The Unfinished Bridge Podcast

Culture of Silence

May 17, 2022 Shehu Musa Yar'Adua Foundation Season 1 Episode 3
Culture of Silence
The Unfinished Bridge Podcast
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The Unfinished Bridge Podcast
Culture of Silence
May 17, 2022 Season 1 Episode 3
Shehu Musa Yar'Adua Foundation

Kemi Okenyedo, Omowunmi Ogunrotimi, and Lewa Ejila discussed breaking the culture of silence as one of the enablers of sexual gender-based violence using technology.

Show Notes Transcript

Kemi Okenyedo, Omowunmi Ogunrotimi, and Lewa Ejila discussed breaking the culture of silence as one of the enablers of sexual gender-based violence using technology.

Intro  0:01  
You're listening to Partners United on gender brought to you by the Shehu Musa Yaradua foundation with support from the MacArthur Foundation.

Kemi  0:09  
Hello, and welcome to the gender justice podcast series and the Podcast Series is brought to you by the Shehu Musa Yaradua Foundation, which was founded in 1998. And since inception, he has been at the forefront of promoting good governance, national unity and social justice in Nigeria. My name is Kemi Okenyodo the Executive Program Manager on today's episode we will be talking about breaking the culture of silence through technology. And with me, I have two guests Miss Omowunmi Ogunrotimi. Omowunmi is a multidisciplinary gender justice advocate and a legal practitioner. She is also the founder of gender mobile initiative, and organization adopting a comprehensive approach and leveraging technology to advance gender equality and eliminate gender-based violence in Nigeria. And my second guest is no other than Miss Lewa Ejila program officer on the gender justice program at the Shehu Musa Yaradua Foundation. She's passionate about reducing and ultimately ending the culture of silence on sexual gender-based violence in Nigeria. Welcome, Omowunmi, welcome, Lewa. 

Lewa  1:26  
Thank you. 

Omowunmi  1:27  
Thank you, Kemi. It's a pleasure to be here.

Kemi  1:30  
Thank you too, for accepting to be here. So we'll set the ball rolling rather quickly. We hear about the culture of silence as one of the enablers for sexual gender based violence. Omowunmi, can you please tell our audience on what what is culture of silence.

Omowunmi  1:49  
I think I'll just give a personal point of view. And of course, from what happens every day, I would like to describe or I will describe culture of silence and the action or reaction of a community of people by virtue of their unwritten code in a way that does not mention, discuss or acknowledge a current state of affairs or a particular given subject matter. When I say community, of course, what it means is that these people are bonded together by the identity, it could be by the way they dress, it could be by the language they speak, it could be by their total way of life. So as far as it's unwritten, it's unspoken, people just take  it and they get acculturated into that process. So as far as culture of silence is concerned, it's unspoken, there is no law that says that people have to be silent about a particular thing. But because of our culture, people just decide not to acknowledge the fact that something exists, or because of people's disposition to it, by way of or as a result of several factors, several social identities, such as gender, such as age, such as social status, she just decides to keep quiet about it. So that's what the culture of silence is all about. That's what I would describe the culture of silence to be. 

Kemi  3:17  
Thanks, Omowunmi, you've given us examples of the types, what culture of silence could look like, if you're in a situation. Lewa? Do you have any other things to add on to this,

Lewa  3:29  
I think the culture of silence describes the behavior of a group of people, it can be large, it can be small, it can be professional, generally do not talk about something and it's not like it is written down anywhere, why they don't speak about it, or why they are afraid to air their opinion about it. It is just known to people why they don't talk about. I feel like generally, we are taught not to speak for ourselves, there is that fear to speak for yourself or for others.

Kemi  3:55  
So it's like a culture, if anything relating to and for this purpose, sexual gender based violence. It's a hush, hush, we don't talk about it. Omowunmi, can you give us three examples from your experience on how the culture of silence has contributed to sexual gender based violence?

