full sentence, self-control is achievable.

To women afraid to walk away from abusive relationships
Walk away, you will find help. I found that for advocacy to work, we must continually repeat one message. You are worth of love, let yourself live, so, Leave.

Women who Inspire me to be better
Michelle Obama, Prof. Dora Akunyili and Leymah Gbowee

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