I want women, girls to be free from oppression created by masculine norms
Anuli Aniebo Ola-Olaniyi is the founder of Heir Women Development (HWD), a female-focused social enterprise helping women and young girls become decision makers and leaders in their own right. The author of ‘More Than Just Pretty’ talks about why the fight against Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) is needed now more than ever, protecting women and girls from all forms of abuse, media stepping up and helping in the fight and her journey to authoring her book.
Domestic violence and sexual assault among minors have been at the forefront of discussions in the last few weeks. Seeing this as the area you work in, how does it play into the fight against SGBV in Nigeria?
Gender-Based Violence (GBV) is a global pandemic with severe repercussions on our society. From a standpoint view, every case has to be seen and treated individualistically. However, this same society has norms that reinforce toxic masculinity, which makes the reportage and adequate intervention in SGBV cases quite low. The fight against SGBV in our nation has to challenge the existing social norms and use spaces such as the churches and mosques, the media and schools to intensify the unlearning of abnormal behaviour that’s been institutionalised.
Tell us how your work at HEIR Women Development is helping to protect and help Nigerian women?
At HWD, one of our core objectives is to educate girls and young women about the agency and the role they can play in nation building. Historically, Nigerian women occupied spaces that were not gendered. Westernisation and domesticity were the colonisers’ method to limit the potential of Nigerian women and dominate them through masculine norms introduced by the Europeans to oppress women. Our organisation is showing young women the ideology that needs to be unlearned so that they can take on leadership and decision making positions.
Tell us about your work in your workplace on sexual harassment women face?
We recently concluded on a learning project with support from Ford Foundation to carry out a research on carrier barriers and prevalence of sexual harassment at workplaces, starting with the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja FCT. The objective is to gather evidential data on the occurrence and then use the data to create implementable interventions across the country. Of 1000 online respondents and 60 face-to-face interviews, 51 per cent had experienced harassment of a sexual nature. Sexual harassment is a discriminatory, oppressive and unwanted sexual behaviour often times caused by power domination and stereotypical ideology of the privileged over a marginalised group. Our project will use the data we have gathered and the outcome from our concluded career workshop where we engaged organisations such as Amnesty International, Ministry of Labour, Gender Unit of the African Union, FCT SGBV Unit, legal and policy makers as well as the media, to further address this very disturbing situation in workplaces.
In the course of your research, what would you say are the greatest factors that limit women’s careers and participation in leadership?
Data gathered from our research put Sexual Exploitation and Harassment (SEAH) as one of the leading causes of career barriers and poor leadership participation.
How best can the government, CSOs and even individuals work to stem SGBV?
We need to unify the fight against this menace. I find that media and religious institutions have a very big role to play in this fight. These are two spaces that daily feed into the lives of everyday Nigerians. SGBV is metamorphosing into a trend that we all need to tactfully and strategically contain. We have no time left to dwindle our thumbs.
You recently authored a book. What made you decide to do this?
The book, ‘More Than Just Pretty’ is a self-help project that shares lessons from my journey as a girl to a young woman growing up in Nigeria and trying to understand and navigate barriers and challenges. This book covers topics on financial literacy, labels, societal expectations to spirituality, reading, leadership, circle of influence and varying definitions of what true beauty should be for us. It is simple to read and unique in showing the truth about what girls and women should focus on. I am proud to say it is available in all leading bookstores in Nigeria and internationally.
What would you say is the role of the media in supporting the fight against SGBV?
I earlier mentioned that the media and religious leaders needed to take more responsibility in this because the people are heavily influenced through both sectors. Media should do their own advocacy like documentaries and story telling with a focus on re-education. The media are very critical and an important part of the puzzle. We consume all sorts of information either through digital media or print and so, the media need to invest more in investigative journalism and dedicate resources to work in breaking the social norms that promote SGBV. The media should not be sensational but must remain objective in their reportage, especially of SGBV.
What changes would you like to effect that would positively help women and girls?
I would like us to be free from oppression caused by masculine norms. This means constantly re-educating girls and young people, creating implementable intervention, conveying spaces to interrogate the issues we experience and working alongside identified sectors to cause the required change.