Meet The Woman Tackling Gender-Based Violence and Rape in Lagos State
In 2020, a staggering 47,000 women and girls lost their lives to domestic violence. Shockingly, this statistic translates to a tragic reality: a woman or girl is killed by a family member every 11 minutes.
This episode of Counter Narrative features Titilola Vivour-Adeniyi, a strong advocate who believes that every instance of domestic violence carries the potential for something even more tragic—murder. She passionately illustrates how gender-based violence (GBV) is deeply entwined with gender inequality, highlighting patriarchy as one of the chief instigators of this crisis.
Vivour-Adeniyi advocates for transformation through education, emphasizing the urgent need to educate boys in positive masculinity and to reorient young girls. Her goal is to dismantle the pervasive rape culture that perpetuates these atrocities.
This compelling episode exposes the crucial efforts of The Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Agency as they work diligently to curb the rates of GBV. It's time to address these issues at their roots, to end the cycle of violence. Together, we can make a difference
Read and listen below:
Welcome, everyone, to another insightful episode of the Counter Narrative podcast, where we challenge perspective and amplify voices to foster a more inclusive society. I am Rihanot Ojo-Oba, and I'm here with the incredible, amazing Tiaraoluwa Fadeyi.
Hi, Rihanot. Hi, everyone. We have a special guest joining us today, someone whose work has significantly impacted the lives of many people, and she continues to inspire hope across Nigeria.
Today, we are honored to have on the show Titilola Vivour-Adeniyi with us, also known as the "Merchant of Hope:. Titilola has spent over 15 years in public service, serving in various capacities with the Lagos State Government.
Her work has been instrumental in providing a coordinated and proactive response to sexual and gender-based violence in Lagos State.
Titilola is the pioneer executive secretary of the Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Agency and author of several children's books on domestic violence, and she's the founder of the Lola Vival Adeneyi Foundation. Without further ado, let's dive right into the conversation with you, Titilola.
Rihanot Ojo-Oba: Hi, Titilola. How are you doing today?
I'm great. Thank you so much for having me.
We're glad to have you here. So, we know that you had your secondary school in France, and then you had your tertiary institution education in England. But then you came back to Nigeria.
You came back to Nigeria to study in the civil service, and it begs the question, like, okay, what's going on? Why did you do that? I know that you would have gotten offers from different establishments, top law firms, and all of that.
Why did you come back to Nigeria to study?
Okay. So, again, thank you again for having me. So, I did primary school in Nigeria, and then, yes, we all went to France. I did high school there, and then England. And then I was about to do my master's in law.
I'm a lawyer by profession. And then it was my dad. My dad was of the opinion that I need to come back. It appeared that I didn't have, like, roots, so to speak, because obviously I had friends in France, I had friends in England, but I didn't really have a base home.
So, he was of the opinion that, you know what, defer your master's admission and then come back, do NYSC, and then you can always go back to wherever it is you wanted to go to. So, it was actually my dad.
So, I came back, came back to Lagos, did NYSC. At that time, I hadn't gone to law school, right? So, I didn't really have a lot of options in terms of securing placement in a law firm, right? Because I hadn't gone to law school. So, I had opportunities to work in the oil and gas sector.
I had opportunities to work in a private law firm. I think maybe because the managing partner just liked me for some reason, I don't know. But then, as God will have it, NYSC refused to post me to those places and then they posted me to Lagos State Ministry of Justice. And at that time, I just thought, you know what, let me just get right into it. We came out of camp in November, and I didn't get posted to the Ministry of Justice until December. And I was quite skeptical about the delay it was taking, because I had heard that if you don't settle in quickly, they may extend your service year and all of that.
So, I just agreed to serve in the Lagos State Ministry of Justice and I never left. I've not left since then. That's 2007.
I would like for you to tell us a bit about your activism. Have you always felt like a calling to be a public servant, working to serve and empower the vulnerable in society?
So, I always say that I may not know where I'm going. Or I may not know exactly what I want. But I definitely know what I don't want.
And I do know that my life, my childhood, my upbringing, my parents raised us to be people of empathy, to be people of courage, to be people that use their voice and their platform in whatever capacity to assist anybody in their community.
So, and perhaps maybe my background, you know, law, the legal background, the legal profession, empowers you to use your voice. And it also, I think part of our training is that it inculcates in us the desire to resist oppression. And so, if there are issues that other people may be comfortable with, I think we are wired to resist the status quo.
So, I think a combination of my upbringing, my background, my profession, and then my public service, you know, at the moment, has sort of culminated into this effect of me seeing public service as the only place for now for me to be able to make the desired change that I want.
So, I've not always been in this sexual and gender-based violence space, right? So, when I served in 2007, I was privileged to work with the then Special Assistant to the Honorable Attorney General, and then the Honorable Attorney General himself in service year and then when I went to law school, came back, I stayed on in the Office of the Attorney General.
So, I had the privilege of working on different things, different policy issues, looking at forceful evictions, looking at scholarship board, looking at laws that needed to be amended, looking at laws that needed to be, policies that needed to be formulated in different areas of development. So, we're looking at maternity policy, the whole works.
So, I just, I've always had that fulfillment, right, in working in the public service. And obviously, it's not really about the money because, I mean, when I started, I was earning N30,000, right?
So, I remember a friend calling me and saying, "Lola, with your degree, you can work anywhere. Why are you in that place?" And I said, "no, this is where I'm finding fulfillment. This is where I feel I ought to be at this moment", right? and obviously, I was blessed to have amazing bosses who allowed me to flourish and, you know, encourage me in whatever it is I wanted to do in that space, you know?
