By Miracle Nwankwo
Despite the rising cases of rape in Africa there seems to be a growing number of activists who inspire us to foresee an Africa free of violence against women, a future where women have been healed from the stigmas of rape and are confident to be the women they want to be without being drawn back by pain or hurt. West Africa has several women in that sphere, including Oluwaseun Ayodeji Osowobi, a rape and a COVID-19 survivor.
Oluwaseun is the oldest among three siblings, born and partly raised in Lagos, Nigeria. She is a well-known Nigerian women’s rights activist, who has been on her heels for victims of rape in Nigeria. Through her Stand to End Rape (STER) Initiative, and has made an immeasurable impact in the lives of women in her country.
Oluwaseun started nursing the idea for STER when many rape survivors shared their experiences with her. Being a rape survivor and recounting all she went through at the time, she decided to join forces in the global fight against rape.
When she was violated, she had no idea where to seek help or what to do except to go to the police, which turned out to be the worst option. On getting to the police station, she laid her complaint, but the police had no rape kits or any other form of immediate help to render rather all they wanted to do was to conduct a pelvic exam, which Oluwaseun rejected. In her devastated state, her roommate was able to get some medication for her at the pharmacy before her family could get through to her.
Struggling through the stigma of rape was a tough battle; her source of strength and support was her beloved mother, who often encouraged and reminded her of who she is and what she’s worth. Oluwaseun’s mother was able to protect her child’s mental health from drowning with the stigma of the rape experience. She changed her perspective on sexual violence, and she told her that what she did with her brain, heart, and hands was all that mattered. The words of her mother continued to guide her even as she moved on to further her career having overcome rape.
Meanwhile, understanding that not everyone has the luxury of the support she got from her mother, Oluwaseun will not relent until she can help many women like she was helped during her time.
She started STER in 2013 as a Twitter hashtag before launching it into an organization in 2014. Before starting STER, she had been passionate about ending gender-based violence and child marriage, she often thought about campaigning against it without knowing in what capacity.
STER is a youth-led social enterprise advocating against sexual violence, providing prevention mechanisms, and supporting survivors with psychosocial services. STER is keen about victims who suffer stigmatization and as a result, have become unable to share their ordeal. So STER stands in the gap by enlightening the community on the need to end rape and victim-blaming.
They use various platforms to educate people and also engage in interactive sessions via social media. STER is working towards the day when rape is part of history, rather than a part of our everyday lives.
STER operates in Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt, offering sex education and self-defence classes to women and children. Over time, they have managed to dismantle the disturbing belief among men, women and teens in the communities they have worked with, that marital rape is a myth and a woman’s attire is an invitation to assault her.
So far, over 200,000 women have benefitted through STER, and Oluwaseun hopes to expand the initiative beyond her home country. One of her biggest desires is to change the narrative of rape survivors, where they would be believed, and the stain of shame will no longer exist. She dreams of a world where women, children and men can co-exist freely without abuse and violence.
In 2017, Oluwaseun Osowobi was awarded a Genius Grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Also, she was named as one of Time 100 Next’s people of the year in 2019, becoming one of the second Nigerian women to make a list. She was lauded by the former US president, Barack Obama, for making it to the Time 100 Next 2019. In the same year, she was named as the Commonwealth Youth Person of the Year for 2019.
Here in Amazons Watch Magazine, we are also delighted to celebrate and commend the heartfelt efforts of Oluwaseun Ayodeji Osowobi, and for being an exemplary amazon.