In Nigeria, ‘Feminist’ Was a Common Insult. Then Came the Feminist Coalition.

In Nigeria, ‘Feminist’ Was a Common Insult. Then Came the Feminist Coalition.
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In Nigeria, ‘Feminist’ Was a Common Insult. Then Came the Feminist Coalition.

In Nigeria, ‘Feminist’ Was a Widespread Insult. Then Got here the Feminist Coalition.

LAGOS, Nigeria — In the course of the largest demonstrations in Nigeria’s latest historical past, 13 ladies got here collectively to assist their fellow residents risking their lives to march in opposition to police brutality.

The ladies had been all of their 20s and 30s. All on the high of their fields. Many had by no means met in individual. They discovered each other by social media months earlier than, and named their group the Feminist Coalition. They jokingly referred to as themselves “The Avengers.”

“We determined that if we don’t step in, the individuals who undergo the best will find yourself being ladies,” stated Odunayo Eweniyi, a 27-year-old tech entrepreneur and a founding member of the Feminist Coalition.

They raised a whole lot of 1000’s of {dollars} final 12 months over crowdfunding web sites to assist the demonstrators who took to the streets to denounce human rights abuses by a police unit generally known as the Particular Anti-Theft Squad, or SARS. The Feminist Coalition offered primary companies to the protesters: authorized help, emergency well being care meals, masks, raincoats. However when peaceable protesters had been shot by the army, and the demonstrations wound down, the Feminist Coalition didn’t.

Now, their sights are set greater. They need equality for Nigerian ladies, and they’re turning their focus to points like sexual violence, ladies’s schooling, monetary equality and illustration in politics.

The battle for equality received’t be straightforward. A Gender and Equal Alternatives Invoice, first launched in 2010, has repeatedly been voted down by Nigeria’s male-dominated Senate.

After which there’s the matter of being proud feminists, in a rustic the place the phrase feminist is usually used as an insult.

For years, figuring out as a feminist in Nigeria has been fraught. The coalition’s determination to make use of the phrase within the group’s identify, and the feminine image of their yellow brand, was pointed. Most of the protesters benefiting from their help had been males — and never all of them had been supportive of ladies’s rights.

“We solely used the phrase as a result of we wished to allow them to know the place the cash is coming from,” Ms. Eweniyi stated.

We talked to among the ladies behind the Feminist Coalition about why they joined and what they’re making an attempt to alter in Nigeria.

Earlier than Oluwaseun Ayodeji Osowobi began her nonprofit group, Stand To Finish Rape, in 2014, it was frequent to open the newspaper in Nigeria and within the crime protection, discover a image of a kid rape sufferer, with no thought to how that public identification may have an effect on her life. Girls had been raped and killed, with no penalties. Many well being care suppliers had no thought easy methods to acquire proof of rape.

Ms. Osowobi, 30, is making an attempt to alter attitudes by altering public coverage and practices. Her nonprofit runs seminars to assist folks forestall sexual violence, and a rape survivors community, the place survivors can share experiences, mentor one another and really feel much less alone. She’s labored on laws prohibiting sexual harassment and violence.

However males are normally those selecting whether or not or to not go such laws.

“We want extra ladies to get in these areas and make vital insurance policies and choices that amplify the voices of different folks,” Ms. Osowobi stated.

It was Tito Ovia’s nationwide youth service that made her understand she wished to work on public well being. Posted to Nigeria’s AIDS management company, she observed that due to a scarcity of knowledge, it was onerous to inform if cash spent on stopping HIV/AIDS was making a distinction.

Ms. Ovia, 27, co-founded an organization with mates in 2016 that goals to attempt to guarantee that well being care throughout Africa is pushed by information and know-how. The corporate, Helium Well being, has helped hospitals and clinics arrange digital medical data and hospital administration programs.

She stated she hadn’t anticipated the work of the Feminist Coalition to be so critical, supporting protesters as they risked their lives to attempt to change a police system that brutalized younger folks.

“I believed it was going to be much more enjoyable than this, let me not lie,” she stated, laughing. “I believed we’d meet up, we’d drink, we’d bitch about males. We’d do some work. I didn’t know that lives could be threatened.”

Earlier than the Feminist Coalition, Damilola Odufuwa, 30, arrange Wine and Whine, a assist group for Nigerian ladies.

She wished to create a secure and enjoyable area the place younger ladies might get collectively, have a drink and complain about sexual harassment within the office, the strain to get married, the patriarchal system and its gatekeepers, and some other frustrations they’d — after which start to determine options.

Ms. Odufuwa, the top of public relations in Africa for a big cryptocurrency trade, had just lately moved again to Lagos from the UK when she arrange Wine and Whine. She was struck by how ladies had been handled in Nigeria.