So, I think to answer your question directly, I would say that perhaps it's divine. Perhaps it's just literally what I was born to do. I honestly believe that I was born to serve. I believe it. So, in what particular capacity? Now, I'm doing SGBV work, but who knows what tomorrow may hold.
But I believe that, you know, working in government and working in the public sector allows you the opportunity to contribute in one way or the other to development.
Personally, I don't have that luxury of complaining, criticizing, you know, from the outside. It's okay. We need people to put pressure on us, us in the system. But I feel that one of the ways you can actually add value is actually by serving the people.
So, it's such a privilege to serve the people of Lagos State in my personal— in my instant capacity.
That really is like, oh yes. And it's showing. Like, it's actually showing. Exactly. You can see the fruits of the fact that you were born to serve. It's really wonderful.
And in our own capacity as well, we're serving. We amplify voices. We have this conversation on media spaces to shed light to the fact that, see, this thing, gender-based violence is real.
Because when it comes to GBV, people tend to downplay it and say, oh, what's there? You know, it's one of the ups and downs in partnership. And we're like, no, ups and downs, yes, but zero violence.
So, in our own way, we are also putting in the work and contributing in our own little way, in our own little spaces as well. So, thank you for the work that you do.
Thank you so much for using your platform.
So, you've been with the Lagos DSVA since 2014 when it was a response team and you were the coordinator of the team then. Yes. You are the Permanent Executive Secretary at the moment. Yes.
So, we want to get into the numbers. What are the key achievements of the agency? What are statistics of reported cases and convictions? Also, we want to know about the male to female ratio because we know there are male victims of abuse. So, we want to know the ratio and then we want to know what you've been able to do, like your work in all of this.
Wow, that's a loaded question. So, I think the essence of the response team, which has now metamorphosed into an agency, is basically to coordinate response. Because before we came on the scene, these different institutions, they were there—the police, the health sector, the judiciary, social services, you know, they were all there. But we noticed that there was no coordinating body and these institutions were literally working in silos.
And we know that if there was no coordination, it's the victims and the survivors that would suffer for it, right? If there's no proper referral pathway that is activated when cases are reported, then chances are the survivors will not be able to access holistic support. So, we started off as a response team.
I was privileged to be appointed as the coordinator. So, my job was really to coordinate response, propose and formulate policies. Because this was literally, we started from the scratch. There was no template for it. There was no sister state we could go to and learn, right? It didn't exist at that time in Nigeria.
So, we started from the scratch and it's so amazing to see what we've been able to do in terms of building a system, an institution that has now metamorphosed into a full-fledged statutory agency. The first of its kind. We are still the only ones in Nigeria that has an agency devoted to sexual and gender-based violence.
And I mean, for me, that's just a testament of what you can achieve when there's political will. Some people ask, "oh, what's your secret in Lagos? Why is it that Lagos seems to, you know, seems to be towing the right path?"
And then I always say "it's political will". You know, I've seen how it's not enough to have passion. Neither is it enough for you to be knowledgeable about an issue. If there's no political will, you know, to address these issues, to mainstream these issues into the different sectors, then chances are it will just end as passion and it will just end as mere activism.
So, what we do at the agency, it's our statutory mandate to respond to cases. It's part of our statutory mandate to ensure survivors are able to access holistic support and services and these services, I'm referring to medical.
If a person has been sexually abused, they must receive medical attention within the golden hour period of 72 hours. And then let's not forget that a lot of our survivors are indigent. So, they don't necessarily have the finances to even access medical attention post-trauma. And so, we have to develop policies that mainstream response to HGBV into the health sector.
And so, what we have now is the Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Intervention Trust Fund, which basically provides free medical attention to survivors that present within seven days post-trauma.
In terms of legal support, we're dealing with crimes, right? Crimes are committed against the state. Survivors need access to justice because that's one of the ways that they take their power back and they are able to maintain control of their lives. And so, we work very, very closely with the police, knowing fully well that, you know, the police play a crucial role in ensuring that survivors are able to believe the system and stay on in the criminal justice process.
You know, if your first port of call is discouraging, chances are you say, "you know what, I've left it to God. God is the ultimate judge. God will judge that person" but if you engage a police officer who is trained, who is professional, who deploys empathy, who knows what to do, how to refer, chances are you would have a bit more confidence in the system and you'll be willing to stay through the long haul.
So, we work very closely with the police. Over the years, we've been able to establish designated police stations referred to as family support units. Currently, we have 22 across the state and these stations have trained personnel that once you report, you don't have, once you get to any of these divisions and you report at the counter that you want to report a case of domestic violence, for instance, you are sent immediately to the family support unit.
In other divisions, you go from the counter to the station officer, from the station officer to the CRO, from the CRO to the DCB, from the DCB to the DPO, and you are repeating, repeating, you keep repeating the case, which is actually, you are re-traumatizing victims and survivors.
So, what the family support unit does is basically ensures that you meet, you go to one person or one office, you tell your story, you document, and then the referral pathway is activated. So, it's the police that then refers you to other places where you need to go to access help.
So, that's one of the, that's one intervention that we're very proud of working with the police. It's not, I'm not saying that the police, the FSUs, the family support units are perfect, no, I don't think there's any institution that can boast of perfection, but definitely, we can say that because of that symbiotic relationship with them, we expect that survivors are able to access quality services when they approach those designated police stations.
Another area that we've been able to propose interventions is in the education sector. So, we know, we know, we know that nobody is born an abuser, right? There's nobody that comes in as an abuser. And we also know that the education sector plays a huge role in shaping mindsets.
