Olubunmi Ajai Layode, founder of Greenlands Assistance Haven Foundation, is a former victim of domestic violence (DV) who started the NGO to provide emergency shelter to people whose lives are in danger as a result of DV. The NGO also has a Facebook group and has evolved into helping indigent single parents who became single parents either as a result of DV or as a result of widowhood. At the moment they have six shelters for these women. They also do skills acquisition and business grants to assist these indigent ladies achieve financial independence. She shares her thoughts in this brief chat with The Interview…
It has been challenging. There is still a lot to be done and the apathy level in society about domestic violence is not acceptable.
What are the first things that come to your mind when you meet a DV victim?
Are they ready to leave to live? A lot are not.
You have not been shy to identify yourself as a DV survivor, which many Nigerian women find very difficult to do. What empowers you?
When I die, I don’t want to be missed by just my friends and family. I really want humanity to feel my loss when I am gone. I try to make myself available for God and humanity to use.
In what ways does your own DV experience empower you to help the victims you encounter?
I speak from experience. I know the psyche of a DV victim. It is one thing to be motivational with words; it is another thing, a powerful thing, to motivate with action.
What are the factors you think encourages DV in Nigeria?
Patriarchy and misogyny enabled by women.
Can you share some of your worst DV moments?
Coming home from work and being assailed at the door by the smell of dried poo (excrement) from my baby while my ex’s mum was around from Nigeria to do omugwo, and my ex punching me because I complained and registered the baby in a nursery as my ex’s mother was obviously not up to the task of the omugwo she had come for.
From your experience of working with some of these women, what are the three main things they need?
Financial independence, shelter and childcare expenses.
Many of our women have become experts in masking the pains and abuses they go through in the home for several reasons, including fear; are there some signs one can use to identify these women and possibly help?
Each case is unique and I am not sure that there is one answer for this.
What are some of those questions one should never ask a DV victim?
Why did you let them beat you?
What are the options out there for a woman who is facing DV?
In Nigeria, unfortunately, the government has not done much for them, so it an uphill task for them. But with determination and a little help from friends and family, they can have a better future.
I have noticed that when people talk about DV, or abuse, they seem to always focus on the physical; that’s the beatings. People hardly talk about economic, emotional or even sexual abuse, especially among married couples. Why?
It’s because the physical is the obvious one. The wounds, the gore is there in our faces. In my opinion, Nigerians don’t take a situation seriously if there is no obvious physical gore. A typical case is that of cancer patients. If a cancer patient in stage one comes asking for money to get treatment, because they look healthy, the response would be lukewarm. But if a terminal cancer patient comes asking for money, Nigerians will dig deep. But by then, it is actually too late; same with DV. Physical violence has its foundation in emotional and/or economic abuse but we don’t take that as serious.
How do we ensure that victims of these forms of abuse are also accounted for?
The victims need to speak out for starters, and make noise. That way, they are noticed. How can anyone give account of something that he doesn’t know exists?
Two major reasons women stay back in abusive marriages is lack of financial independence and their children, especially when the man wouldn’t allow her to go away with them; how do we deal with these two issues?
Before marriage, a woman needs to know what kind of man she is marrying. The problem is that a lot of women see these things ahead. The man would have told them what he expects from the marriage and these things are not acceptable to the woman, but because they want to be married, they hope that the man will change. Too late. Things like financial expectations should be discussed and ironed out before marriage. And for the woman who has entered the marriage and is being denied financial independence, I would suggest that she confronts the situation and not shy away from it. And she needs to start saving aggressively.
We know Nigeria has also struggled with effective implementation of even the best laws, but do you think Nigeria has adequate legislation to tackle the scourge of DV?
One word: no.
There was this recent story of a 70-year-old widowed grandmother who was paraded around her village and fined three goats for having sex with her 30-year-old lover in her late husband’s house. The lover was also paraded with her. What does that say about us?
That says that we are a backward people. And considering that it was her granddaughter that ratted on her, it further confirms that we women are the enablers of patriarchy.
When you were experiencing domestic violence, what were those things going through your mind?
A lot of things: what if I did not meet another man? What if the next man is worse than this?
You once shared the experiences of losing your mom and younger sister to cancer; would you say those experiences helped shape who you’ve become today?
Definitely. It has helped in no small way, especially that of my sister. She was my younger sister, you see, and younger sisters are not meant to die before one. My mum died young but she was my mum and it is expected that one’s mother dies before one, but Seun’s death knocked me for six. Her death made me strong.
You’re so good at laughing at yourself; where does this humour flow from so effortlessly?
I don’t know. It is just there - part of me. I am generally laid back about life. I seek the joyful path in everything I do in life.
What’s that one thing you know now that you wish you had known 15-20 years ago?
That I am a strong woman. I did not know my strength and always saw myself as a weakling.