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Taiwo-Ojo: Attitude of the society towards gender-based violence is a big challenge

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The beauty of being a legal practitioner is that it helps one understand the plight of those you defend, and advocate for them. However, not all lawyers can multi-task and deliver successfully both ways, but Toyin Ndidi Taiwo-Ojo is breaking boundaries in her profession as a lawyer and human rights activist. She is not only ‘walking the talk,’ but she’s also lending her voice to the voiceless, vulnerable and marginalised in the society. Founder of Stop The Abuse Against Children and Women Foundation, popularly called Stop the Abuse foundation, the seasoned negotiator and mediator bagged her Law degree from the Obafemi Awolowo University and has worked in notable firms. She was one time welfare secretary of the NBA Ota, Ogun State branch and currently a member of the NBA national NHIS committee.
She was also at one time the Personal Assistant of the wife of the Executive Governor, of Kogi State, a position she held until she resigned in 2017 to face her advocacy passion squarely. A human rights advocate, she sits on the board of some notable charities in the country and has great passion for vulnerable children, women and the environment. She shares her inspiring journey, and tips on the right way to report cases of violence and abuse in this interview. 

Childhood Influence
GROWING up with a widowed grandmother in the village, it was all too easy to understand the hardship that women and children face, especially in a deeply patriarchal society. Also, seeing my grandmother stand up for herself and persuading her kinsmen to sell land for her when it wasn’t the norm to do so, prepared me for this future.

Inspiration Behind Stop the Abuse Against Children And Women Foundation
I have always offered pro bono legal services to indigent people, but my vision became clearer in 2015, when Promise, a six-year old boy, was stabbed by his mom with a broken bottle as a sort of punishment for allegedly ‘defiling’ a two years old girl. There and then, I knew I had to do something.

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Most parents were ignorant of acceptable methods of disciplining; kids were being subjected to the most ludicrous form of abuse in the name of punishment, being raped and maltreated and sometimes needed rescue from even their own parents!

Being A Legal Practitioner, Human Rights Advocate And Managing It All
Honestly, it has been God, but having a supportive husband has made the journey easy.

Impact Of Stop The Abuse Foundation Since Inception
Oh wow! Stop The Abused was a registered in 2018 and has rescued over 30 young girls from physical and sexual abuse; we have also rescued women from domestic abuse. Our food drives and economic empowerment interventions have affected more than 5000 families and it is still counting.

Stop The Abuse Foundation is also keen on advocacy and sensitisation and more than 10,000 persons have been affected through our grassroots mobilisation. The far reach of our constant appearances both on TV, newspaper, radio and social media on advocacy and sensitisation cannot be overemphasized.

What The Government Should Do To Support The Gender Based Violence Sector
I think the government should support critical stakeholders by providing Funds! A gender purse should be set up with critical stakeholders and philanthropists to run it just like CACOVID was set up during the COVID-19 crises of 2020. Most shelters run by private owners are poorly funded. As of now in Nigeria, the cost of justice for survivors is very high!

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Within Lagos alone, to rescue a child, one must be thinking of spending between N40,000 to N50,000 at least from providing vehicles from arrest to logistics of investigations with the police. When the suspect is arrested, one also must provide the vehicle to court and a lot of other sundry things. Government should be deliberate and help to see that our laws are more robust in tandem with current realities.

This brings us to the issue of access to justice delivery. Countless adjournment makes the victims oftentimes give up but if cases were treated speedily, it would encourage victims to seek for redress in court.

Challenges Of My Work
Attitude of the society towards gender-based violence is a big challenge. The culture of silence being encouraged by our people is one example; victims of gender-based violence are not supposed to speak up talk less of fighting for justice, especially when the perpetrator is a family member, their extended family believes that the victim speaking up will break the ‘unity’ of the family.

This brings us to victim blaming. The general belief that it must have been what the victim wore or did that seduce the rapist is another sociocultural challenge. Our people see anyone who fights for other women as an over sabi; the challenges are too numerous
Other Projects And Activities

Apart from rescuing victims and offering legal, paralegal, and psychosocial interventions free of charge, we also do food drives and economic empowerment for widows. We are currently looking at building a transit shelter for children. We are also planning a skills acquisition center to help indigent women, who are survivors of domestic violence, to become economically empowered so as to fend for themselves and children.

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What I Enjoy Most About My Job
The thing I enjoy most is the smile I get from survivors after a rescue; the smile often carried the whole message of gratitude, hope and relief. Knowing that you have made a difference in the life of someone who has given up hope is quite exhilarating.

Three Women Who Inspire Me And Why
My grandmother, Blackie Ekwutoziam Awana is my first role model; she taught me that women could be anything they want to be. From being widowed at an early stage and quite illiterate, she questioned the tradition of not selling land to women in her hometown, even when the woman had the money. She is an unsung hero. Women all over the world striving for a better life keep inspiring me to be a better version of myself.

To Women In Abusive Marriages Who Are Afraid To Flee
The covenant of life is far greater than the covenant of marriage.

Steps To Take To Seek Justice For Cases Of Domestic Violence And Rape
For a rape victim, the first is to speak up, do not let anyone shut you up; speak your truth. If it is a recent rape incident, do not clean yourself (vagina) up and if you must clean up, use a white handkerchief, tie the handkerchief in a clean white nylon, then go to the hospital before going to the police. Call a human rights organisation. Better still; call the human rights organisation first to give you moral support as you fight for justice.

Being A Woman Of Rubies
Honestly, my joy is to see more women and children free from all these indignities. 

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