Omowunmi  4:18  
I would say that examples are not far-fetched. First, because I am a survivor of sexual and gender-based violence. Second, because I've been a part of the journey of many victims and survivors beyond, you know, just collapsing their experiences into summary data. And I would share an example of my personal experience at the age of 14 when I experienced a bout of sexual abuse. And I recall that night when it happened, of course, the perpetrator was a trusted neighbor and that further buttresses or corroborates the fact that perpetrators are overwhelmingly people that we know. I recall that night, I've moved swiftly as fast as I could to talk to my mom about it after it happened. And when my mom saw me, as a medical practitioner, I mean, my mom is well educated my dad is too. But that night, my dad was in a critical state. So my mom asked what happened, I narrated the whole gory experience. Of course, she was angry, she was bitter. But she also told me that this has to be kept secret because she needed to preserve my sense of socialization so that people don't laugh at me, the social stigma and a lot of other factors. And to even shock you Kemi she had mentioned that I should not mention to one of my siblings, because we understood then at that time that if my brother heard about it, we couldn't imagine what could have been the outcome of such an encounter. So I had to keep it to my chest, my mum provided me with the necessary support system, I was able to access medical help, but we couldn't go to the nearest police station to report because of the stigma involved. And of course, my parents weren't ready for the long walk, the old criminal justice administrative system at that time. Sadly, my best friend at that time experienced it after I did, and she lost her life in the cost of procuring an unsafe abortion of the rape incident that happened, I kept quiet about mine, I couldn't share because of the culture of silence. And perhaps if I had spoken about it at that time, it probably would have avoided or prevented some other patterns of sexual harassment or assault happening to my childhood best friend, but she lost her life. And she's not alive today to even tell her story. So that's just to give you a critical example of what the culture of silence looks like, and how this can further enable violence to try. Another example I'd like to give is the story of Sandra, which, of course, is the pseudo name. One of the students we've interacted closely with in the course of our work in environments of learning. Sandra's academic survival was dependent on meeting the sexual demands of her professor. She even still managed  speak about it, but of course, in confidence to our best friend. And when she shared, her experienced with some other friends, the question that guts to even want to seek redress. Now that's to tell you the extent of the culture of silence that's paraded everywhere, that when people ev might need to speak about it, person's question their guts. And for people who've also experienced sexual abuse any pattern of sexual abuse that didn't even bother to talk about it, in solidarity with the abuser sometimes Stockholm Syndrome sets in and they also question the guts of other people who are willing to speak out. Now that talks or speaks to the depth of this culture of silence. So culture of silence, who is there to enable sexual and gender based violence to thrive more because what happens is, perpetrators are not held accountable. And of course, we know that when there is no accountability, it gives people the leeway to do whatever it is that they want to do. And I would also say at this point that there is actually a growing body of research or literature to support the fact that 80% of people perpetrate sexual abuse or gender based violence, are serial harassers or repeat offenders, if you choose to call it if you choose to use that nomenclature by stopping repeat offenders, we will be achieving 59% prevention of sexual and gender based violence for the culture of silence continues to make this drive until we address the culture of silence. It might be difficult for us to actually hold perpetrators accountable because people will not muster the resolve or the courage to come forward to report cases because of the climate. Lanois.

Kemi  6:14  
Lewa ,I know you work with the Shenu Musa Yaradua Foundation. Now let's get to the nitty-gritty of it. How has the foundation use technology? To address the culture of silence

Lewa  9:30  
The foundation gender justice program has a web-based whistleblowing platform. The platform enables students and individuals in the university communities in Nigeria to report cases of sexual and gender-based violence and also seek justice from sexual abuse and harassment without fear of intimidation and recrimination. The platform receives report on sexual abuse and harassment from survivors within these institutions. These reports are monitored and analyzed and case manager is assigned to every case reported. And these cases are managed. Also in addressing a culture of silence. The foundation is using advocacy messaging, messages on sexual and gender-based violence, which are deployed on the foundation's social media pages and websites. These advocacy messaging are deployed in form of flashcard video vignettes and infographics. Furthermore, we're using technology to motivate citizens and students to take action in advocating for gender justice awareness campaigns, actually safeguarding measures to prevent sexual abuse and harassment from occurring in work, spaces and tertiary institutions. The whistleblowing platform is used to equip people with tools to drive social change, as regards sexual harassment and abuse, and ultimately break the culture of silence in Nigeria. But the foundation is currently amplifying the voices of young women and girls within workspace to become change agents on gender equality and also speak up for gender equality within the Nigerian space.

