“I evolved from being a timid woman who endured domestic abuse to an assertive woman” – Olubunmi Ajai Layode
Olubunmi Ajai Layode (Jopa’s daughter), is a campaigner against domestic violence (DV), she also fights for the emancipation of women from the shackles placed on them by harmful cultures and traditions. She is a blogger and founder of GREENLANDS HAVEN FOUNDATION, a NGO that helps victims of domestic violence with emergency shelter and financial empowerment in the form of loans, grants and skills acquisition. A former domestic violence victim herself, she uses her experiences to teach other victims that they have the strength to leave the abuse and live fulfilling lives through her campaigns on social media, using the hashtag #LeaveTolive, which has now become a movement. Olubunmi is also an author and married with children. She shares her journey with me in this exclusive interview.
My childhood did not prepare me for my advocacy. I grew up in a happy home. My father and mother were happily married till my mother died on her 46th birthday. I did not grow up knowing about Domestic Violence in anyway as my father respected my mother and my mother reciprocated the respect. I grew up in a sheltered home, what you would call an ‘ajebutter’ home. My parents came to England in the early 70s to school and left me and my two younger sisters, Yemisi and Seun, to be with our maternal grandma.
Before then, we had been living in my paternal grandfather, Papa Idunmota’s house and I grew up with a lot of family around din those first few years. Then, when my parents came to England, we moved to Maami’s at Surulere where it was just us three, Mammi and our step-grandfather, Papa Macauley, Herbert Macualey’s son. That was such an idyllic time of my life. Most people who grew up with their grandparents will attest to this – grandparents spoil their grandchildren! I had an idyllic childhood but when my parents came back in the late 70s, I was brought up in a stricter environment. My mother was the shouter and beater while my dad was the quite disciplinarian.
Inspiration behind Greenlands Haven Foundation
I actually did not set out to do advocacy in DV. My initial NGO was set up to help indigent Cancer sufferers with their medical bills but it was difficult setting up a pool of fund. What I then started doing was to do fundraising here in England for charities that has to do with Cancer treatment. My DV advocacy was a spur of the moment action. Yet another DV victim had been killed in Nigeria and it was trending on social media. I got tired of the talking and no action. From my experience, I knew that one of the factors that makes victims stay on is that they have nowhere to go. A lot of families will not take back their abused children as it is ignominy for the victims, usually women to come back home. For example, the Yoruba concept of ‘dalemosu’ – meaning someone who has lived with a husband and comes back home is highly discouraged. So, with the help of my Facebook friends, we raised N1m in one week and with that, we rented a flat at Ajah to be our first shelter.
We then went on to have other shelters in Ibadan, PH, Abuja, Iju and Sur-lere. We also tackled another thing that shackles victims – finances. A lot of victims, usually women are financially independent on their abusive husbands. It is pertinent to state here that abuse is not gender specific. A man may also be abused by his wife but our society discourages men from speaking out so, we have very few cases of men reporting that they are abused. The abusive husbands would have initially told the victim to not work or even barred her from working. In some cases where the woman works, some abusive husbands insist on being the custodian and spender of the woman’s money. To eradicate this financial dependency, we gave loans and grants for business set up. We also trained victims for free in things like sewing, make up artistry and set them up by buying them sewing machines and make up kits. We now hope to set up a formal skills acquisition centre in Lagos where various skills can be learnt.
Being a domestic violence survivor and advocate
I really cannot remember the exact moment that I decided to start speaking out about my DV experience. I evolved. When I left my ex, I did some soul searching and realised that I was responsible for some things that happened to me. One of which was that I was responsible for having accepted the abuse. I resolved to never be a victim again and to be the kind of woman that a man would not be able to abuse. Part of that involves being assertive. I have evolved over the years from being a timid woman who accepted abuse by all, not just her partner but also her friends to being an assertive woman who gives all in a relationship and walks away when that is not reciprocated by the other person in the relationship.