And the truth is, we are at war with mindsets. We are at war with cultural norms and values that have been inculcated in people from generations to generations. We didn't just appear, the rape culture didn't just begin today, right? It's something that has been, you know, has been shaped in our mindsets, perhaps because of our socialization, the way we were brought up, the words we heard, what we saw, you know.
So, it's going to take a while for us to reorientate our mindsets. And one of the powerful ways of doing that is education and literally catching them young. So, what we do in partnership with the Ministry of Education, Office of Education Quality Assurance, is to design a curriculum for boys and a curriculum for girls, where we teach boys on promoting positive masculinity.
We teach girls on femininity. We teach them on greed, tenacity, resilience. We talk to them about sexual and gender-based violence. We talk to them about SRHR. We talk to them about transitioning from boys to men. And just basically gender equality and equity, gender parity. The fact that this is a girl does not mean she's inferior to you, you know. Use your masculinity for something positive. Use your strength for something positive.
And, you know, we started with just 40 boys in 2018. And now we have about, I think, 3,000 boys in the clubs across the state. I think we're in, I think, roughly 100 schools in the state. And the same ratio for girls as well.
So, we're very proud about that. We're also proud about how the schools, the education system itself, is now, you know, has now embraced sexual and gender-based violence and the need to ensure that children are appropriately sensitized and informed about these issues.
And, you know, we have in Lagos State the Safeguarding and Child Protection Policy , which basically mandates all child-centered institutions to have Safeguarding and Child Protection Policies in place. Not just government schools, but even private schools.
And, you know, when we go for monitoring, we actually have a monitoring exercise going on now. When we go on the field, we see the fact that these schools have started to embrace this policy. And it is quite commendable because it means that there's ownership. It's not just DSVA telling the schools what to do.
The schools have now, are now getting to the point where they know that this is right and they understand and appreciate the role they play in ensuring that their children are safe and child protection concerns can be made and treated with utmost confidentiality.
I think another element that we are very big on is ensuring that perpetrators are held accountable. Personally, I believe that one of the greatest deterrents to sexual violence and even other forms of gender-based violence is securing convictions, right?
When people see that if you do the crime, you will do the time. If people see that there is no fear of favor, there's nobody, that the hand of the law will not, you know, the law will not be unleashed on such a person. Everybody is equal before the law. It starts to reorientate your mindset that, okay, this is no longer business as usual. It's no longer, oh, sorry, I won't do it again, begging and going scot-free.
When people see that perpetrators are being held accountable, we know that that's one of the ways we can reduce the menace to the barest minimum because these issues thrive in the culture of impunity. When people think that they can do it and get away with it.
But what convictions does, what restraining orders in domestic violence does is basically lets people know that there are consequences for bad behavior and that people can be held accountable.
So this, between last year and this year, the Lagos State government has been able to secure over, I believe, over a hundred convictions, ranging from life imprisonment to 60 years to 25 years, depending on the evidence, obviously, that is adduced before the court.
Although recently we've been seeing a lot more of life imprisonment convictions, and I think it's deliberate on the part of the judiciary to send that message that, you know, these issues will no longer be treated with kid gloves and that people that commit these offenses will be held accountable.
I think finally—I've been speaking a lot. I think on this point, I think one issue that we're, one intervention that we're very proud of is, the fact that we're seeing an increase in reporting, increase in formal and informal reporting of cases. When we started, we recorded, I think when we started in 2014, in November 2014, I think we handled perhaps 40 cases thereabout, but now as of March this year, we started to handle an average of 250 cases monthly, new cases.
We know of a truth that we've not even scratched the surface because these issues continue to remain one of the most underreported crimes, not just in Lagos, Nigeria, but I mean, around the world, there's a statistic that says that for every one person that reports six go unreported. So the fact that people have confidence in the system, the fact that people believe us enough and trust us enough to share some intimate stories with us, you know, it's very encouraging.
And I think that's one of the reasons why we keep pressing forward, knowing that, you know, we have become sort of a voice for the voiceless.
So last year, this year we did 93 per cent of our clients were female and 7 per cent were male and there's a slight increase from the year before when it was, I think 4 per cent male, 96 per cent female. So last year and between September, 2022 to August, 2023, we're able to provide services to roughly 5,333.
That's an incredible, that's an incredible start to like, for what you're doing. It's wonderful. And we're so glad to be, to be amplifying this to the world and to people in Nigeria in general.
So well done.
That was, that was so robust. And you know, when you were speaking, you said, I liked the part where you mentioned Lagos state being in the front line of trying to end gender-based violence.
And when you, in conversations, when we talk about these things, you hear people say, “where did it happen? Is it Lagos? Ah, ma worry”.
Like there's this confidence when you're talking about a woman who has been abused or anybody going through some sort of harassment. I hear, “did it happen in Lagos? Of course they said to you, but like, ah, don't worry. They are very, very quick to help victims and show up for victims”.
There was even a tweet recently where somebody was talking about, “if you want to do gender-based violence, if you want to do something, if you want to hurt women, don't do it in Lagos. Don't.” It was a tweet, the person deleted it later.
They were like, oh, don't do it in Lagos. So they're very serious in this place. And it was, it was real, like fine. It was annoying because they're saying that. But accountability in Lagos state.
And then, but then it was really inspiring that, oh yeah, they're saying you're doing something and they can see the work. So well done.
You're doing a lot of work. And you know, this brings me to my next question.
In your conversation, you said one of the goals of the agency is to ensure that perpetrators are being held accountable. I want to ask this question. When it comes to religion.
