Redefining Wonder Woman Series 12: Stand to End Rape (trigger alert)

2017 was the year when the lid was blown off sexual assaults on a global scale. It seems
Oluwaseun Ayodeji Osowobi[7644]befitting that the first 2018 post should address that issue, particularly on International Women’s Day. It was an honour to interview Oluwaseun Ayodeji Owosobi, a rape survivor and founder of NGO, Stand to End Rape (STER). *trigger alert* this post contains details that may cause distress.

RWW: When did you start Stand to End Rape?
OAO: It started in 2013 as an online initiative to give survivors a platform to break the silence, own their stories and not be ashamed. I was in New York at the time and ran a weekly forum called Speak Out on Twitter and then on Facebook for survivors to share their story. Once survivors engaged with me, I would do online one- one to counselling with them and then when they were ready, they would share their stories.
When it got to the stage where I was having to manage a huge numbers of people, I started to think, how can we help break the silence and put an end to the menace.

RWW: What were your initial obstacles?
OAO: Well at the time, I was simply thinking about providing an avenue for people to express themselves. I didn’t think about the implications it would have for confidentiality and a safe space for people to share that story without feeling a form of shame. I then decided to create a formal organisation. There was a trust issue with victims and a formal organisation help to allay fears.
In 2014, I moved back to Nigeria to start advocacy and awareness as well as enlisting volunteers. On June 19 2014, Stand to End Rape was registered as NGO and as a formal body supporting victims of sexual violence and also promoting female reproductive rights.

RWW: Were you working at the time?
OAO: I was an intern at the United Nations working in communications. I then moved to intern at Half the Sky Movement, the largest NGO in New York working to end worldwide oppression for women and girls, as social media communications and US aid intern.

RWW: What was your personal experience?
OAO: To be honest, I have outgrown telling my own story but you will get bits of it from my interview. I was 20 going on 21 when I was raped in Nigeria.

RWW: How did you overcome it?
OAO: The most important support for me was the family front. My mother was super super supported. However,although I had support from my family, there was no other support available – medically, physically, psychologically or socially. The most I received was from a friend who took me to a pharmacy to prevent me from getting pregnant.
I eventually ended up doing a Masters in International Relations with a focus on gender. As a result, I became more aware about the role masculinity plays in our work.

RWW: How are you battling patriarchy and the stigma?
OAO: Our aim is not to challenge men but to let them know that survivors have a face. And to let perpetrators of rape know they have to stop. I was ready for the backlash or the stigma – you will never get married; you’ll be ostracised from society. I was ready for that.
At the end of the day, the most important thing was how I viewed myself and how important I saw myself to be. I didn’t see myself as a victim but a weapon. I was ready to fight or defend. Statistics show that someone who has been a victim once is most likely to be a victim again. I was willing to put myself forward and ready of the backlash because I had my family with me. I didn’t present myself as a victim but a survivor. Amazingly, people were receptive to my story and my cause and they accepted me. Naturally you will get horrible comments from some men but with my family’s support I was go through it,

RWW: How about the survivors? How do you to connect with them?
OAO: It’s been mainly through referrals from people who have been through our programme and found healing. We also use social media as well as radio and TV.
When you work with a client and achieve success, referrals come naturally and survivors reach out to us. Our aim is to help them build confidence in themselves and raise their self esteem again. It’s crucial that they understand that it wasn’t their fault and that they can move on and own their story, very much like how cancer survivors own their stories. Ultimately, progress hinges on how they see themselves. No matter how much you try you won’t achieve anything until you are able to help them change their perception of themselves.

We also engage with religious leaders to change the understanding and perception of sexual violence. They have a huge crowds and a platform to reach thousands of people which will take us longer to do. People are usually willing to listen to leaders and that helps to propagate the message.

RWW: How does your team function?
OAO: We are a youth led initiative with team members in Lagos and Abuja and volunteers across Nigeria. Our aim is to have individuals who act as foot soldiers and are able to help by referring survivors to our team. Then we can support the survivor, officially report the case on their behalf and then they follow through on the case.

