Lola Ibrahim: Gender Equality Activist and Founder of #StopTheCut Campaign
Lola Ibrahim is a Registered Architect turned gender equality activist from Nigeria. Her organization, Wo-Men Against Violence and Exploitation [W.A.V.E] Foundation is committed to ending Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and all forms of violence against women and girls in Nigeria.
Born in Gusau, Northern Nigeria to Yoruba parents. She speaks, reads, and writes English, Hausa, Yoruba, and Nupe fluently.
A Cochran Fellow and a 2021 Tällberg-SNF-Eliasson Global Leadership Prize nominee and an award winner in Nigeria for initiating a campaign #StopTheCut to End Female Genital Mutilation. She is also a proud member of several national and international organizations.
As a gender advocate and FGM survivor, her goal is to engage communities to end VAWG, stimulate respect for all human beings, their dignity, global peace, and unity.
As the President/Chairman of the Board of Trustees of WAVE Foundation, she has initiated & implemented projects on livelihood, education, and health in a more inclusive approach ensuring no one is left behind. Lola loves traveling, gardening, and watching comedy films.
We are honored as Lola shared her journey, her dreams, and aspirations of creating a more gender-equal society with us in this candid interview.
Lola, can you tell us about your organization, WAVE foundation?
Wo-Men Against Violence and Exploitation [W.A.V.E] Foundation [CAC/IT/NO-90075/2016] is a registered nonprofit, nonpolitical, nongovernmental organization established under Nigerian laws to build strategic partnerships to end Female Genital Mutilation FGM and all forms of violence against women and girls VAWG.
We are dedicated to promoting opportunities that strengthen women’s rights and bridge the inequality gap.
We are recognized and acknowledged by relevant Nigerian Government Agencies, Development Partners like UNFPA, UN Women, and other like-minded reputable NGOs globally. The UN Committee on NGOs recently recommended special consultative status to WAVE. As the initiator of #stopthecut ™ our vision is a society with equal rights and opportunities for all. We are guided by the values of transparency and accountability, integrity, transformative change, feminism, diversity, and dignity of the human person.
Female Genital Mutilation is very prevalent in Nigeria; the country has the third-highest number of FGM cases worldwide accounting for 10% of the global total. A 2020 United Nations brief states that 20% [20 million] of Nigerian women aged 15 to 49 have undergone FGM.
Thanks to the support of Nigeria Television Authority [NTA], African Independent Television [AIT], News Agency of Nigeria, TVC Viewers Television, Aso Television, Nigeria Info Radio Station, Armed Forces Radio Station, Nigeria Customs Broadcasting Network [NCBN], and Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria [FRCN], We have reached over 200 million Nigerians with our Television and Radio advocacy.
We have also held several advocacy campaigns, workshops, and Outreaches in Communities, and schools. We have carried out 20 projects so far that benefitted around 5000 people directly. We provide psycho-social support to FGM survivors, we promote their well-being, productivity, and resilience. We fight the stigma and shame associated with FGM.
With the support of the Global Woman P.E.A.C.E Foundation, a registered non-profit in the United States of America, on October 16th, 2021 WAVE Foundation, directed by me, hosted the very first Walk to End FGM in Abuja, Nigeria, West Africa. This was the first of its kind outside the US, D.C. and occurred on the same day of the Walk to End FGM in Washington.
In October 2018, I participated in the Walk to End FGM in Washington, D.C., as an award presenter and speaker. Inspired by this experience, I wanted to start this in Nigeria. I am one the most outspoken FGM Survivor in Nigeria who came out publicly and shared her experience on National Television. This was in 2019 upon my return from the US. I have been featured on several Television, Radio, and other forams within and outside Nigeria.
How did you start this work? What motivated you to work for women’s and girls’ rights in Nigeria?
In the late 90s, I used to attend Islamiyah in a neighbor’s house in Minna, Northern Nigeria. One day I was told 2 of the girls who were minors had been sexually abused several times by an older male cousin who lived with them. I was incensed and upset but I was powerless. I couldn’t beat him or report him and unfortunately, the family didn’t want a scandal so the perpetrator walked freely while the girls were shamed and lived with the stigma. I left Minna after school and got a job in Abuja, but that experience haunted me, and I promised myself if I ever got the opportunity I would campaign for women’s and girls’ rights.
In 2016, I started a WhatsApp group for women to share messages on health, security, parenting, and a wide range of topics. The idea was to leverage on technology and innovation to solve everyday problems. That was the flashbulb moment I had been waiting for. We decided to register as a nonprofit in 2016. Our first project in April 2016, was a roadshow to a camp for internally displaced persons in Nigeria who fled their homes because of Boko haram terrorists. The rest as they say is history.
In Nigeria, Women and girls are not given the same opportunity as men. Structural and cultural barriers hinder a woman from achieving her full potential. A recent example is the Gender and Equality Bill which has not scaled the second reading in the National Assembly since 2011. The bill when passed will promote more representation of women in government and leadership, equal access to economic opportunities for women and men, end harmful discriminatory practices like FGM and child marriage, and end violence against women and girls. Patriarchal norms and traditions dictate how a woman should live her life without giving a thought to her opinion.
Traditionalists in Nigeria support the practice of Female Genital Mutilation because they see it as a necessary rite of passage into womanhood which ensures cleanliness or better marriage prospects,” says Public Health Nigeria. In certain cultures, women must undergo FGM so that others consider them suitable for marriage. The fear is that women will become sexually promiscuous or unfaithful to their partners if they do not undergo FGM.
Since Nigerian men pay a dowry for their brides, it is common for the bride’s father to encourage some form of FGM to make his daughter more marketable to bachelors.
FGM in Nigeria is a tradition that has been upheld for centuries to maintain male dominance. It is performed to ensure women keep their virginity, to provide men with greater pleasure during sexual intercourse, and to remove genitalia that appears unattractive to the male eye. Men make decisions regarding women’s bodies without considering how their choices negatively impact women and girls.
As a survivor the first barrier to break is the culture of silence, We need Feminist laws, victim-centered law enforcement, and compassionate communities, to end all forms of violence against women.
What do you consider as the biggest barrier to progress in gender equality and women’s rights in Nigeria?
The biggest barrier to progress in gender equality and women’s rights in Nigeria is structural and cultural practices that continue to hinder women from opportunities available to men. Patriarchal norms give more preference and privilege to the man and treat the woman as inferior. Women are not allowed to own lands, Harmful traditional practices, like widowhood rights, early marriages, FGM, etc still exist in our societies and deny the girl child the opportunity of going to school. Women are denied access to justice, weak implementation of existing laws emboldens perpetrators of these acts and discourages victims from speaking out.
In order to create a more gender-equal society in Nigeria, in which areas do you want to see major policy reforms?
Policies should be women-focused and translated into local languages. People need to be aware of their rights and the consequences of their actions or inaction either directly or indirectly.
It is very important for the key decision-makers in governments, corporations, or other positions of power to be informed about existing policies and are held accountable for implementing those policies.
Governments must ensure that sufficient financial resources are allocated for programs and services focused on women’s and girls’ development.