Religion and perpetrators. You know, a victim has come forward to say that, oh, this has happened. I want to do this. I need help of the government. And then the victim comes back and says, oh, thank you. I want to take it to God.
How do perpetrators get, how do they account for the crimes? Because the government, the agency has heard about it. How do you deal with cases like that?
Yes. So, OK, before I answer that question, let me just share a story. So this happened when we just came on the scene. I had just returned from maternity leave.
I'm saying that because the person that came into the office around 8.30 a.m., I can never forget. This lady had a seven day old baby. And her left eye, it appeared like her eye was about to fall off. Like, I don't know, the eye socket had come off. And so she came in and I saw her holding the seven day old baby. So I'm just coming back from maternity leave. So I appreciate the condition and her state of mind.
And then she goes, oh, they just got back. They were discharged from the hospital. And then the husband said she should go and cook. And she was like, I just got back. I'm tired.
And then he now proceeded to dismantle the baby walker and used the bottom part of the baby walker to hit her. And that was in the process. He hit her face and then it affected her eye. So, of course, we were levied. You know, we got up.
This was a learning period for us, me in particular, because, you know, you cannot assume that you know what the survivor wants. Right. There is a principle referred to as client self-determination. So we got up. We immediately took her to the staff clinic.
We made sure she was able to access medical attention. And then I called the then DPO of FESTAC, who is now a deputy commissioner of police and he's an amazing DCP Monday Agunika, amazing police officer. He was like, “no, no, no. Send her, send her, send her”. So we referred her. He, a DPO, got up and went to effect arrest. That's to tell you the gravity of the violence that he saw and the way he was moved to respond.
Long and short of the story, the DPO arrested the man, arrested the family members that were begging because they were begging. I think her pastor was amongst those people because he wanted to send the message that you can't do this kind of thing and come and beg. No, chill, cool off a bit in the cell and then I will release you at the end of the day.
Hoping that, you know, that would give the woman confidence in the system. My sisters, you know, this woman came the next day in company of her mom. So I was like, "oh, welcome. Hope you're feeling better. Don't worry. We're going to court. We'll get a restraining order". I was, you know, thinking that I was doing my work. And then I noticed that she started, she now attempted to start kneeling. Like, you know, she was going down, her and her mom. So I was like, "ah, what's happening?" Then I go, "ah, madam, we thank you. We thank you. But you see, our pastor has spoken to us and he has said that this thing is the work of the devil. So at this moment, let's just allow sleeping dogs to lie. You know, the man has learned, the man has learned that lesson. He will never…"
So I was like, ah, do you think I'm sitting here warming this chair? Like, why are you... The next thing she said shocked me. She said, "madam, forget I came here. Forget. She said, forget I came here. In fact, remove me from your people's register. Forget I came here".
And you know, for me, obviously I was upset.
But then I realized that, you know, what was justice for her is not necessarily the traditional justice, which is court, jail. Justice for her at that point in time was her letting him sign an undertaking to stay away from her and her two children. Right. And then provide maintenance for her. Maintenance, i.e., you know, support, feeding and all of that and then I realized that this pastor, as with all other religious clerics, play a huge role in either encouraging people, encouraging victims or survivors to report cases or encouraging them to remain in abusive relationships. I'm zeroing in now on domestic violence.
And so this helped us to now start keeping data of people who had reported to their clerics before coming to the team, the response team then. And then two or three years down the line, we then mined that data and it revealed that at least at least 65 per cent of people that present at our agency or response team then had previously gone to their religious cleric to report. And so the religious cleric had deployed ADR, deployed the Bible, the Koran. This is what the Bible and Koran says Right. And then try to persuade them in remaining in the relationship.
And so what that did for us was then to develop an intervention for religious institutions. We're not saying that we're coming to take over the role of the church or the mosque, but we need to let religious clerics know that we're dealing with crimes.
Crimes are committed against the state and that handling domestic violence requires a skill. It's not you. You can't just open the Bible and say God hates divorce. God says Madam submits. There's a place for that. There's a place for religious counseling, but there's also a place for psychology, providing psychosocial support, understanding how people are wired. Their socialization, their upbringing, temperaments. That informs decisions and that helps parties who are still interested in the relationship to debrief, to receive therapy.
Perhaps it's anger management. Perhaps part of the therapy is being separated for an undisclosed period of time so that they work on each other separate and then if they're able to work on their issues, they come back together or they take a decision and say, you know what, we're going to proceed to judicial suppression or divorce.
The church or the mosque does not allow victims and survivors that option. And so we developed this program and since 2018, we've been training religious clerics on these issues, understanding what sexual and gender pay. Some don't even understand it. You hear things like "God hates divorce" and I always ask, "OK, does God love wickedness? Does God love injustice? Does God love violence? How is it that your prayer life is solely about God? Please let this man not beat me. God, please let me not die." How is that your definition of Christianity or Islam?
I believe that God is a God of love and is a just God. Right. And I truly believe that our lives are too small to be the reason for our lives.
So the point where you're focused on yourself and you're trying to just stay alive. I don't think that's the intention of God. I personally, that's not my experience with God, right. And so we help the religious clerics understand the need to have interface with the government. You can't be mediating. This week, Sunday, you mediate. Next week, you mediate again. Upper week, you mediate.
No, there comes a time where you must have interface with government. And so we try to establish that referral pathway with the religious clerics and the beauty is that now we're actually seeing cases being referred to us from religious clerics. These are parties, these are couples they've been managing and it appears that they need to escalate now because, you know, murder, danger is imminent, you know.
