Añuli Ola-Olaniyi: Curbing Domestic Violence
Words By – Josephine Agbonkhese
Domestic violence, a societal demon that has continued to destroy millions of its victims, is, again, on the front burner, with Lagos State, the Centre of Excellence, taking initiative to begin campaigning ahead of others throughout September with its ongoing annual Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
As the campaign gathers momentum across the state, Allure spoke with certified Project Manager, celebrated author, and Founder/Executive Director of HEIR Women Development and HEIR Women Hub, Añuli Aniebo Ola-Olaniyi.
Ola-Olaniyi, who holds a first degree in Psychology from the University of Ibadan, an MSc in Human Resource Management from Middlesex University UK, has garnered certifications on gender concepts, gender equality and sustainable project, violence against women and girls, international frameworks for gender equality, and promoting gender equality throughout the UN System, in this encounter, x-rays the phenomenon of domestic violence and proffers practical solutions.
It is Domestic Violence Awareness Month; in clear terms, what would you say constitutes domestic violence?
Domestic violence is a negative behaviour carried out from a person on to another to control, intimidate and dominate. DV comes in forms like emotional, verbal and threat, physical, financial, neglect, exploitation, harassment, rape and murder.
DV is rooted in masculine norms and hence, the socialisation of these norms and its impact still plagues our society till date.
From your observation, what’s the most recurring pattern of domestic violence and why is this so?
Verbal abuse and threat in my opinion, is a common form of abuse in our society and I say this even though we are yet to have data that shows the prevalence of verbal abuse and threat in all spaces. It’s an unfortunate situation that’s normalised. Now, the reports you and I see, which are very critical, is physical abuse- body harm, violation and defilement of minors, rape, murder and sexual harassment. There are abuses like emotional, financial, neglect and threat that are either not reported or under-reported. The issue is that all forms of DV are grossly under-reported and while we see what we see on media platforms or in safe spaces, these numbers still don’t tell us the reality in spaces like rural communities and elites and urban areas. We have more work to do in our research and data collection to analyse and report these crimes.
Global research shows women are the biggest victims. Do you agree?
Well, yes and no. Globally, data for women is already biased. Women and men are socialised to live out masculine norms. Masculine norms are used to civilise us all through places of worship. And as you may be aware, colonialism played a big role in this trend.
So, yes, women appear to be highest in numbers because the reports give us the real-time data of these crimes against women because women are now being supported to speak up and get help. Men are also victims and I will say why. Men have also been socialised to be ‘masculine’ and have become performative to meet up with society’s standards. Men won’t easily speak up because they have been normalised to keep mute.
Imagine a situation where we are all not limited by masculine norms, patriarchal boundaries or shame and silence and we are all free to talk?
Between culture and economy, which would you blame for the rise in domestic violence?
Blaming either is speaking to the fact that one is the cause over the other and I don’t think that’s the entire picture here. There are intersections of root causes that require multi-sectoral approaches to drill down to what’s happening.
So, in my opinion, while culture and economy have distinct roles to play in the rise of DV however, culture and economy aren’t the only intersections we find. You have law enforcement issues, legal, media intervention, education (and lack of orientation) and of course, religion and beliefs.
Are there subtle ways African tradition promotes this menace?
I can agree that African traditions can and should evolve from a place of discrimination and control, to a position of empathy and empowerment. The practice of Female Genital Mutilation, FGM, and in recent news, flogging of widows due to an accusation/assumption of sorcery, mars a society rather than elevate it. But it is critical to have an inclusive approach to understanding and advocating the place of traditions in issues that are pertinent in our nation.
What’s currently the problem with tackling domestic violence in Nigeria?
There are multitudes of problems and as I highlighted earlier, the multi-sectors and the intersections of factors all sustain the prevalence of DV. An angle I would need to also speak to is the support systems we have. So far, I applaud CSOs and women-led organisations working in unison to create and provide psycho-social systems like SARC as well as re-education and advocacy to support in the alleviation of the problems due to ignorance or knowledge gaps. I also find that sustainable methods would need sustained human capital that are well trained, as well as resources and funding.
How does someone know when to raise an alarm against violence because from what we see, a lot of people hardly identify it when it starts?
It should begin from unlearning and relearning what violence is, looks like, and what it can cause us individually and as a community. Countries like Sweden, Germany, Botswana, Lesotho and South Africa expanded the terms and definitions of violence such as rape. With that strategy, they saw an increase in the number of reports because the measures were expanded. Note that the countries with this methodology are either led by women or have women in the positions of authority and decision-making.
So, identification begins with what you know is an assumption versus what is fact or true and then a corresponding consequence and follow through is required.
Is separation of victim from perpetrator the most potent solution to domestic violence or would you recommend dialogue and reconciliation?
