International Women's Day: 5 vibrant women leading the fight for gender rights in Nigeria

We honour some of the 'sheros' working hard to make this country a safer place for women.

Meet Ganikale Ololade, the founder of the Hands Off Initiative (Ololade)

After paying homage to the powerful women who inspired change years ago, we now recognise the ones currently facing the same tedious task of fighting for gender equality.

Like their predecessors, these boss women are putting in the work as they go all out to balance the scales for girls and ladies all over the country.

From the founder of the Hands Off Initiative, Ganikale Ololade to Uche Umolu, who runs The Consent Workshop, here are the five vibrant women leading the fight for gender rights in Nigeria:

In 2017, Lade stumbled upon a video of a No Means No Worldwide (NMNW) group in Kenya teaching young children about consent and self-defence.

This inspired her to start her non-profit organisation, the Hands Off Initiative. The goal - to solve the problem of rape, sexual abuse, assault and harassment by starting from the grassroots.

"If young children are made to understand what consent is, then maybe we wouldn't have these many cases of sexual harassment and maybe they would learn to respect boundaries," she tells Business Insider by Pulse.

Her idea quickly became a reality after she got lots of retweets and replies on her Twitter post asking for help to teach kids about consent. With this response, she was encouraged to start and now, she teaches children, teenagers and adults about CONSENT.

She hopes for "a society where people ask before they proceed, where everyone respects the other person's body and No means NO."

Omu is the 27-year-old founder of the non-profit organization called Sanitary Aid Initiative. Like the Hands Off founder, she got the idea for this from something she saw online. In her case, it was a conversation on Twitter in January 2017 about the increase in the price of pads.

Upon finding out that pads no longer cost N200 but had gone up to between N450 and N800, she decided to "just put some money together and give out pads to a few girls, maybe a couple of IDP camps."

In about a year, the Sanitary Aid Initiative has given out nearly 11,000 pads to girls and women across 9 Nigerian states.

Her vision is to do more than just share pads. She tells Pulse, "What we want to do, beyond giving girls reusable pads and teaching them about sanitary health, is start little workshops where we teach women how to make their own reusable pads. It's in the works, but it's a really big commitment and that's what we want to do."

On the 12th of August 2018, @sanitaryaidng was one of the winners of the @gtbank’s #simplechangebigimpact challenge. Yesterday, the 18th of October, @sanitaryaidng visited Alakoto high school, Ajegunle, Lagos. 400 girls were educated and sensitized on period hygiene and health with emphasis on the do's and don'ts of reusable pads. They were also educated on self esteem(menstruation is normal for girls) and how their behavior and feelings during menstruation can be a affected by different hormones in their bodies. Some of the menstrual hygiene management talking points are: 1. Do not use soap to wash your vagina and always wash from front to back with just water or preferably warm water. 2. Stay hydrated. 3. Have your bath regularly. 5. Eat a lot of fruits. 6. Do not bleach the pads. 7. Hang to dry in a safe place. 8. Do not burn or flush your used pads. 9. Always have an on-the-go pack, which should contain extra pads, drinking water, hand sanitizer, healthy snacks and extra panties. The girls shared their previous struggles with getting pads to use and asked questions on menstruation. They also promised to apply what they've learned every month and not be ashamed of menstruating. The girls thank @sanitaryaidng and @gtbank very much for giving them free pads and a number of them suggested that it should be free across Nigeria in the long run. We are especially thankful to @gtbank and to everyone that supported us in winning this challenge. We ARE committed to doing more to get #sanitaryaidfornigeriangirls 💕💕

Omu continues, "We're looking to start something like that especially in IDP communities so they can sustain themselves and move out of those areas where they've been forced to stay. So, if the women can start making their own pads, we can buy from them, or we can have other people buy from them. Then, they can have money to sustain themselves and their families."

On Saturday, December 15, 2018, Damilola, better known as Omoge Dami, organised the first-ever Market March at Yaba or Tejuosho market, the #MarketMarch.

Its aim - to end the normalised sexual harassment of women in markets. Speaking with Pulse, she said, "#MarketMarch is an initiative aimed at walking to end sexual harassment and bullying in the market. If women can't move in public places, how can we create freedom for women in private places?"

"These things are to remind women that they matter. We need the market; the average girl in Lagos buys things at Yaba. It is a toxic thing that women experience. Even though the issue seems so small, it has a larger meaning of women being welcome in society, to live in peace."

The Yaba market march created a much-needed conversation online and a change on the streets. According to many Twitter users, there was a noticeable reduction in the usual harassment received from the men there.

Now, she hopes to replicate the same change in other parts of the country. "We're starting with Lagos, but we hope to move to other states," she said. The next #MarketMarch will be held in Enugu state on March 23, 2019.

Meet the founder of the Stand to End Rape (S.T.E.R) who was inspired to start this initiative after surviving rape in 2011. Eight years later, her advocacy has reached over 200,000 people. It has also provided pro bono medical, legal, mental health, educational and empowerment services to thousands of victims.

Her initiative advocates "against sexual violence, providing prevention mechanisms and supporting survivors with psychosocial services. We advocate for rape survivors who can't speak about their ordeal due to stigmatization, by enlightening our community on the need to end rape and victim blaming."

Umolu started The Consent Workshop in July 2018 after a session of online public shaming. In a new interview with Pulse, she explains how it all happened. 

She said, "It was the first time I had asked people to reach out to me stating clearly their perpetrators, their names and permission to post if they so wish. The response was overwhelming- I had over 100 men and women reach out to me speaking their truth. It was mostly young women in universities who were victims. I collated a list of the abusers and shared it. This was the beginning of my full-time activism. The Consent Workshop came up as a way to sustain this path I was on."

In a short period, the organization has grown from Toronto, where it started, to four other countries- Nigeria, Canada, UK and Ghana. 

Apart from having a forum for well-meaning discussions on consent, Umolu is now calling for a Sex offenders registry with the hashtag #NameandShame.

She explains, "This is the hashtag for our campaign for the Sex Offenders Registry in Nigeria. Name and Shame means exactly how it is written, Name and Shame. In Nigeria, the onus is put on the victims to defend their honour and body when news gets out. The victim should never feel the shame of defending their body. Name and shame pushes for a staunch way where the shame remains solely on the perpetrators, not the victims. It works very well in Nigeria and do you know why? We fear shame more than we fear corruption. It is a human phenomenon but Nigerians put so much emphasis on "keeping your dirty linen to yourself" that we as activists must weaponize this to our advantage."

She hopes to "increase the rates of reporting sexual violence crime incidents, reduce rates of sexual violence crimes in colleges and universities, become policy influencers on gender-based violence laws" and get "a Sex Offenders Registry."

The petition for the Sex Offenders' Registry is currently thriving on change.org.

This article is part of Business Insider Sub-Saharan Africa's 2019 International Women's Day series.

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