And I think it will take time but I think it's important that we approach these issues not from a critical or condescending manner. Let us realize that they are people of influence. And let's see how we can conscript them in this army against them. This army of soldiers against sexual and gender based violence.
Thank you for your answer, from your response we know that religious indoctrination is one of the problems, one of the challenges that the agency faces.
Are there other challenges that the agency faces in the work against sexual and gender based violence?
So obviously the rape culture, you know, rape apologists, people that blame the victim or blame the survivor and sort of protect the abuser.
Where we have instances where the spotlight is placed on the victim or the survivor. Why did she go there? What was she expecting? After the man has paid for lunch, wine and diner, is it Father Christmas?
You know, so we have that issue And I think social media, if you notice social media, sort of helps you realize that we have a long way to go in changing mindset. You know, you see a post. I like to look at comments. And I just look at comments and I see how it's almost like, well, I see male names, so I'm assuming they are men.
Although you still have some females that make such comments. And you hear things like, "hey, what was she expecting? This story is not complete. This story doesn't make sense". And I always say, "GBV stories cannot make sense. In fact, if they make sense, if they make sense, it's not real". How does it make sense for a father to be sexually attracted to his two year old daughter? It's not supposed to make sense.
It is because it doesn't make sense. That is why it's a problem. Right. And they are trying to rationalize, they are trying to understand how it happened, you know, and they start to give excuses for bad behavior. And then I say to myself, imagine a survivor is looking at these messages.
The survivor will say, "wow, if I will come out and I speak my truth, this is what people are going to say about me. So, you know what? Let me just keep on suffering in silence". So we have a huge rape culture. We have a divide.
It's not to say that a part of society is not empathetic and doesn't believe survivors. We do have people that believe survivors, encourage survivors to, you know, break the culture of silence, speak up and speak out but I think we need more of those people that use their platforms to encourage survivors speaking up and ensuring that perpetrators are held accountable.
You know, we need to move from Ada was raped to Ade raped Ada. We put the spotlight on the perpetrator and that perpetrator knows there is no hiding place and I think that's one of the essence of the sex offenders register, where you publish details of sex convicts. So we know we put a name, a face to the name. And we know this person, he previously resided in Kosofe. He's been sentenced to life imprisonment and all of that. So I think that's one of the ways we can achieve that.
Then I think another challenge we face, obviously, is from the survivors themselves. I mean, that scenario I told you, real case scenario, not African magic.
How can you help somebody who doesn't want to be helped? Right. Although the law allows us to actually when it comes to domestic violence, the law allows us to approach the court for a restraining order in certain instances without the consent of the survivor.
Because the law also knows that in certain instances, survivors may not want to give consent. Right. Because perhaps they are in denial. There's fear of the unknown for whatever reason. The law allows government, it allows NGOs, it allows certain institutions to approach the court and obtain a restraining order without the consent of the survivor. But even at that, you don't want a situation where you are sort of retraumatizing the survivor because she's going to come to the court. We had a case years ago where the survivor turned into a hostile witness. And she said, "my Lord, these people are just trying to break my marriage". The magistrate looked and she was like, Lagos DSVA, what's happening?
So I think the point that we need to make is in instances like this, we don't focus on domestic violence. Now, we don't focus on criminal justice. Right. We focus on survival centered. How do we get the survivor to the point where he or she takes a decision for themselves? So they won't say, "oh, is this woman that told me to leave my husband or is that man that told me to remain in the marriage" and one of the ways of helping survivors to get to that point is when they are able to access psychosocial support.
But the difficulty we are having in that is that there's a myth and there's somewhat of a stigma associated with mental health. You say to somebody, oh, would you like to speak with a clinical psychologist? "Psycho? No, I'm not mad. You're saying I'm mad". So we've even changed it now. We don't say psychologist. We say to a professional, " would you like to speak with a counselor? You know, and they're like, "oh, counselor! Yes". You don't pay. You just make yourself available. So they are able to access at least six sessions for free.
All our services are free, but we encourage them to access at least six, rather to participate in at least six therapeutical sessions. And then at the end of those sessions, they now take a decision. They own it and they run with it.
So to answer that, yes, we have situations where survivors themselves, sometimes it appears we're not on the same page but how we've tried to overcome this is by ensuring that even as we're dealing with the medical and legal aspect of the case, we're also empowering the mind of the survivor so that they are mentally ready, they are strengthened and they are able to take a decision for themselves.
Thank you for that.
I have a lot to say. Like I have so much to say.
And speaking of challenges, I can't even get over how one minute you're trying to prosecute the perpetrator and the next you're trying to convince the victim to let the law work.
And I think until people see domestic violence as a crime, we'll keep having this issue. Honestly, because it is so much. And like you said earlier, you said 65 per cent report to the cleric before the agency. So with that, people are not seeing domestic violence as a crime. And there is the belief that people tend to listen to their pastors and imams, the family affair. And the part where you all said that none of this should make sense. Gender based violence or any form of violence shouldn't make sense. Because if you say that, "oh, why did a man rape his child?" People try to make sense of it. No, you can't. It doesn't make sense.
Like, why are you trying so hard to make sense of the fact that, oh, because she took me on a date, you have to rape me because I didn't consent to sex.
I would never understand how and why people try to. They actually analyze these things to make sense of it.
So it doesn't make sense. It shouldn't make sense.
It's really a lot of work. And this brings us to my next question.
A 2019 survey by the Nigerian National Bureau of Statistics found that 30 percent of Nigerian women aged 15 to 49 have experienced physical violence while 68 per cent have encountered emotional, economic or sexual abuse. In your experience, what factors contribute to these high numbers?