Kemi  11:17  
Thank you. So the foundation has the whistleblowing platform that is on

Lewa  11:26  

Kemi  11:28  
Yeah, for community members of the tertiary institutions to report cases of sexual harassment or any form of validation on the campuses in Nigeria that's interesting. Wunmi, being the founder of gender mobile initiative. Can you tell us how gender mobile has used, has has leverage on technology to advance gender equality and eliminate gender-based violence?

Omowunmi  11:56  
I would say that as an organization, one of our key strategies is to leverage accessible technology to advance gender equality and also eliminate sexual and gender-based violence. And we kicked off with a call center infrastructure in form of a 247 helpline in 2017. And within one year of setting up the call center infrastructure, the data we retrieved from the call center portrayed environment of learning as the den of, you know, sexual and gender-based violence. And that was why we moved into campus communities to see how, we could further leverage technology to address patterns of sexual assault. And in the last three years, I would say, we've been able to deploy accessible technology in form of a mobile hub tool for members of the campus community to be able to report cases with highest degree of confidentiality. And I did mention earlier that silence is a patriachal  tool of oppression, because oppression is actually on a continuum. People don't speak out because of fear because of reprisals, and because of intimidation and because of the climate. But with the technology tool, that we have, we've been able to create a virtual safe space, where people can also hear out what they feel, share the experiences of sexual assault, and also report to institutions. And like I did mention earlier about culture of silence, emboldening perpetrators of sexual assaults, we've also been able to leverage technology to promote accountability, because it's really important that in our response, or prevention efforts to sexual and gender-based violence, we put in place accountability structures. So for us with technology, were able to also ensure that institutions balance accountability with transparency. Another thing we've been able to also leverage technology to achieve is provide access to information. We have institutions of higher learning with anti sexual harassment policies that students don't even know that such policies exist. Partly because availability does not also mean the same thing as accessibility. For some institutions of higher learning, they sell some of these policy documents and at the beginning of every session, students in the course of struggling to pay school fees prioritize what they're spending money on, I'm sure that buying policy documents is probably at the lower rung of the ladder for them. But with this technology platforms, we can put policies of institutions, safeguarding policies, gender policy of institutions for students and other members of the campus community to access also in terms of providing people with information on how to report, how  to access help, how to provide support to their colleagues who experienced sexual harassment, we've also been able to leverage technology to promote active learning in that regard through an interactive model, these are really interesting ways that we've been able to leverage technology. And we hope that we can continue to innovate in a way that people get acclimatized to this evolving pattern of responding to sexual and gender based violence in these spaces. 

Kemi  15:32  
Your app is it user friendly?

Omowunmi  15:34  
Yes, our mobile app user friendly. And also our other technology platforms are user-friendly, in terms of user friendly, I'll take it to mean something that is culturally appropriate, something that is that is accessible. In environments of learning, for example, yes, we take into cognizance, the diverse groups on campus from persons who are probably not that technology savvy. I imagined, for example, that members of faculty and staff, some of them might not be technology savvy, there are step by step guide that people can actually use to access the platform. We also have an e-channel line where people who do not have access to internet connection can actually reach out to report cases, we also have the web app, which has a chat interface, where people can also access a range of services, perhaps they want to speak to a counselor, perhaps they even need help in terms of us calling them over the phone, they could actually click on a button on our web app that's separate from the mobile app, and they could access range of services. And we also provide information base to referral for services that people need to access that we are not able to provide because we do not have the human resource, we're able to connect them to such service.

Kemi  16:57  
Lewa, what about the platform from the gender justice platform, how user-friendly is it?

Lewa  17:03  
it's actually very user friendly, as anybody can have access to the platform, we try to improve our inclusivity procedures, so that anybody, even people living with disabilities can also have access to the platform, without any guidance, as the platform interface is built in a way that once you go to the page, you can have access to it with ease.

