In honour of the global International Women’s Day, Mary Nnah spoke with rape and domestic violence advocate, Kathlyn Eyitemi, who has been apowerful voice in the advocacy against those societal vices before she went underground for two years. She recently resurfaced with a stronger resolve to combat the menace that had once haunted her own life. She takes us into her world of tackling rape and domestic violence in this interview. Excepts:
You were on a two-year hiatus before you came back to advocacy. Why did you take a break?
I was having my last baby and there were some complications which put my health at risk. So it was a much needed break. I shut down everything and focused on getting better.
Now that you are back, what projects are you currently working on?
The Ochanya Ogbanje episode forced me out of my comfort zone. I wasn’t really ready to come out into the open at the time I did but hearing that a 13 year old child had died from VVF complications because she had been consistently molested sexually every night for five years was just really heart-breaking for me.
And the first thing I did was to organise a Sit-out to protest rape. That was to lend my voice to the sea of voices protesting the injustice done to Ochanya and the Ogbanje family because as a rape survivor I felt her pain and the pain of the people most affected by her demise. CODE BLACK was the name of the project. Nollywood Actress Michelle Dede also backed that project and came out to support us. We intend to host more Code-Black Sit-outs in protest of rape and domestic violence.
I have also begun an online movement called ‘Girl Advocate’. We push online campaigns to foster our cause which is gender equality. Just a few weeks ago I joined the MITV train to feature regularly on Ify Onyegbule”s bumper breakfast show to anchor a segment where I just address some of these abuse issues. So there’s just a lot I’m doing now.
Are there things you find improved or derailed in the advocacy sector since you’ve been away?
I find that the advocacy community is beginning to collaborate more than ever. People within the sector are more open to team work and project collaborations than we used to experience in the past. And that’s a good thing.
What has derailed I think still points to systemic failures and the onus is on government to fix that. We are experiencing an alarming increase in the cases of domestic violence and paedophilia as well as rape. The advocacy community realises the threat this negative bursts portend to us as a people. I think that also informs our willingness to work collectively now instead of embarking on solo drives.
Why do you think these vices are on the rise?
Truth is: it’s somewhat of a puzzle. You’d think that with all the sensitization machinery that civil society has put in place to create more awareness, people would be more enlightened to take action and forestall these things. In my opinion, government needs to be more proactive. Enact and enforce laws that protect girls and women.
The justice system isn’t as simple and accessible as it should be. Women should feel protected enough. They should know that if they run to the law it will provide a covering for them.
Some women are in abusive conditions because they cannot afford the judicial process that will keep their abusers away from them. They can’t afford lawyers who will push for divorce proceedings or get restraining orders for them to keep them safe.
If you look at the brazen attitude men have towards abuse in this country, you know it’s because they can get away with almost anything.
How will your movement tackle these issues you have raised?
Obviously we need to double efforts in our sensitisation campaigns. We must not stop spreading the message that women should choose life over marital status. My mother died of complications from domestic violence and I was just 15years old when it happened, so, I am very passionate about this message. Everywhere we go I tell my story so that one woman can take a preventive action to save her own life.
Nowadays, we also liaise with more NGOs to push for legislations that will improve the lot of women in this country. One more thing we have begun doing is to make ourselves really accessible. Now people just buzz me on Facebook and bring cases to me via inbox. I get my team on it, we do a thorough investigation and take prompt action. When it is a case that my team can’t manage I simply involve other organisations or even totally hand it over to them if it is not in my jurisdiction.
You’d be amazed at the level of ignorance in this country because a lot of people don’t know where children welfare offices are. They don’t know that they can run to FIDA for help. They don’t know that there is the office of The Public Defender where they can access free representation. So we just point people in the right directions or even help them make the call.
What are the challenges you have encountered in your work so far?
One of the biggest challenges I would say come from the victims themselves. A child is raped, a report comes in. You investigate, make calls, travel sometimes to see them and encourage them to press charges only for the parents of the child to develop cold feet. Sometimes the families of the rapist bribes or intimidates them into silence. So either from fear or poverty, they totally refuse to go along with you on the journey to obtain justice and there is nothing we can do about it. Until we have laws enacted that compel people to report Child Abuse cases or face jail term, we will just be dealing with these kinds of brick walls