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

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LAGOS, Nigeria — Throughout the greatest demonstrations in Nigeria’s current historical past, 13 ladies got here collectively to help 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 particular person. 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,” mentioned Odunayo Eweniyi, a 27-year-old tech entrepreneur and a founding member of the Feminist Coalition.

They raised lots of of 1000’s of {dollars} final yr over crowdfunding web sites to help 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 supplied fundamental companies to the protesters: authorized assist, 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 increased. 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 combat 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 often used as an insult.

For years, figuring out as a feminist in Nigeria has been fraught. The coalition’s choice to make use of the phrase within the group’s title, and the feminine image of their yellow emblem, was pointed. Lots of the protesters benefiting from their help had been males — and never all of them had been supportive of girls’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 mentioned.

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

Earlier than Oluwaseun Ayodeji Osowobi began her nonprofit group, Stand To Finish Rape, in 2014, it was widespread 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. Ladies had been raped and killed, with no penalties. Many well being care suppliers had no concept how one can accumulate proof of rape.

Ms. Osowobi, 30, is attempting to alter attitudes by altering public coverage and practices. Her nonprofit runs seminars to assist individuals stop 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 individuals,” Ms. Osowobi mentioned.

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 an absence of information, it was laborious 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 make it possible for well being care throughout Africa is pushed by knowledge and expertise. The corporate, Helium Well being, has helped hospitals and clinics arrange digital medical data and hospital administration techniques.

She mentioned 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 individuals.

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

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

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

Ms. Odufuwa, the pinnacle of public relations in Africa for a big cryptocurrency change, 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 certain that Wine and Whine additionally wore its feminism as a badge of honor.

“We’re a feminist group,” Ms. Odufuwa instructed a male speak 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 title would develop into.

“It wasn’t speculated to be a rallying cry for the whole motion,” she mentioned. “Truthfully, now that it’s, I’m very proud we used the phrase feminist as a result of individuals 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 bought tattoos of her favourite equations: Schroëdinger’s equation, the golden ratio, and the uncertainty precept.

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

The financial savings app start-up that Ms. Eweniyi launched in 2017, referred to as Piggyvest, tackles one of many foremost issues the Feminist Coalition has recognized — monetary equality for girls. The thought is that individuals ought to be capable of save and make investments even small quantities of cash. It has greater than 1 million clients — women and men.

As an anchor of one among Nigeria’s greatest TV information reveals, Laila Johnson-Salami remembers vividly her male co-host insisting that his title be learn out first.

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

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

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

The interviews Ms. Johnson-Salami does on the Damaged File Podcast are very completely different from her tv interviews. They’re intimate chats on every thing from the significance of vulnerability to adoption and funding.

“Time’s up, it’s over,” tweeted Fakhrriyyah Hashim in February 2019. “You might be finished 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 road 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 loss of life threats and abuse. Now, she’s put a long way between herself and the individuals 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 properties due to the pandemic, so being in London throughout the #EndSARS protests, she was simply as in a position to elevate consciousness and funds on-line.

“I knew that no matter targets and targets we set, we had been going to realize that,” Ms. Hashim mentioned.

An estimated two-thirds of Nigerian women and girls would not have entry to sanitary pads. They will’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 colleges who come from low-income households, and ladies who’ve needed to flee their properties and live in camps.

There are 2.7 million internally displaced individuals 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 dwelling within the camps, it’s a battle to get sufficient meals and clothes, not to mention costly sanitary pads.

Her group, Sanitary Support 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. Among the ladies they’ve helped had by no means had a pad earlier than.

“Ladies’s points are fought by ladies,” she mentioned.

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