OK, so I would say patriarchy. Patriarchy is one of the factors. And I think patriarchy is not just the enemy of women. I think patriarchy is also the enemy of men because patriarchy would make a man not report because he doesn't want to be mocked.
Right. Patriarchy will make a man. OK, let me not say that may be a bit controversial. But the idea is that patriarchy is one of the reasons why gender inequality is entrenched. And so that now moves to gender inequality.
The fact that people feel that a gender is inferior or superior to the other at the heart of sexual and gender based violence is gender inequality and so if we are able to isolate that issue, we realize that, OK, if we address gender equality and make people see that there should be equality.
Some people may not be comfortable with equality. You say there should be equity. There should be fairness. You know, if I can do it, I should not be discriminated against because of my gender. Neither should I experience violence because of my gender. I should be entitled to equal pay if I'm putting in the work, right? Gender inequality is at the heart of the different forms of sexual and gender based violence that we see in our country and even in the world, because, you know, it's not peculiar to us.
Again, I think another factor is religious and sociocultural factors. Even from the moment when a child is born, you ask people who ask, oh, what did you have?
"Oh, I had a girl. Oh, you had a girl. Oh, princess. What did you have? I had a boy. Wow. Madam, you are great". Almost like as if it takes a different energy to birth a boy and it's from there that it starts. The way we raise boys, you raise a girl from a young age. The girl becomes homely. She's cleaning. She's cooking. She's going to the market with her mom.
She's learning negotiation skills. She's haggling. She's bargaining. She's coming back, taking care of the family, taking. What is the boy doing? During all this period, he's probably watching TV or playing football outside. He eats, he drops the plates in the kitchen for the sister to wash.
What do we think we're doing when we're raising children like that? That the boy is to be served and the girl is to serve. And then we expect that we would not have inequality as the advancing adult. So it's truly these issues stem from the roots, the family. And that's why it was very, very intentional about what we do with the family system, right. We are all a product of family, family, not necessarily a nuclear family.
Our upbringing, you know, when we engage men who have allegedly been physically abusive. A good number of us tell us when they are vulnerable and honest enough, they tell us that this is what they saw growing up. When their parents had issues, the father would remove his belt, give the mom some lashes and whips the woman back to her right senses.
In fact, there was a gentleman that said to me that when we invited him, because the woman wanted us to invite him and he said to me that "I'm not denying it, I beat her but what is upsetting me is the fact that this woman had the effrontery to come and report me to government" and he didn't know when he said the next thing that, "after all, my father beat my mother and my mother stayed in that relationship. You, I just gave you two, three slaps and you are coming to report domestic violence".
You know, for me, I just felt pity because this is what this person knows. The truth is you can't give what you don't have. If you've been brought up in an environment that has normalized violence, that will be your conditioning if you don't access professional help. So, yes, it's important to address that violence but more importantly is to understand the mindset. Why does this person have this warped mindset? And see how we can, if possible, correct that mindset.
Let them know that, yes, conflicts, you will definitely have conflicts in relationships. But how do you manage those conflicts? Can you speak about those conflicts? Are there coping skills you can be empowered with doing counseling and all of that?
So, yeah, so I think patriarchy, our socialization, our upbringing, what we're used to. And there's some people who say poverty, the fact that you don't have enough resources makes you more susceptible to making choices that may not be in your best interest. Right. And I think it's, let me do a bit of advocacy here. It's important that females, we must have income. We must be empowered.
I always say that there is nothing as sexy as a woman who is empowered and she's experiencing violence, there's a limit to the violence she will take. At some point, she will take a decision and leave because she has a bit of income or she has a bit of savings.
Let's not forget that one of the things that domestic violence does is it sort of hinders the victims or survivors earning capacity and it is deliberate on the part of the abuser to keep their victim or their survivor in penury. Because they know that if this person has funds, it will get to a point, they will say, you know what, "I'm done. to hell with you" but if you are dependent financially on everything, I mean, where are you going to go to? Who is going to assist you?
So poverty, yes, I think it does play a role to a certain extent in entrenching or encouraging the perpetration of gender abuse.
Thank you for that robust answer to the question. So you remember I mentioned earlier that somebody made a tweet talking about if you want to hurt women, do not do it in Lagos because they are very serious about all of these things there and you will face consequences.
So are there things that the Lagos State government, the Lagos State DSVA is doing that could serve as a model for other states to have the same testimony?
That don't do this to women in this state because this is what's going to happen to you. Are there things you're doing that could help other states' governments?
So I think everything we do, you know, this is all we do. We don't have any other assignment. Our statutory mandate is to respond, prevent, you know, sexual and gender-based violence.
I think that's the first start. Have states should, maybe you don't want to start with an agency. Obviously, we didn't start with an agency. As you know, we started with a response team, no budget, nothing and then we evolved into this full-fledged agency. So perhaps I think just start as you are. All of us have these institutions. We need to coordinate the response.
So I think the first thing is to have a response team, right, that will be in charge of coordinating response. And then build it from there. Propose policies, work, collaborate. I think we don't do enough of collaboration. I think some, and I don't think it's peculiar to government. I think it's just generally, even in the private sector, we find that people are somewhat territorial.
"Oh, no, no, no, no, don't usurp my powers. Don't come into my space". But we can only go, we can go as far as possible if we're working together. We must collaborate. We leverage each other's strengths, working towards one common goal, which is ultimately to ensure we reduce this to the barest minimum and ensure justice for survivors.