RWW: What those following through involve?
OAO:

  1. Get the survivor to a hospital to get tested. In the first instance they’ll need post exposure prophylaxis (PEP) to prevent HIV infection
  2. Follow due process. They should be taken to the police station although survivors are reluctant to go. Depending on the complexity, we may go to police first or hospital first
  3. Find a lawyer within that space. The law states that rape is a case against the state so they provide should provide survivors with a prosecutor. However, they are not proactive and court dates can be given ranging from three to six months after the rape. The longest I have seen is three years (*gasps of shock from RWW*).

As a result we get involved to ensure there is follow through with regards to court proceedings. We help with the preparing the survivor for questioning to help reduce the impact of the verbal ‘bashing’ survivors may get from the defence.

  1. Only a mentally strong person can go through the process. Survivors can sometimes experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and can often experience psychotic episodes. In such circumstances we would refer the individual for appropriate medical help.
  2. Financial support in cases where it is necessary.

RWW: With your limited resources, where do you focus your main attention ?
OAO: Support services, awareness, prevention and advocacy. Laws become ineffective if the people are not aware.

RWW: What is the strategy for awareness then?
OAO: We have no intention to reinvent the wheel. We aren’t there to teach or be their mums or tell them what to do or not do. Our role is to engage and inform. We commence a campaign and have a conversation around that and then communicate what they don’t know. This is mainly via social media, radio and support.

We address issues like language. ‘Why are you acting a girl’, ‘be like a man’, ‘don’t cry’. We say to girls, ‘close your legs’, ‘don’t do this’, ‘don’t wear that’. We end up teaching boys to keep all their aggression within and girls to be ultra conservative. When both parties meet, the expectation is that the boy asserts his masculinity and the girl submits to it. When the girl challenges this, then the boy takes it by force. We have also discovered that the impact of social media and pornography encourages boys in particular to seek to experiment with what they have learnt. Worst still, some men have no idea that they are guilty of rape because consent is not something they have been socialised to seek or educated about.

Through radio and TV interviews we aim to raise awareness of these issues and correct attitudes and behaviours. It requires behavioural change, providing strategies for change, referrals to coaches or counsellors as well as advocacy. We also focus on educating the police as well who don’t fully understand that rape can happens everywhere and the issues surrounding consent.

RWW: What’s the worse story you’ve come across?
OAO: Every situation is horrendous but some can truly shock you. It’ll have to be a 9 month old with rectovaginal fistula. She had been raped by a 20 year old teacher. There was also a case with a neighbour raping two boys aged 5 and 14 year old for a year and a man who had been raping his wife’s niece.

RWW: Are you working with schools and young kids?
OAO: We run workshops in community secondary schools as they often have no one reaching out to them. Again we do not replicate effort already taking place but we support effort in places they have not reached, usually highly dense city areas. We run joint workshops with boys and girls and afterwards the students can ask questions. It is usually about behavioural change and addressing mindsets. For example, the fact that you spent money on a date is not a guarantee of sex and is not consent to rape. That you are dating someone is also not license to have sex. We use examples to correct ideas and promote positive masculinity amongst students. We also work with girls on how to create boundaries and communication. We teach them how to say no assertively through the use of language and tone.

RWW: How do you involve men in your campaigns?
OAO: Some of our STER champions are men. Men have a vital role to play in ending sexual violence. With the right information, they can they can start conversations on their own, get other men talking and change the narrative. We also have male advocates who go into communities and help with follow through.

RWW: What’s the major resistance you have faced?
OAO: The narrative that how a woman dresses is the major reason she is raped. We also face resistance from survivors who understandably do not want to go through the experience of having their case drag on for 3 years.

RWW: What’s your message to anyone that has been raped?
OAO: The rape experience is part of your past. Don’t let it own your future. Own your story. You are not a victim you are survivor. There is help for you and know that you can get past it and be fine. We are here for you. Don’t let someone’s violent action take your voice as well.

RWW: Thank you Oluwaseun.

