‘Domestic and sexual violence against women is a crime, threat to Africa’
Her Majesty, Olori Wuraola Zaynab Otiti Ogunwusi, the Queen of Ife, has been in the public view several times for her unflinching support for the downtrodden, including rural women and orphans. Recently, she took a bold step by marching on the street with other women to condemn violence against women. This records the first time a globally recognised monarch would be involved in such activism. In this online interview with GBENGA AKINFENWA, she said domestic violence could be blamed for Africa’s state of intellectual and economic backwardness
Recently, you embarked on a campaign against domestic violence. What prompted this?
There is always a beginning. This is something I have always wished would happen; that someday, some reasonable person would do something about it. It’s nothing personal. It is as a result of my empathy for women and girls, suffering and dying in silence everyday, and hiding behind the curtains of society’s reluctance to interfere in what it described as “family affair.” I just decided that the time is now. If no one is ready to step out and speak out, then let me take it upon myself and stand in the gap. And that was how the initiative was born. It has been on my mind for quite a while, but this is just the time I am taking actual steps towards achieving it.
What dangers does this menace constitute against Nigerian and African women?
First of all, the march was not about women alone; some men were also involved. Don’t forget that we all came from a mother, whether man or woman. Some men have also had painful experiences of watching their mothers being beaten, when they were children. Such people were only too glad that a campaign against this menace was going on, and were only too glad to join us. We had a lot of support from men.
Secondly, it was not a march of celebrities. It was a grassroots movement. You only hear about it, when a celebrity woman suffers domestic violence. But in the society, perhaps even in your neighbourhood, there are husbands who beat their wives on a regular basis. There are women who go through severe emotional abuse, but no one speaks for them. This entire campaign is about all women suffering domestic and sexual violence, celebrity or not. A large number of people came out during our march, and all of them were not celebrities.
We are living in a time, when the world is going intellectual. Cerebral competence defines who you are these days. If you are not computer literate, social media savvy, and globally minded, you are left far behind. Violence against women has a suppressive objective. The idea is to tell the woman: “I am superior to you, you are inferior to everybody else. So, don’t even have the notion of trying to aspire to something!”
At the back of the mind of every abuser of women, whether they are conscious of it or not, this is what they are saying, and that is the impact they are having on these women. That is why, when the women refuse to be cowed, they are beaten to death! Even neighbours would tell you, “That woman is too stubborn!” Thus making it “her fault!” that she was beaten and abused.
Men tolerate effronteries from fellow-men without resorting to violence. But when it comes to a woman, it is like: “How dare you?” Whether she was right or wrong. Now, if this is allowed to go on, it will draw this continent backward.
I run a women empowerment programme. Many times you ask women to come forward and be helped out of poverty and empowered and what you hear is, “Ha, my husband won’t hear of that!” I have seen terror in the eyes of women at the mere mention of their husbands. These are men they should love and respect, but instead they fear them. In rural areas, it is even worse, it is unbelievable. And don’t forget that these women have children, and their fears are rubbed off on their children.
So, when the child grows up and a bully frowns at them, they cower, go away and dump their dreams! Sometimes, such dreams may be what we need to save this continent. Domestic violence can best be described as an evil scourge that has kept Africa on her knees. This is what I see every time, and this is why I want to shift the paradigm.
What’s the #1in3Africa campaign all about? What led to its formation?
United Nations studies have shown that globally, out of every three women, one undergoes one form of domestic violence at one time or the other in her life. That is where the name of the Campaign #1 in 3 Africa came about. We are addressing the African aspect of a global issue. The campaign was formed because at a point, I feared that no one was going to do something about it.
In churches, mosques and even within the traditional settings of our society, there is this “Hands Off Family Affair” attitude going on. No one wants to interfere. In the meantime, young women are dying, being traumatised, having their social aspirations and abilities to achieve retarded, and the psyche of their children, the future generation, being inundated with destructive fear. I decided to start at a point in time, when it seemed to me that I was the only one that saw the deep-reaching harm this thing is doing to the moral fabric of our society.
I hope I have brought this movement to the attention of well-meaning people. I gladly welcome contributions, help, collaborations and any form of support. We have to do something about this issue.
Are there statistics to back your claims on?
Let’s keep statistics aside first and take a human look at it. If a man goes to the office and his female boss flares up at him, does he beat her? No way! Of course, you know that he will be marched straight to jail and possibly to a psychiatric hospital afterwards. So, why does he beat his wife or partner? Even when he has done more wrong to them than his boss? It is because there is this thinking every criminal has at the back of his mind— the knowledge that he can get away with it! No armed robber will become a bandit, if he knows for sure that he will certainly get caught.
But imagine a situation where there is no police at all. Would that make armed robbery not to be a crime? You can extend this to every other crime, domestic violence inclusive.
As for statistics, I don’t have to be the one to give you that. Just go and Google it and you will see for yourself. Earlier, I mentioned that United Nations had reported that globally, one out of every three women undergoes domestic violence. That study also showed that 30 per cent of those who are abused also die. If perpetrators of such violence are not criminals, who then are the criminals? Is it the women, who are killed? I leave you to answer that.
So, what is your next line of action?
We intend to carry out other marches in Port Harcourt and Abuja. And through this process, we intend to push for a bill defining terms of protection for women against this crime. We also intend to set up help lines for women undergoing domestic violence, just as we intend setting up trainings, counselling and rehabilitation systems. There is a whole lot in the offing.
Generally, what do you think are the challenges facing women folk?
I am glad a lot of women have broken through the barriers and are assuming the responsibility of championing causes to pull out fellow women. But to answer your question, there is no denying that the world used to hold women at a disadvantaged position. The mere fact of being a woman meant there are limits to your aspirations. But things are changing. Through a lot of struggle, we are carving a niche for ourselves in the society. Formerly, some banks would not allow women to obtain loans for their businesses without their husbands’ consent.
If a woman goes into politics, she is regarded as wayward. If a leadership position is announced and a woman gets nominated in companies, people would first frown at her, even when they know she is the best candidate for the job. The list goes on and on. But I am hopeful that things are changing. Though everything won’t happen overnight, but the world is gradually moving towards better perspectives on gender related issues.
What other areas are you considering to give women a new lease of life?
At the House of Oduduwa Foundation, we have several initiatives targeted at giving women better opportunities. We are involved in economic empowerment, healthcare outreach, general counselling and life building.
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