So I think to start with response team, and then you must have the buy-in of the government of the day. You must. And that's where political will comes in. The government of the day must be interested.
We must put our money where our heart is. And please permit me to give a shout out to my principal, my governor, Governor Sanwo-olu, for literally walking the talk. It's not just saying "I'm against this".
Ensuring that we are able to sustain this initiative by embedding it into us and by creating a statutory agency devoted to these issues. You know, and then just move from there. Have a baseline. What are the issues? What are the issues that affect each institution's capacity to deliver and work on those issues? These issues are not insurmountable.
Trainings, building capacity of relevant responder agencies, working together. These are one of the ways or some of the ways that states can address this menace. And I do think it's happening.
Granted, you may not have a lot of, you may not have a robust system, but there are some pockets of interventions that are being done at different states in the country and we do have states actually reach out to us that, "oh, we'd like to come on the study. We'd like to learn. We'd like you to come". You know, we're very receptive.
We know that the fact that Lagos is somewhat responsive. We cannot afford to rest on our ass and say, oh, we've got it all sorted out in Lagos when our neighboring states may not.
So it's a desire for the whole country for this to be replicated across the country so that there's no heaven for perpetrators in Nigeria.
In your response earlier to the factors that contribute to the numbers of sexual violence, you mentioned that the patriarchy also affects men and I want us to have a very true conversation as regards—Let's take it from the gender reveals.
When you said when you see a couple expecting a girl, there's this solemn look like, OK, but if it's a boy, they're like, oh, it's a boy. Now, there's also the conversation of men not wanting equality.
We hear of cases where women and girls can't even go to school because "why should you be in school? If the guy is the boy that will go to school, you cannot go to school".
These same men at a time in their age, they'll be wishing they had daughters because they'll say, oh, when men leave, they tend to take care of their own families. So one way or the other, it comes back to affect the family unit. I mean, nobody knows it's going to affect them, but it's just easy. It's easier to just say these things until then, until it starts to affect you. And I believe that these conversations are way too important.
You mentioned women having a source of income. How can we have a source of income if in your family you are not allowed to go to school because your brother is the one that should be in school?
Actually, in Nigeria, 60 per cent of out-of-school children are girls. 60 per cent are girls.
It's so unfair. There's so much inequality. And when you're having this conversation, especially when you say there should be equality, you see young men fight so hard against it. And I'm like, why are you fighting? Is it because you do not—Are you saying that women are not entitled to basic rights? Education? and when we try to make them understand, we say, OK, what if you are your daughter? And they will still not understand. And I'm like, that's why you guys are always unhappy when you see that you're having a girl.
Sometimes it feels like it's a crime to be female. There's so much injustice, unkindness, so much violence towards women. I don't know. It's just really, it's just really, it's so heartbreaking. Like, I take it so personal. It is so unfair. Women and girls deserve a life of ease. Like, you go to school, you do everything, and they'll say your husband will tell you you cannot work. And if you look at the religious sector, it should be serve your husband, obey your husband.
So at what point can women actually get that financial security, get that financial empowerment, or feel awesome and being able to make decisions? Because, no, your husband is talking. It's what your husband says.
Where does a woman's voice come into play? When it doesn't come into play, it breeds violence. Because you're trying to fight against oppression. It's like, I'm talking to you, and you're talking back. Then there's the blow, there's the punches, there's the kicking out of the house.
It's too many. It's so unfair, really. It's really, really, really, really unfair. And I can't even imagine how hard it must be for you in the front line, witnessing all of these things every day. How do you deal with it?
Because I can imagine the kind of emotional trauma that gets done from you. How do you deal with it? Sometimes, when I'm on the internet, I'm like, you know what? I don't want to see it. I don't want to hear it. It's too many. So I can't even imagine being at work, and it's just, "he beats me, he kicks me out, he rapes my child."
How do you deal with it? You as a person, how do you actually deal with it?
As a person? So, us responders, we're exposed to vicarious trauma. Indeed, yes. Secondary trauma. So, what we started doing, two years now. So we actually have in-house clinical psychologists and psychiatrists that we work with. So, we also go for debriefing.
When we started, people were not too receptive. But then we had to make it somewhat of like a culture. You can't give what you don't have. If you are not mentally balanced, if you are not happy, if you are not okay, you won't be able to give your best and the truth is, because of the environment, because of the... My office is somewhat like a pressure cooker. If you come to my office between the hours of 10 and 1, in fact, you'll be overwhelmed because of the people coming in.
And so, we're literally working back to back. So, even the people that care for others need to care for themselves, right? So, we started ensuring that they are able to access support. And then we've now started this...It's not... It hasn't become a routine, but I'm working on it. Where the last Friday of every month, we dance. Dancing is one of the ways to actually let off some steam.
So, we have music, we have chops, and then we just relax in the evening on Friday, just to unwind and obviously, build that camaraderie and that team spirit. And just for a moment, forget about these cases.
But I think over time, one has to become a bit clinical. You are not supposed to get attached to these cases because you will... You know, when I started this work, I remember I was dating my husband then and so, if we go out and I'll be looking at couples, I'm like, "this man is beating that woman". You know? You start to get paranoid.
And then it dawned on me that, "oh, no, this isn't good". You know, you must... When you're leaving, you leave work behind. Unfortunately for us, we actually have a gender-based violence virtual response service, which is accessible 24-7 through our 203 line. And so, we have professionals, social workers, criminologists, lawyers working 24-7 in shifts right?
So, even if the office is not accessible in the night, even if I'm not accessible, as far as you have access to the toll free line, you can, you know, receive support.
