Dr Toyin Mejiuni; a female activist, lecturer in the Faculty of Education, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife and two other lecturers in herb faculty, a male and female, felt the need to put in place an institutional organization that could better help victims of sexual violence against women
Women Against Rape, Sexual Harassment and Sexual Exploitation (WARSHE) is a Non Governmental Organization NGO which was inaugurated in October, 1998 and is headquartered in Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife.
Undoubtedly one of the most admired, respected women of integrity in the university, Dr Toyin Mejiuni’s academic achievement and charming mien easily explain her role model status. These factors and the high level of trust people have in her and her partners contributed immensely to the success of WARSHE over the years. Confident and vivacious, this unbeatable woman was once the secretary of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). A role she performed diligently and effectively.
Speaking with the correspondence of World pulse in her apartment at the staff quarters of the university, Dr Toyin Mejiuni highlighted that:
“The idea of WARSHE came about as a result of (1.) whispered instances and (2.) human rights media reportage of incidents of rape, sexual harassment, child sexual abuse and exploitation in institutions of learning, workplaces, in streets (in both rural and urban centers), gynaecology clinics, religious places, prisons, in conflict areas, and even in homes.
“At WARSHE, our vision is to see many more Nigerian women and men give support to victims of sexual violence and abuse so that they can reach their full potentials as human beings in spite of the cruelty already metted out to them.
“Our mission is to contribute to efforts aimed at improving the social position of Nigerian women, and by so doing reduce considerably sexual abuse and violence against women and children in Nigeria.
“Some of our goals are to:
Provide human, material and emotional support to victims of rape, sexual harassment and sexual exploitation, Assist victims to bring culprits to book, Educate girls and women on the subject of rape, sexual harassment and sexual exploitation and steps to take if any of these happens, Carry out researches that are directly related to the work of the organization.
Some of the activities of WARSHE are: Helping victims to obtain medical and legal services. The organization provides counseling services and the much needed emotional support to victims. Providing technical support to educational institutions, investigating panels (on rape and sexual harassment) and persons working on seminars/research papers through consultations/discussions.
On her Driving Force:” It’s a family trait.”
Toyion Mejiuni was quick to add that cheating was unacceptable in the home where she grew up. She was brought up by a father who would not condole cheating and a strong willed mother. “It was forbidden for the older ones to beat the younger ones.” She said. Fueled by passion and altruism, Dr Toyin Mejiuni insisted that the issue of sexual harassment has become a thorn in the flesh of females all over the world and must be addressed with all seriousness. This is what WARSHE is all about.
On How WARSHE Gets Reports of Cases:
Dr Toyion Mejiuni submitted emphatically that like in any other places all over the world, the incident of sexual violence in much more than the reportage. The situation is worse in our society because of the socio-cultural attitude that “there are some things you must not talk about in the public.” People think it is an “unnecessary exposure” of themselves and the fear of stigma is enough to shut them up. So people continue to suffer and bleed inside. The situation is getting better now as a result of the awareness campaign on campuses and all over the nation that if no other thing, you can use your pain to help others. You can be empathic and be a blessing to others. Even if you are not able to get justice, you can name and shame the rapist for ever.
Do you mean to say you don’t get justice most of the time?
At this question, her countenance changed immediately and one could see the heat of the struggles in her. She looked at me right in the eyes and said “Let me be frank with you. We only get justice in the ‘gown’ that is, on campus. Since we started in 1998, we had worked with three different vice-chancellors in the university. When it comes to the issue of sexual violence against women, non of them ever collapsed under pressure. They always put their feet down. All the accused on campus always got the judgment they deserved.
“In town, it is a different story entirely. If care is not taken, the victim could suffer more public humiliation. It was only in a case we were able to achieve success to the point that the accused person pleaded guilty. This was because the parents of abused children refused to bow under pressures mounted on them.”
Speaking of challenges, Dr Toyin Mejiuni affirmed that getting justice for victims in town cases has been a serious challenge for the organization. At times, it may be the problem of police turning themselves into the investigator, prosecutor and the judge at the same time. Some of them, after collecting bribes from the accused, will start interrogating the victims instead of the accused. However, we have received strong support of top ranked police officers at the state or national level in the years past. Most of the times, police at the local level behave badly. At times, doctors would not conduct thorough examinations on victims. Some even embarrass victims taken to their clinics. Like a doctor once said of one of our clients, “why are you following this girl around? She must have enjoyed it. Look at how big she is. How could she have said she could not stop the man?” He said all these because the girl looked bigger than her age. Is that her fault? Does that mean she could get the strength to tackle a man that was armed?’
Another challenge is how far a rape victim wants to go when she reports to WARSHE. Some would prefer to get medical attention and not involve the security men. Some would collapse under the pressure of people of high caliber begging on behalf of the accused. Some cases with enough proofs and evidences to prosecute, the victim will refuse to go to court.
“In some cases, we get justice at the lower court only for it to be thrown out at the upper court and that will be the end of it. What we do in cases like this is to encourage our clients that even if we are not able to get justice, at least we would have succeeded in taking the ‘Dogs’ to court to face the public on charges of rape. We are able to ‘tear him down, shake him and somber him.’ We are able to shame and name him as a rapist for aver. During the court proceedings, we always organize people to go to the court to boo the rapist in public.
On Her Feeling Concerning Gender EqualityDr Toyin Mejiuni had this to say:-“the issue of unequal relation of power is too much. This is the bottom line and it is very strong in Africa and that is why rapists often get away with the crime. Too many men are exploiting patriarchy and gerontocracy. In African setting, we train our children to respect elders but we would not put clauses or demarcations like when such elders want to violate you, disrespect them. Mothers should be teaching children this.” She concluded.
In her own contribution, Prof. Sumbo Abiose, the Director Centre for Gender and Social Policy, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, and one of the trustees of WARSHE, when contacted on this interview had this to say: “ Dr Toyin Mejiuni is the best female activist around.” If this remark gives the impression that we had a swell time at the interview, it is because we really did.