STER

To find out about more about Stand to End Rape (STER) or to volunteer, visit www.standtoendrape.org

To find other organisations supporting sexual assault survivors visit itv.com/thismorning/rape-helplines

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The Number One Back to School Essential

It’s back to school time for most children round the world. There will have been the buying of equipment, sourcing of after-school activities or care, the shuffling from here to there. Our minds are preoccupied with not only getting them ready for school but sometimes worry about how they will get on.

It’s a new school for my kids as well as three nephews and two nieces. There is a lot to process. There might be anxiety about work load for some, the fear of exams for others, the will-they-make-friends concern, etc. There is more than enough to keep us all preoccupied.

Through it all though, let’s not forget an essential ingredient that every parent must give their child – encouragement.

We may never understand the pressure kids are under today but we can guess. The need for acceptance, the need to do their best, the waiting to see if they were selected for a sports team or school play, the desire not to stand out, the pressure of exams. Add to that the proliferation of social media amongst them, children today have all sorts of pressures thrust upon them that we’ll never fully understand.

So the one thing I aim to do is to let my children know that their best is good enough. That they can do anything they set their mind on. And when they can’t, it’s OK. They need that safe place where they always have a cheerleader.  And it can get very corny in our home with my daughter getting out her pompoms to cheer her brother on, or me making positive declarations over my kids. My aim is to pump them up so much with confidence that no one on the outside can ever penetrate their veneer with arrows of negativity or condescension.

Keeping their morale up is more important than homework and all the other stuff. Sorry if you are a teacher reading this and you disagree. But a child that already feels he or she is losing is hardly going to feel able in your class.

So as parents, aunties, uncles, friends and the entire village it takes to raise a child, be the greatest cheerleader for every child in your life. Heaven knows they need it.

A Thin Line Between Sanity And Depression

Photo By Lechon Kirb

I posted this two years ago and sadly it is still relevant.

When I was at University, one of my friends was falsely accused of being in an occult fraternity which led to an investigation that cost him two years of his education. After a long drawn out battle, he was acquitted and was able to return to University. It was at this point he came to visit me; to share his story. He said a lot of things but one comment stuck with me ever since:

I almost lost my mind. I discovered that there is a thin line between insanity and sanity.

He was in his early twenties at the time. He was lucky; he had his faith and supportive family and friends. Nonetheless it was the loneliest time of his life and he led life as a recluse over those two years.

Today, we learnt in the news that the suicide rate for middle-age men with mental health issues has risen by 73% since 2006*.

When my friend was sharing his story with me, I remember thinking how incredibly brave he was. Not just coming through it but for being open about it and sharing his vulnerability. This is not how society generally socialises men to be – vulnerable. Certainly not in Nigeria where I grew up.

We know that today, men, particularly middle-aged men, are more at risk of taking their own lives.

I’m not a mental health worker nor do I profess to be an expert in any way. However, one thing I’ve learnt, after 10 years in pastoral care; is that people, men and women, need an opportunity to be honest and vulnerable without fear of stigma or reproach. People need to be able to share their pain, sorrow and fears and know that it’s O.K. People need a support network to help them through tough times. Before any recovery, there must be the space to be real with themselves.

Too often men are held to very high standards of masculinity and within that strata, there is very little room or respect for vulnerability let alone crying. We socialise our boys from an early age to adopt a false sense of masculinity. We ask them if they are girls when they cry or tell them to man up. We teach them at an early age to stifle their emotions and it’s little wonder that they grow up not learning to deal with them or ask for help. Clearly, this has to change if we want men to be sensitive to the state of their mental health.

Mental health is complex and there will be many issues to unpick in today’s news as to why men are at a higher risk of committing suicide. However, you and I can start by giving boys and men a break from machismo and let them just be.

Samaritans: 08457 90 90 90 (24-hour national helpline)

* University of Manchester’s National Confidential Inquiry into Suicide and Homicide by People with Mental Illness

What Legacy will you leave as a Mum?