Kemi  17:30  
Okay, what lessons have you learnt from personally and through your organization's on technology, as an interface to break in the culture of silence 

Omowunmi  17:43  
In terms of responding to sexual and gender-based violence, technology should never be a substitute, it should always be a complement to what exists. So having said that, I would say that a lot of lessons abound. First is that technology can be leveraged to get done a lot of things we struggle to get done manually. And I'll give a critical example. So for example, in environments of learning, when we support institutions to develop their anti-sexual harassment policy, one of their implementation strategies is always to probably organize periodic sensitization programs, town hall meetings where members of the campus community come together, talk about these issues and sensitize them on emergent issues. And I see that there is no facility that has there's no institution of higher learning that has like a 15,000, I think  15,000 is even like an aspiration. That's quite ambitious, I would say 5000 hall capacity. So what happens is automatically you leave out some people when you need to do a physical convening. So but with technology, you can promote active learning, and even optimize outcomes for people within the comfort of their rooms to access information, depending on whatever information you want to provide them with. Another thing that we've also learned as an organization in the cause of leveraging technology, based on my experience is that you need to involve the community in designing whatever technology intervention you're providing. And I'll give another example when we were designing the campus pile tool. We just came up with what we thought the committee needed until we had the town hall meeting, at Ekiti State University. Yeah. And during that interaction, students share their experiences. The management of the institution was right there in the hall. And new students talked about the fact that a lot of times they are vulnerable because institutions do not have onboarding platforms for them. So in search of trying to get information on how to settle in and campus on how to navigate their way around campus how to access hostel accommodation, they get vulnerable and get violated by their peers or by even hostel admins and people like that just because the lack information. So we felt the need, depending on how you see whether it's it's approximate costs or remote costs. But we've we found a way to actually integrate this on the platform by creating like an open forum where people can ask questions about how to settle in on campus where we can put information and all of that. Now, we got that because at some point, we had to interact with our community. So we had to go back to the developer to say, You know what, yes, this is outside our scope of work, but it's equally important. And we also took from them the kind of reporting system that environments of learning or environments characterized by power asymmetry, the kind of reporting system that they need. So that also gave impetus to the feature on information escrow where people can still store up whatever information or report they want to make, because at that time, they're scared. But once there is another person who also has a similar report that can probably match them and with that way, you know that you're not alone. So I think this way, we really learned that there is no technology innovation, that can really work or address the key issues without bringing the end-users on board as equal partners.

Kemi  21:31  
Lewa, what are the lessons learned from the Shehu Musa Yaradua Foundation, 

Lewa  21:36  
Buttressing Omowunmi's point, I will say student involvement in the process. It's very key that we keep engaging the students and seeking their opinion on how best to shape this process to a level that best suits them. Because this awareness campaign we're embarking on is to provide a safe space for them. So I feel like we should not relent on student involvement process. As we continue to grow the campaign we are creating and also advocacy on sexual and gender-based violence can never be enough. We can take it to the smallest spaces in the language people understand. It will help us break power asymmetry in workspaces or universities. And it will help us build enlightenment for people because that way more people understand what can be termed as sexual and gender-based violence, actually easy to explain to them in the language you understand.

Kemi  22:36  
Thank you to my guests, Omowunmi Ogunrotimi and Lewa Ejila, both very active feminists in the space. And one of the things I'd like to take away from our discussion is that technology complements what already exists. Omowunmi made that point very clearly, that technology complements what already exists and for us to have at the back of our mind, that silence is a patriarchal tool. And once we have these two points in mind, even if we don't go away with any other thing, then we know the reason we appreciate further the reason we need to break the culture of silence, and why gender mobile and Shehu Musa Yaradua Foundation, among other organizations, are using technology as a leverage to advance gender equality and break the culture of silence, particularly in relation to sexual gender-based violence in Nigeria. That's all for today's episode of Breaking the culture of silence through technology. Thanks for listening to us. And once again, thank you Wunmi and Lewa. Join us again next week when we talk about another topic that is closely related to gender justice. And we ask that you visit our whistleblowing platform to report cases of sexual harassment or any form of violation on the campuses of tertiary institutions in Nigeria. Thank you.

Outro  24:16  
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