What and who inspires me
Jane Tomlinson. She was a cancer patient who had been given the death sentence of having just a few weeks to live. She defied the odd and in the few years that she lived after that sentence, she did herculean tasks that healthy people could not do, to raise money for cancer-related projects.
Oprah Winfrey. For her humanist approach to life.
Creating the #LeaveToLive Movement and identifying with the plight of victims
Ah… I have had to sort of caution myself as I became so invested emotionally in what these victims were going through. More often than not, the victims stay on after I and my team would have put things in place to help them so, I now, I try to rein my emotions in. I get a huge feeling of satisfaction and fulfilment when I help or hear that a DV victim have left their abuser. My advocacy is actually not totally altruistic as I do get a sense of pleasure and fulfilment in knowing that I have been instrumental in a DV victim leaving to live.
I have not yet gotten my greatest reward. My greatest reward would be that when I die, it would not just be my family and friends that would miss me. I want to be like Dorcas of the Bible. When I die and the whole world feels my absence, that would be my greatest reward.
Culture as a challenge
Our culture. That is the greatest challenge that I have. Our Patriarchal culture. Timidity is also another challenge that I have. A lot of victims don’t know that they have the strength to get up and leave the abuse in order to live a great life. And of course, funding.
Where I see my Organisation in five years
I have registered a company limited by guarantee here in the UK. It is a kind of charity. In five years, I see myself being involved in anti DV activities here in Britain and in Nigeria. I see the NGO having a permanent structure for the skills acquisition. I see the NGO being an employer of labour and a source of labour for these victims and also helping them to be employers of labour too. I see the British charity and the Nigerian NGO working hand in hand with each other to bring financial independence to DV victims.
Social media as a domestic violence awareness tool and government doing more
I am glad that with social media, a lot of awareness has been created but there is still a long way to go. A lot of victims don’t have access to SM and don’t have the awareness of DV issues. I want to do a documentary series to be aired on TV in Nigeria showing real life victims like me who have left the abuse and gone on to have great lives. CULTURE still shackles victims. The government, through it’s various commissioners of women’s affairs and of culture need to embark on a sensitisation project to sensitise members of the Nigerian society about the dangers of living with an abusive partner. The government also needs to provide emergency shelters for victims such as the one that the British government provided for me when I fled. Grants should also be made available to victims to enable them be independent financially. Victims, especially female victims also need to know their rights. A lot of women don’t know that it is only the courts that can grant custody, that custody is not automatically given to the man, and that the child’s best interest is what the court looks at. A lot of women are terrified of losing their children and thus stay on in the abuse for the sake of the children
Skills Acquisition centre and other projects
Like I said, I want to set up a skills acquisition centre, starting with Lagos, and then spreading to other states in Nigeria. I also want to work with the social services here in England to help DV victims, especially those of ethnic minority origins.
Giving up, never an option
No. Never. I do feel overwhelmed and wish I could do more than I am currently able to do but I have never felt like giving up. Infact, answering this question is the first time that I will be thinking of that as it has never even occurred to me. Like the singer sang, ‘we’ve only just begun’
Inspiration behind my book “Leaving to Live”
The book is called ‘Leaving to live’ and it is about how I left my life of abuse and went on to live a full live. It is a memoir and it serves two purposes. 1- that is to let people in abusive situations or even any sad situation know that they possess the strength to change their situation. If I can do it, so can they. The other purpose is to raise funding for my project – the setting up of the skills acquisition centre. The book is a honest account of my life with my ex, accepting my faults, working on them and how I then turned around my life by changing my behaviour to be able to earn respect ad find love and joy again.
Being a Woman of Rubies
I am not one for blowing my own trumpet so, I would like to leave that to the reader to decide if I am worthy to be called a Woman of Rubies or not.
Final word for women who are presently going through DV but are afraid to break free and speak up
Please know that you have the strength to get up and go. Don’t give any excuses. Don’t stay for the kids. You deserve to be happy. Your kids deserve to be in a happy environment. If your enemy died of the abuse, your kids might be shunted around or abused. Stay alive for your kids. Stay alive for you. You can do it. Leave to live.
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