On Thursday, I attended the service of songs or wake keeping for my cousin, Sola, (still can’t believe it). One of his closest friends read a tribute and talked about the legacy he left to his daughter. Although he spoke about a lot of things, the word ‘legacy’ has reverberated through my being since Thursday. What legacy am I leaving for my children?

When Sola’s daughter came up and read her tribute, I was struck by two things. Firstly, what an eloquent young woman – her parents must have been so proud of her. Secondly, how present her father was in her life.  Over the next few minutes she went on to describe explicitly what it means to be present as a parent from a child’s perspective.

Sola poured his life into his daughter and her well-being what his utmost concern. Whilst he might not have had much, he had a lot of love and he lavished it on her. I realised as she spoke, that on this dusty road we call life, he focused on the principle thing – love.

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Mother’s day can mean a myriad of things to many of us. A day to be cherished; a reminder that we are taken for granted perhaps; a reiteration of the fact that you are both mother and father to your child; a reminder that the child you long for is still not yours; maybe sadness over the loss of your own mum – it means so many different things to all people.

In the midst of all the chocolates, flowers, pampering and what nots you may or may not be doing, I’d like to take moment to focus on what it does mean to be a mother – to be a parent. These are the lessons my young cousin taught me on parenting from the view of a child.

  • Children are kind. They don’t always hold your faults against you.
  • They love unconditionally.
  • They appreciate when you spend time with them – quality time.
  • It is important to create memories. It doesn’t cost much to watch a movie on TV together or share your favourite songs with one another. Create unforgettable memories.
  • Encourage them all the time. Motivate them. Be their greatest cheerleader.
  • Though you are parent first and friend later, be the one that they want to come and share their burdens with.
  • When they find in you someone they can trust with their hearts, they share their lives with you and crown you ‘best friend’. This is not a title you bestow upon yourself.

I hope I haven’t rained on anyone’s parade today. It’s a reflective time for me and a stark reminder about what parenting is really about – at least for me anyway. However, I also find it encouraging that what children remember are the simple things, not the things – what they remember is you.

My cousin’s daughter, my young cousin, taught me what IS important about parenthood. In her words, “my dad wasn’t perfect but he was perfect to me”. It suddenly dawned on me that parenthood-slash-motherhood is an act of service not a trophy. It is also a privilege that I probably do take for granted if I am honest. And in those moments when we rush from pillar to post in a bid to do it all, all of the time, this is a wonderful reminder that we are enough.

Her time with her father was so so brief, it is really heartbreaking, but he left an indelible imprint on her heart that will last a lifetime. I wonder how my children will remember me? Have you ever thought about that? What legacy are you leaving your children?

Yours,

RWW

Happy Valentine’s Day

Today is the 14th (January).  I’ve been working on Valentines Day offers for my cake business.  So my mind is already in February.  In fact, as most business owners will know, I’m already at Easter and on the verge of summer really.

My husband went to the gym early this morning and I thought, oh no! I don’t have a card or anything so I thought it’d just get away with a loving kiss.  He came in just before the school run and I gave him a kiss and said Happy Valentines Day.  He looked puzzled and asked is it?  I said yah, it’s the 14th.  He starts to apologise for not getting me anything then gives me a sceptical look and calls me a ‘419-er’ – which means fraudster in Nigeria.  He thought I was setting him up.  ROTFL 🙂 I genuinely thought it was Valentines Day.  I explained that I was working on some offers and had got caught up in that but I don’t think he believed me.  Hahaha.  Hilarious start to my day.

Although I love that we are at that stage where a kiss is enough to celebrate Valentines Day.  I’ll see if that sentiment is still there in February. 😉

Happy Valentines Day everyone!

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Monopoly Wars

Each holiday we try to get our children unglued from the T.V, Wii, iPad or Nintendo DS. Gosh! So much competition vying for their time.

This time we’ve got them hooked on Monopoly. We’ve had the game for a long time and they’ve played it to varying degrees of enjoyment. However, I guess they are older now and they are gaining an understanding of the value of money.

I observed one of their games and it was a revelation. I saw aspects of their personalities that I was not aware of.