She and her co-founder Odunayo Eweniyi — the identical duo behind the Feminist Coalition — made positive that Wine and Whine additionally wore its feminism as a badge of honor.

“We’re a feminist group,” Ms. Odufuwa instructed a male discuss present host in a 2019 interview about Wine and Whine.

“Oh!” replied the host, sounding shocked by her use of the phrase.

“We’re very feminist,” she responded, laughing. “Your response tells me that feminism is perceived as this dangerous factor.”

Odunayo Eweniyi, a 27-year-old tech entrepreneur, didn’t understand fairly how large a deal placing “feminist” within the group’s identify would turn into.

“It wasn’t speculated to be a rallying cry for the complete motion,” she stated. “Actually, now that it’s, I’m very proud we used the phrase ‘feminist’ as a result of folks relate with it in a manner that doesn’t equate the phrase ‘feminist’ to the phrase ‘terrorist.’”

Although Nigeria has a historical past of feminist actions, figuring out as a feminist is seen as radical.

Ms. Eweniyi just lately acquired tattoos of her favourite equations: Schroëdinger’s equation, the golden ratio, and the uncertainty precept.

She’s working to cut back uncertainty in Nigerian ladies’s lives.

The financial savings app start-up that Ms. Eweniyi launched in 2016, referred to as Piggyvest, tackles one of many foremost issues the Feminist Coalition has recognized — monetary equality for ladies. The thought is that folks ought to be capable to save and make investments even small quantities of cash. It has greater than 2 million clients — women and men.

As an anchor of one in every of Nigeria’s largest TV information reveals, Laila Johnson-Salami remembers vividly her male co-host telling a producer to say his identify first.

However she was undaunted. By way of Newsday, the present on the TV channel Come up, she saved Nigerians knowledgeable concerning the protests, which adopted the hashtag #EndSARS.

At 24, she’s the youngest member of the coalition. Her foremost objective, she stated, is to draw a youthful viewers. And just lately she launched a podcast which will assist her obtain that.

She makes use of her platform to carry politicians to account, however stated, “If there’s one factor I do know for positive on this life, it’s that Laila won’t ever go into politics.”

The interviews Ms. Johnson-Salami does on the Damaged Document Podcast are very totally different from her tv interviews. They’re intimate chats on the whole lot from the significance of vulnerability to adoption and funding.

“Time’s up, it’s over,” tweeted Fakhrriyyah Hashim in February 2019. “You’re accomplished getting away with monstrosities in opposition to ladies.”

Her tweet kicked off northern Nigeria’s #MeToo motion. In it, Ms. Hashim coined the hashtag #ArewaMeToo — Arewa means “north” in Hausa, a West African language spoken by most northern Nigerians.

In a extremely conservative area with what Ms. Hashim, 28, has referred to as a “tradition of silence,” #ArewaMeToo unleashed a deluge of testimonies about sexual violence. When it spilled off social media and into avenue protests, the Sultan of Sokoto, the best Islamic authority in Nigeria, banned it.

One other marketing campaign Ms. Hashim launched, #NorthNormal, pushed for Nigerian states to use legal guidelines that criminalize violence and broaden the definition of sexual violence.

Her ladies’s rights activism has introduced her demise threats and abuse. Now, she’s put a ways between herself and the folks behind these threats, having taken up a fellowship on the African Management Centre in London.

The Feminist Coalition members had been all working from their houses due to the pandemic, so being in London in the course of the #EndSARS protests, she was simply as capable of elevate consciousness and funds on-line.

“I knew that no matter objectives and goals we set, we had been going to attain that,” Ms. Hashim stated.

An estimated two-thirds of Nigerian women and girls would not have entry to sanitary pads. They’ll’t afford them.

Karo Omu, 29, has been combating to get pads and different sanitary merchandise to Nigerian ladies for the previous 4 years. She focuses on ladies in public faculties who come from low-income households, and ladies who’ve needed to flee their houses and live in camps.

There are 2.7 million internally displaced folks in northeastern Nigeria on account of the violent and uncontrolled insurgency waged by the Islamist group Boko Haram and its offshoots. And for a lot of ladies and ladies residing within the camps, it’s a wrestle to get sufficient meals and clothes, not to mention costly sanitary pads.

Her group, Sanitary Help for Nigerian Women, fingers out reusable pads, purchased with cash crowdfunded by Ms. Omu and her colleagues, in order that ladies have one much less factor to fret about. A number of the ladies they’ve helped had by no means had a pad earlier than.

“Girls’s points are fought by ladies,” she stated.

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