LAGOS, Nigeria - Elizabeth Olamide-Obayomi seemed to be destined for a life of activism from her teenage years. As the head girl of her school, she learned the rudiments of relationship-building, effective communication, and leadership. These skills came in handy when she began to fight for the rights of women who have suffered violence. “I made a vow after surviving my own ordeal never to allow any woman I know or whose situation is brought to my attention to suffer violence as I did,” said Elizabeth.

Trusted by her community, Elizabeth’s attention is needed on a daily basis for cases of violence against women and girls in and around the 52 communities of the Ikorodu district, where she lives.

She works closely with the United Nations Spotlight Initiative Surveillance team to identify cases of abused women and girls and connect them with appropriate services. The most common types of violence, she says, are rape and domestic abuse, including against widows. “A lot of people hide behind religious and cultural beliefs to perpetrate evil,” she said.

Regular and open communication is key to her achieving success as a community leader. “Our people need to know how and why some of our regular actions, attitudes, and beliefs constitute violence against other persons, especially women,” she said. 

In-person discussions, both formal and informal, along with connecting with members on a WhatsApp platform – facilitated by the Spotlight Initiative – are opportunities to find home-grown solutions to the root causes of gender-based violence.

Research shows that gender-based violence is a global problem that continues to limit women and girls from achieving their full potential, and a survey published by NOIPolls in July 2019 suggests that up to one in every three girls living in Nigeria has experienced at least one form of sexual assault by the time they reach 25 years old.

Elizabeth’s first intervention as an activist was on behalf of a 19-year-old pregnant widow and mother of a toddler who was physically assaulted by her in-laws, rendered homeless, and dispossessed of the financial benefits paid to her by her late husband’s employer. 

To Elizabeth, this was a violation of the widow’s rights, especially since the perpetrators were receiving their own financial benefits from the same employer. However, she said it took tact to avoid “causing a permanent rift in the family, as the widow and her children will forever remain part of the extended family.”

She rallied other community women and worked with civil society organizations and the Nigerian police force. As a result, the hijacked financial benefits were recovered in full. She also helped the widow to buy a plot of land with the recovered money and build a home, where she currently lives with her children.

For Elizabeth, helping women in these situations is just her way of doing the right thing. “This is an abnormal reality and each of us has a responsibility to bring about a change.”

The Spotlight Initiative is a global partnership between the United Nations (UN) and the European Union (EU) to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls in support of the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development. It was launched in September 2017 by the UN Secretary-General and the EU High Representative and Vice President.

By Blessing Ejiofor

Originally published by UNICEF