Ending domestic violence in Nigeria through female empowerment
Poverty and hardship is common amongst a huge part of Nigeria’s population of almost 200 million people. Another widespread issue is domestic violence with statistics showing that a third of Nigerian women have experienced physical violence by a partner. One of them was Olutosin Oladosu Adebowale, but she decided to change her life around and has dedicated her life to support and empower other women.
Olutosin took part in our SE Outreach Accelerator in 2016 and we had the pleasure of visiting her in Lagos in January 2018 to see how she was getting on, and we met up with a woman on a mission, surrounded by women who are now much more hopeful about the future.
When visiting Olutosin’s office in Festac Town in Lagos, the workshop room was filled with women who had recently joined her not-for-profit to receive support and training to be able to take charge of their own lives. The women are of different ages and with different experiences but what they all share is hardship and often, domestic violence. Based on Olutosin’s own statistics, two out of three Nigerian women suffer from violence from their husbands, and even though it is hard to know the true numbers, her own experience and that of the women she supports speak for itself.
Domestic violence is a huge issue around the world and it is estimated that half of the women who were victims of homicide globally in 2012, were killed by an intimate partner or family member. In Nigeria, domestic violence is a widespread issue that links to cultural perceptions around marriage and gender roles.
“I used to be beaten and battered. I was treated as trash. But it got to a point where I had to decide whether I wanted to remain trash or create a better future for myself. And I did”, says Olutosin as she’s facing the room full of women. As she goes on to tell them about the business she set up and how she’s been growing it ever since, the women are cheering and giving her a loud round of applause, showing how supportive they are of her success.
“From having been treated as trash, I’m now turning trash into treasure as I use other people’s trash such as textile scraps, to create new treasures such as handbags and pieces of art that I sell on a global market”, Olutosin goes on to tell us.
Her social enterprise is today split up in two, one not-for-profit arm and one business, where the profits from the business are used to support the not-for-profit. This set-up was developed during Olutosin’s time on our SE Outreach Accelerator as she also got help from her mentor and trainers to change her approach to the pricing of her products. During her time on the accelerator she learnt the difference between cost-based and value-based pricing, and she understood that she isn’t just selling a bag or a wall decoration – she is selling a message to end violence against women, and her customers are buying her products as they support this message.
The profits are re-invested in the not-for-profit through which she’s able to carry out workshops to help other women to learn skills to either support her business or run businesses themselves. She’s been able to broaden her offer and is now able to support women based on their needs and the demands of their community, so she’s scaled up from doing knitting and tailoring training to teaching women things like farming and trade.
One such woman is Maete who, in only a short space of time has turned her life around with the support of Olutosin. She had a very difficult childhood filled with abuse, leading to a destructive early adulthood, but through encouraging words, vocational training, and a small loan, she’s now able to run her own business selling Nigerian fabrics and her newly found joy of life is ever so encouraging to see. Maete says herself that Olutosin has enlightened her, that she now knows that domestic violence is not right, and how she’s changed her life around is a true testament of Olutosin’s work.
We also meet Rachel who has been working with Olutosin since 2011 and who speaks of a woman who sees your problems and finds solutions. A woman who has her own challenges but puts them aside, to support others. She hates seeing women being abused and she believes she can do it. Rachel stresses: “That’s her biggest strength. She won’t give up until she’s found a solution”.
This dedication has meant that Olutosin has been able to continue growing her social enterprise. From what started under a canopy, gathering as many women as she could fit under there to protect them from sunshine and rainfall, she managed to save up for a proper office close to her own home in Festac. Since our visit in January, she’s invested in a bigger space as she’s managed to buy two lots of land in Ibasa, a part of Lagos with huge challenges of poverty. Here she’s built two buildings: one where her office is and where she hosts trainings and run a small farm, and one that is a school for girls to learn school subjects and for women to learn skills. The word is spreading as abused women, school drop-outs, and orphans show up at the centre in need of her support, and she uses her willpower, and her global network, to help them, to grow her business to subsequently grow the reach of the not-for-profit.
“My life ambition is to turn abused women into assets in every African country”, she says. “I want to work in every community in Africa until every woman knows her right, can stand for her right and can train her children about gender equality. I have committed to a life of service for rural women and victims of domestic violence and this is a struggle for which I am ready to die”.
Her passion to make a real difference and the grateful words from the women she’s helping made a real impact on us. She’s a true example of sisterhood that encourages empowerment and supporting the women around you through the means you have at hand.
Photo credit: Tove Nordström on site in Lagos and the last two, of the newly built training centre, are Olutosin’s own