So, that has somewhat reduced the burden on us. I mean, us that work in the office. But I think all in all, the fact that we're able to witness...there's nothing as powerful as seeing a victim turn into a survivor.
I know that some people will say, "oh, don't use victim". I agree. But I truly believe there's a difference between a victim and a survivor.
When you see a person metamorphose into a survivor, where it's that survivor that now starts being a voice, that survivor that was down and out is now employing others. As I'm speaking to you, I'm even having chills. It's the greatest and that is truly something that money cannot buy. And it really makes this work worth it.
Speaking of men beating their wives, you know, when we talk about domestic violence people often watch out for scars. In the agency, how do you deal with issues? How do you deal with abuses that are emotional, economical, and sexual? Because the victim has come to your office, there is no evidence. And then you're calling the husband in. How do you handle those cases? Because what if he denies that? What if he says, she says "I'm abusive, show me the evidence" but it's economical, it's sexual, and it's emotional. How do you deal with those cases?
Exactly, it's tough. I won't distort the truth. It's actually tough. So at that point in time, of course, you know, we won't be able to escalate to the police, because the police will need to have evidence. So we'll deploy alternative dispute resolution in the form of mediation and negotiation.
So you tell us your side of the story, he will tell us his side of the story and then there's an unbiased umpire that, you know, midwives that process. And then sometimes, you know, some survivors don't even know they have evidence. They assume evidence is only real evidence.
The fact that a neighbor had settled the case before. We may be able to talk to that neighbor if that neighbor is magnanimous enough to write a statement. That's one of the ways we help the survivor to build their case but ultimately, in a case of emotional abuse, psychological abuse, we're looking at that point in, okay, what does this survivor want?
"Oh, madam, I don't want this man to come near me and my children again. Or, madam, I want this man to stop the beating. Let him sign an undertaking that he will desist from it. Or, madam, please, I need a lawyer. I want to file in court for judicial separation. Or I want to file for divorce. Or I want to file for a restraining order", but when we have that ADR session, it allows us to get more insights into the issues and then because we have trained family life engineers, in the process of the mediation, we have what is called caucusing. And that's where we engage with the parties separately and that's an opportunity for the officer to speak truth to power to this alleged abuser.
Listen, this woman, she doesn't have any reason to come and conconct stories. Tell us what it is. Do you have a reason? and then with professionalism, we're able to actually get the truth, in most instances, from the alleged abuser.
And then our joker is usually the psychosocial support provision. It's free. I don't know if you've tried to access professional counseling. It's expensive. Accessing mental health services is actually quite expensive. And so we provide these services at no cost to survivors.
So we just tell them, you know, make yourself available and then especially when there are children involved, we tell them you need to co-parent. You want her to pick up the child. You're not going to call DSV that please call her to come and open the door. No and so when you both attend counseling, albeit separately, it will help you to co-parent.
And so the ADR sessions are quite instrumental in helping survivors also on boarding. You know, for some survivors, the opportunity to even speak is part of their healing process because they have been so—their emotions and their self-esteem has been so broken to the point that they've lost their voice but the ADR session allows them to find their voice as well.
So they're able to speak and talk about all these issues they've been internalizing for years. And so that's also part of the healing process. And then, as I said, we're survival centered. We do what the survivor wants.
What do you want? What do you want to achieve from this process?
Thank you. It's been a very refreshing conversation talking to you because you're on the field. You're working with these people. You're working with professionals.
You're basically like the middle person because you're coordinating in the sense of you're bringing survivors. You're bringing professionals. You're bringing everybody together to do this. So it's been refreshing to have this conversation with you.
And in conclusion, we would like to ask. So what do you advise? What words of advice do you have for people who are currently in abusive situations? What are you going to leave them with before we end this conversation?
Thank you. I would say that every domestic violence case is a potential murder case. It can be the last push, the last shot, the last kick, the last slap. Please don't wait until it's too late. Don't be afraid of what people say. That phrase has kept people in bondage. And the truth is, irrespective of what you do, people will say.
If you speak up, people will say. If you stay quiet, people will say. So do you. And be alive. And be whole. And be complete. And one of the ways you can achieve that is by breaking the culture of silence. Speaking up.
Wow, that was truly eye opening. Titilola, thank you so much for taking your time to share all of this experience with us.
It's been so insightful. Thank you so much. And thank you for the work you're doing out there.
Thank you so much for having me. I've enjoyed this. It's been therapeutic.
(Muffled) We hear these things from friends, family, strangers.
Even if we say everybody was lying, you can't all be lying. We need to get stories from people that are doing the work. The real work.
It's hard. It's really hard.
Thank you for your dedication to the work you're doing. Because it's showing and people can see. When people are talking, they know that just reach out to Lola RV. Don't worry. You're fine.
It's just what people say. I've seen tweets. I'm very active on Twitter. I've seen tweets of people talking about how the work in Lagos is being done. Fine, it's an agency. But the fact that you are in charge is also one of the reasons why.
Because you said you were born to serve from the beginning of this conversation. So it shows in the work you're doing that you have a burden for the people. You have a burden to empower people.
Thank you for the work you're doing at Lagos DSVA.
And thank you to Babajide Sanwo-Olu, without him we will not have you helping us out there and to our listeners, we hope that this episode has provided you with a better understanding of the issues around sexual and gender based violence in Nigeria and we hope that it has also inspired change.
Absolutely! Let's all work together to foster a gender inclusive and equitable society. Don't forget to listen to our previous episodes and stay empowered. Until then, thank you. Bye everyone!