My son, the ever competitive soul who doesn’t put his soul into anything not worth winning, is a ruthless business man. He will get all the title deeds on one or more sides of the board and proceed to deck them out with homes and hotels such that once you pass Go you are filled with dread. Even when you are down and can’t pay income tax, he’ll come knocking on your door for his rent.

My daughter on the other hand, is the trusting individual who spends without thinking and hopes it all works out. She starts the game spending and buying land until she has no more money. She hasn’t quite learnt how to save a little bit for accidentals. She just keeps spending because for her, she wants to acquire those homes and is on a fast track to do so . However, she has progressed a long way from when she refused to spend and wanted to see money pile up and not invest.  Having been on the brink of bankruptcy three times and sent to jail eight times, I tried to get her to quit but daughter refused to be beaten. She remortgaged a couple of her title deeds and miraculously bounces back, repays her debt and ends up owning homes.

There were some very tense moments as both scrambled for success. With each throw of the dice, their decisions become more strategic and focused. It would appear that I don’t have to much more to teach them. Thank God for Monopoly. They have learnt to save, pay off debt, invest and grow their money.

New Year’s Day Tradition

It’s funny how memories are suddenly triggered. I haven’t spent New Year’s Eve (NYE) with my mother in over fifteen years but yesterday I remembered one of her traditions.

Every NYE we would start to say prayers as a family about 11.30pm. After midnight,  we would say Happy New Year, give each other a hug and toast with champagne. My mum would bring out a plate of segmented oranges and pass them round.  And then say in Yoruba, “odun yi a san” meaning this year will be good or better. (I hope no one corrects my translation 😂😂😂)

As we drove home from NYE’s service at church, I told my husband this story.  When we got home, he took out some oranges from the fridge and cut them up. And so the tradition is passed on.

Just as oranges bring sweetness and refreshment to the palette, may 2017 be a sweet and refreshing year for you and your loved ones. English doesn’t do justice to what Yoruba could have done but I’m sure you get the sentiment.

Happy New Year!

How I Lost a £100 Bet

In September, I posted the following on my Facebook page:

My son decided that once school started he would not eat junk food for the next three months. Laughing I said if that happens I’ll give you £100. Lured by the bait, that I know I will never have to pay 😂😂😂😂😂, he accepted the challenge.

Since that day when I inadvertently- I mean foolishly – made that bet, my son has not had a crisp, sweet, chocolate, snack, icecream, nada. For three months, he has had fruit at school lunches; even enlisted his friends to help him keep on top of it. At birthday parties, he has stuck to fruit and veg. And at home, a child who I have had to restrain from having multiple snacks a day, suddenly metamorphosed into an overnight health aficionado.

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As part of the agreement, he was allowed a day off for his birthday. Apart from that day, despite my attempts to sabotage his challenge (believe me I tried) he has resisted and kept at it. A low point came when I started to offer him get-out-of=jail cards at £20 each to eat an unhealthy snack. *SMH*

Although I had failed to reduce my impending liability, I was still confident. I thought even if he lasted a little while, there was no way he would survive Christmas without junk food. Boy was I wrong. Clearly I do not know my son very well because he sailed through the festive season like a pro.

There are so many morals to this story that I don’t know where to start. So here I am, £100 lighter, shamefaced and eating humble-pie for underestimating a child. Now we just need to channel this determination and discipline into keeping a tidy room in 2017.

This will be the last time I ever make a bet with him or any other child for that matter. I’ve been schooled!

Death Is Instructive

In light of recent obituaries in the press, this old post came to mind.

I have been to too many funerals in the last few years than I would care to experience.  They have been for family members; older friends and much younger friends; some children; colleagues and close friends; wives of church leaders and congregation members; parents of my friends, my own estranged dad – so so many than I would care to count.

I cry at weddings so it will be no surprise to discover that I weep at funerals whether I was close to the person or not. However, no matter the relationship I am always struck by two main things.

