When I came in contact with Olutosin Oladosu Adebowale, a vivacious and determined woman living in Nigeria, I knew I had met a woman of great dedication and courage. She is our March goddess because she has so much fight in her and she is using that fight for a great and wonderful cause of selfless service to her fellow women.
Olutosin is the founder of Stop the Abuse of Rights (STAR), a budding NGO headquartered in Lagos, Nigeria. She began STAR after she was selected as one of the Voices of our Future candidates by WorldPulse, an international online women’s platform. The mission of STAR is to provide a safer world/environment for poor women and children, something Olutosin is no stranger to. Her life has been full of it, and it all began wth her father’s death. Most often, we are passionate about the things that in some way shape our lives and the way we view the world. For Olutosin, those things are poverty and abuse, especially when the sufferers are women and children.
Born in Owo in the Western part of Nigeria, Olutosin’s life as she describes it was anything but luxurious. She lost her father when she was four years-old and watched her mother struggle to provide a life for her and her siblings. We have seen the pictures, and heard the stories, of women with babies tied to their backs, their bare feet pounding the dusty, graveled roads, loads twice their size balanced on their heads, pressing their necks into their shoulders.
We have heard about the back-breaking work a woman in rural Africa must suffer in order to provide for her children – not counting the days she must go without food so her husband and children can have what barely qualifies as a decent meal. Her days are long, and her nights even longer as she cries for mercy from the harsh life she’s been dealt and the luck she must suffer if it is even faintly rumored that she had something to do with her husband’s untimely death.
It is the life of a poor widowed farmer, thrown out of what was once her marital home, who must now learn how to take her suffering to the next level of trying to survive.
Olutosin watched her mother, as a young girl, never quite understanding the tears that accompanied her struggle to live and to provide for her family. Like many rural women in Africa, Olutosin describes her mother’s industrious nature. She found time to weave local cloths, farm and sell anything that hinted at a promise of earning her just the right amount of money to get by. But Olutosin most remembers her mother for her tears. “I always remember in those days that when our yam remains a tuber, my mother would weep like a baby. Whenever I would ask, she would say, it remains a tuber of yam. I could not correlate how a tuber of yam would make a mother shed tears. May God wipe the tears of every poor widow.” Now a wife and mother herself, Olutosin understands. She still sees it all around her everyday.
She now knows the hardships that come with the burdens society and culture place on women as wives and mothers. She has grown to experience the practices she once thought were normal but which she is now fighting against. As a little girl she thought it was normal that the rules of society said it was okay for a husband to beat his pregnant wife on her bare legs. That was until she was that pregnant woman whose husband was allowed to beat her on her bare legs. That was until the day she says her husband “concentrated his fist on her jaws” because she asked him to hold their baby so she, Olutosin, could get some much needed rest.
As a victim of domestic violence and poverty, her life has become the very thing that propels her on her mission to make a difference in the lives of other women and children. And even though she focuses on widows, she is also passionate about issues that deal with physical and emotional abuse of women and child sexual abuse. To rid society of these evils, she believes education is key, as is the need to eradicate poverty and empower women.
Through her organization STAR, Olutosin offers training to women on how to build sustainable lives through STAR’s skills acquistion programs for women and girls who have dropped out of school. Through STAR’s empowerment programs, the women and girls learn how to produce tie and dye and knitted wear. To implement these programs, Olutosin says she dipped into her personal savngs, and has learned a few skills along the way – sewng, batik-making, tee-shirts and more – to earn added income to help sustain the program. Through the empowement program, she also encourages girls and women to speak up against abuse and to know that it is never acceptable behavior. She has seen and heard of too many women who have died at the hands of the men in their lives for the situation to be overlooked.
Olutosin is trying! With the little she and the women of STAR make, they try to transform lives – their own and that of others. But, it is still a struggle. To help get by, Olutosin also designs and sells cooking bags in Frestac Town, Lagos. The cooking bag business is something she learned as part of the Moyojasiri training in Advancing Women Entrepreneur Program, a program which teaches women how to become successful entrepreneurs. Finding investors to invest in her cooking bag business is hard to come by, but she is still striving ahead, relying on the skills of survival she learned beginning at a very young age. And even though her proudest moment is yet to come, Olutosin says she celebrates every little success that comes her way. Her most enjoyable moments come when she “sees a genuine smile at the corners of a poor woman’s lips” and realizes that the act of kindness that produced the smile came from her actions and support.
She does not care that some find her a threat to the stability and structure of an illusive society. She knows that the burden of survival is hard on both men and women. She understands that, but she also understands that the problems society places on itself are not by default. Most of society’s problems are man-made and women and children should not have to unneccessarily pay for it. She believes men and women can, and should, “come together to combine their energies and ideas to nurture and develop each other.”
She hopes this will someday become reality for many. She also hopes to see a new Nigeria where everyone is safe and given equal opportunities to prosper. Most of all, she would love to see a Nigeria where women rule – in parliament, in the presidency, and everywhere else where power is held. She is looking into building a rape prevention and crisis center in the near future. The STAR organization is currently working in collaboration with Change A Life, an NGO which supports brilliant children from single parents. Olutosin also uses her spare time to engage in online journalism where she writes articles with the intent of drawing attention to “situations on the ground.”
All of this she does, for the memory and survival of the children who fall asleep hungry while they wait for the stone their mother has thrown onto the fire, having deceived the children into thinking the stone is yam, to cook.
She does this for the woman whose husband, a pastor, beat her to death and later branded her a witch for dying from “a little beating.”
For the young girl who hawks rice at a construction site where she is molested every day. She would sell her rice, while being gropped and fondled and then quickly hurry home to her mother who would send her off the next day to the same site because “the men’s hands do not remove your breast from your chest,” and the family must eat.
She does this for the women who must raise both hands over their heads, as a sign of respect, even as they try to protect themselves from the blows raining down on them from above by their uncles, husbands, brothers and other male relatives.
But, most importantly, she does it to honor her mother, a brave and courageous woman who never gave up hope in her most trying moments. Thanks to her, she raised a daughter who is determined to make something of herself and of others like her. Her past has not dictated her future, and, considering her somber past, Olutosin has indeed done quite well for herself. With perseverance and a few God-sent friends, she attended and graduated from the University of Lagos. She has a business venture that she loves and hopes to see grow into something profitable to fund her projects and organization.
Editor’s Note: In her interview (which was quite extensive), Olutosin pointed out the need for fund assistance to register STAR with the Corporate Afairs Commission. She also mentioned the desire to build a rape prevention and crisis center and a house and farmland for poor women, widows and children. She recounted several stories of the horrors she has seen and heard from the women she caters to and any help they can get will be greatly appreciated. If you wish to help Olutosin and STAR, please contact Olutosin at: email@example.com, or contact Afrikan Goddess Magazine editor at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Together we can help make a difference!