In my opinion, each case is relative so I will shy away from proffering a blanket or ‘one size fits all’ approach.
The most ideal for me is to remove anyone in danger from triggers and causes of harm or danger. Life is to be protected because of its fragility. In my opinion, all forms of abuse are abuse.
Our society needs to check what mindset sustains this mayhem of abuse and then that’s where dialogue in the form of re-education, counselling and in some cases, therapy, can intervene.
In the case of intimate partner violence, how do you resolve such a crisis when the perpetrator is the sole provider?
Life is to be preserved. That’s my opinion. When one is alive, there’s hope to live and breathe. I find that the masculine norms that you and I have been socialised into, positions one gender to carry on the sole responsibility of providing. Data shows that many women return to an abusive partner due to financial difficulties. I have seen that when a woman is able to also provide and support herself when she’s unmarried and support her home if she chooses to marry, it benefits all the members of that household. The question should be, why aren’t we enabling more women to be economically empowered?
Most victims never want to talk about their experiences; how do we deal with this culture of silence?
Society shames speaking up because once you do, you not only hurt from the abuse, you carry on the victimisation of it. Our society sees abuse as a devaluing of a person and that mindset causes one to feel rejection, plagued or cursed and this can lead to mental and emotional abuse.
Another reason is, there’s a lack of trust in the systems that are supposed to protect and prosecute.
To deal with this, we all need to re-engineer our mindsets and thought processes and stop victim-blaming and abuse apologists.
Agencies dedicated to prosecuting should find a less humiliating process of speaking to victims for evidence collection because recounting an abusive ordeal isn’t fun and games. A body that’s been violated and raped is that same body that is the scene of a crime and the evidence collection of same crime. So when a society can see that issues of DV are taken seriously, reported with confidentiality as appropriate, laws are enforced, victims are prioritised and provided with support through to healing, that’s how we can start dealing with silence.
What about the high cost of pursuing justice?
What about the high cost of everything these days, one must ask, right?
A family may choose to eat and be safe before seeking justice. And which justice do you know will come through pro-bono? These are conversations to have for long term solutions to be achievable. We have a lot to do.
What must be done to effectively address this menace?
A conversation about the dimensions of DV has to be consistently had. We need to work at engaging mindsets, norms and beliefs to interrogate assumptions about DV and change behavioural patterns towards this.
I always suggest and recommend media intervention and advocacy. Information and knowledge should be transcribed to members of our rural and indigenous communities. We need to create art and theatre and translate this into our very vibrant local languages so we can all sing from the same hymn book. Localisation of the problems with solutions is very important. Places of worship should use their platforms to speak against domestic violence.
We need to see more prosecutions done across the board. It’s not only people who live below poverty lines that perpetuate DV. Domestic staff in some households are brutalised. They also need to be prioritised and protected.
Finally, response teams for DV should be adequately prioritised and funded. The work they provide our society is heroic in my opinion.
Let us talk about your goals at HEIR Women Hub and steps being taken to achieve them…
We are a nonprofit created to see more girls and young women position for leadership opportunities and decision-making roles.
We see the dire need to fill the gap in knowledge and capacity and provide tools that enable and sustain them in their chosen career field and skills.
How do you relax?
Wow! This simple question is more complicated than all the rest so far. I enjoy music. I’m lyrical so words and beats bring my senses to an equilibrium. Just like poetry and spoken words. I listen with my mind. So, music makes me relax; all kinds of music— although I’m still working on garage sounds (laughs). Beats do something to my mind that I can’t help but bop my head to distinct beats and sounds. That’s how I relax, ease off tension. And now I’m smiling because I remember my dad. Whatever it is, there’s a song to it. I definitely got this from my dad. Music helps me relax and unwind.
How do you manage to stay fashionable in spite of your busy schedule?
It’s inborn (laughs). I enjoy being put together, fixing up and looking sharp. I always try to look in a way that will limit distractions and keep the focus to a hundred. Comfortability is my watchword. There are outfits for different occasions and my goal is to be myself, be authentic and enjoy playing dress up.
Whose style would you like to steal and why?
Hmmm! I don’t want to ‘steal’. I love the entire wardrobe of Nse Ikpe- Etim’s character, the First Lady in the Netflix series titled “King of Boys”. I love the wardrobe for all the leading women that play legal characters in the American series called “Suits’. I also admire Osas Ighodaro, leading lady in the Netflix movie called ‘Rattle Snake’ and AMVCA 2022 winner of best actress and best dressed. Her style and carriage in outfits, her smile, confidence and intelligence wears well in whatever she steps out in.
These styles are eclectic, epic, timeless and ooze confidence. That’s absolutely divine and how I love to look.