  1. Whenever tributes are read I am sometimes struck by how little I knew about the person who I was weeping over. How is it that I never knew x,y and z about this person – especially if we were in close proximity?  Like how didn’t  I know they were so caring or so giving or so wise or so funny or so weird or so interesting?  How is it that I spent so much time ‘around’ them but never know that?
  2. Regrets. If I had known that would be the last time I saw that person, I would have called.  I would have visited more.  I would have gone to that party they invited me to but was too tired to make.  I would have invited them to my home for dinner.  I would have told her I loved her.  I would have thanked them for being a great friend or supporting me through that tough period.  I would have spoken more from the heart and not had superficial conversations. I would have found out how they were really doing.  Were they happy? I would have made our last moment together count.  I wouldn’t have spent so much time being upset about that time they spoke to me in a funny way or how I felt they had treated me.  I would have kept in touch.  I would have taken more of an interest in them.  I would have ……..

Death is instructive

Indeed death is very instructive.  A funeral or a graveside is a great place to start if you want a reality check on how you are living your life.  There were a few successive years when it seemed like the only social functions I was attending were funerals.  I learnt a great deal about myself and the sort of person I wanted to be over those years.

Relationships are crucial to humanity. Even for introverts like mysel,  I willingly admit that I need relationships to keep me alive. The tragedy of life is that we take people around us for granted.  For some deluded reason we seem to think we will always be around; we will always have each other.  We take life for granted, that its electrodes will always course through our veins.  We all live in the eternal hope that we will be sustained with long life.  And so we treat each other like we will always meet tomorrow. However the reality is you never know when good bye means see you on another shore.  And so:

  • We talk to each other without listening because tomorrow we will talk again.
  • We go to bed angry, because tomorrow we will make up.
  • We are unkind to each other, because tomorrow we can make amends.
  • We withdraw our love from each other, because tomorrow they may hurt us again.
  • We do not sacrifice our time to spend it with someone because we can always go there tomorrow.
  • We do not pick up the phone to call because we will have more time to speak tomorrow.
  • We do not visit that person in hospital because tomorrow they’ll be out and we can go and see them at home.
  • We do not say sorry, because tomorrow we can be friends again.
  • We do not say thank you now because tomorrow ……………..
  • We do not say I love you, because they should know and tomorrow ………

I am not looking to score brownie points or fulfil some sort of sick righteousness, but because if, God forbid, I ever have to attend a funeral of someone I care for again, I do not want to regret not knowing them or experiencing a tangible relationship with them.  And so I call or text when people come to mind.  I ask if they are happy.  I say thank you for being there for me.  I laugh with them, cry with them.  I listen even when I feel they have not even thought about how I’m doing – I listen.  I travel longer distances now to share precious moments with them.  I reach out even when they haven’t asked after me in ages.  I bake them a cake to say I care. Just because – just because you never know if tomorrow will come, I’m trying to treat my relationships like there is no tomorrow.  Trying – it is an ongoing personal challenge.

One trick I have learnt, particularly when I feel I have been wronged by someone; I think, what if you hear tomorrow that this person has died, how would you feel?  If I feel remorse or regret and then I know, it’s not worth being upset over. Let it go.

Indeed death is instructive! Learn from it.

There is no S**TA

This Christmas, I would advise you to keep your children well away from mine because they know there is such thing as Santa.

Two years ago, we made the decision to tell them the truth. Yeah yeah yeah, we are mean old parents but:

  1. We were tired of this big bearded man that comes down the chimney once a year taking all the credit for the gifts that our hard earned money provided.
  2. We were tired of keeping up the charade and essentially the lies that went along with it as they got older. It got to the point where  I would have to say that the friend who told them there was a Santa was a liar.
  3. The gift list was getting ridiculously wilder and longer. It needed to be halted. I’m just not cut out to be one of those parents that gives their kids everything they want.
  4. We are mean like that. Hehehehehehe.

Now this year we could ask what do you want and get a list and since they know it’s their parents providing them, there is the understanding that not every wish would be granted.

I wonder if it’ll stop them wishing for those dreamy, magical presents that only Santa can provide?  Who knows. I’d like to think that Santa is not responsible for creativity and high expectations in children.

Anyway, you’ve been warned, keep your kids away or else.