By Linley Sanders | Teen Vogue | 15 March 2018
Olaoluwa Abagun is determined to create a world where people no longer question the value and power of women fighting for themselves. Olaoluwa (her friends call her Ola), is a part of a global movement of proud feminists who are building vital change within their own communities.
In 2016, Ola realized that her community in Lagos, Nigeria had record high rates of rape among adults and girls, according to information shared by a sexual assault justice organization called the Mirabel Centre. She refused to accept that sexual assault was so prevalent in her hometown and was horrified to realize that few reported rape cases lead to a conviction.
“When survivors report to police stations, many of them are judged,” Ola told Teen Vogue. “They are asked what were you wearing, how did this happen to you? It was almost like the survivor had to take the blame for the incident from people who were responsible for ensuring justice. We wanted to give the police officers a reorientation.”
Ola created a project called “Safe Kicks Initiative: Adolescent Girls Against Sexual Violence” to train 270 girls in Nigeria to understand what sexual violence looked like and how to advocate against it in their communities. With financial grants from Women Deliver, Ola started teaching girls about sexual violence prevention in after-school clubs. To further empower the young women who gathered, the organization coordinated basic taekwondo classes.
Nigeria is a historically patriarchal society, Ola told Teen Vogue, and it was occasionally difficult for her to convince people that taekwondo would not make girls “unruly” or encourage them to not “sit still and be quiet, as is expected of girls.” One of her many challenges: negotiating with community leaders to demonstrate how much the classes mattered.
“Their eyes literally lit up. It made so much of a difference to their confidence, and someone wanted us to stop that because girls are not traditionally supposed to be fighting for themselves,” Ola told Teen Vogue. “At this point, with the statistics and news, you expect that people understand that girls have particular challenges that need to be addressed. You assume that reality is understood. But people keep asking, ‘why girls,” and that reflects the way people think in society.”
Together, the young women that Ola worked with wrote a community action plan that they believed could better prevent sexual violence—it has been adopted by more than a 1,500 leaders in the region. After the initial project’s success, Ola continued her mission with Women Deliver by creating a documentary focusing on the lack of justice for sexual assault survivors and providing solutions to police officers and the government.
Ola’s work to date has reached more than 11,000 people in southern Nigeria, and Ola has aspirations of expanding her work to northern Nigeria to aid underprivileged girls who live in an area where attending school can lead to abduction from Boko Haram militants.
“Of course, there are times when I feel demotivated—especially when it seems like these issues are getting more complicated and the statistics are getting worse,” Ola told Teen Vogue. “But it just takes me looking at the girls and the kind of change we cause in their lives, and I’m motivated once again.”
The organization that provided her grant, Women Deliver, partners with young women to provide training and financial backing for projects that advocate for gender equality.
The Director of Youth Engagement, Lori Adelman, has helped organize projects that range from promoting comprehensive sexuality education or destigmatizing menstruation and women’s health.
“There’s an incredible groundswell of passion around the world for gender equity among young people,” Adelman told Teen Vogue. “There’s so many ways that young people can get involved.”
Aditi Sharma was raised in Kathmandu — the capital of Nepal — where she founded a non-governmental organization to tackle the banishment of women during their monthly periods. The practice is called “chhaupadi” and is built around the idea that women were “untouchable or impure” during menstruation. Women could not bathe in sanitary locations, or touch fruit or livestock. When Aditi learned about the practice, she was horrified.
“I was baffled,” Aditi told Teen Vogue. “I was raised in Kathmandu in a very liberal family, so I didn’t know in my own country that people were dealing with something that extreme.”
In 2017, Nepal’s Parliament decided to criminalize the act of isolating women during their periods. Their new rule, which effectively bans menstruation huts, will go into effect in August 2018. Even still, there are concerns that the problem will prevail in tradition-based communities.
It’s a concern that Aditi hopes to solve one home at a time. Her organization, Kalyani, goes door-to-door and educates people about menstruation and feminine hygiene. She offers workshops that teach women how to create reusable sanitary pads and offers educational resources about menstrual hygiene.
It’s a cause that Aditi believes women in countries like America could champion as well to better serve people experiencing homelessness.
“It’s much worse in developing countries, but here in America itself, homelessness is a huge problem,” Aditi told Teen Vogue. “I’ve been to many food pantries, and they provide some hygiene products, but I don’t think anyone thinks about menstruating females. Even a simple pad drive — something as simple as that can go so far…. It doesn’t have to be a grand thing to make a change in the lives of people, especially women.”