Wuraoluwa Ayodele is a lawyer, a social entrepreneur and a Mandela Washington Fellow. She is a women’s advocate and founder of Women Safe House. In this interview by Kingsley Alumona, she spoke about why she decided to be a lawyer, gender issues, her leadership and humanitarian endeavours, and her advice for young people. Excerpts:
What motivated you to study law? And, why did you decide to study it at Obafemi Awolowo University?
I have always wanted to fight for women’s rights and I knew I needed a background and validation that would prepare me for that work. I initially wanted to join the army, but I figured studying law was a better option as it would equip me with the knowledge to protect women. Obafemi Awolowo University was my best option at that time.
How does it feel to be a practicing lawyer? What is your job as the Head of Chambers at Hackman & Co. Solicitors in Ibadan?
Practicing as a lawyer for me is powerful. The profession has given me a lot of recognition, respect and helped me fulfil my goals. As Head of Chambers at Hackman Co. Solicitors, Ibadan, I head a team of lawyers to deliver the best legal services to clients in immigration, litigation and all other areas of law. I also work closely with Adebola Akioye and other partners in other branches of the firm in Lagos and Benin.
Do you think the Nigerian legal profession is predominantly a patriarchal space?
The answer is yes. Every space in Nigeria is predominantly a patriarchal space and the legal profession is no different. I strongly believe that women lawyers are capable of doing much more in the legal profession if their efforts are encouraged. Several positions have, more or less, been ‘reserved’ for the male folk, like certain positions in the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA). I look forward to a female NBA president in the future. I am the social Secretary for the International Federation of Women Lawyers, Oyo State branch. A s women lawyers, we keep fighting patriarchy every step of the way.
In what ways have your Mandela Washington Fellowship (MWF) experience in 2019 at the United States and your legal skills bolstered your leadership and humanitarian endeavours?
My 2019 Mandela Washington Fellowship experience has created a rich platform for my leadership and humanitarian endeavours. I was trained by the Presidential Precinct and two American universities—William and Mary University and the University of Virginia—on Leadership and Civic Engagement. I learnt several skills which have improved my leadership style and my efforts in giving back to the communities I serve. Beyond this, my work now has the backing and recognition of the United States government. This has greatly connected me to persons and organisations that have opened my work up for collaborations, helping me intensify my efforts.
What major qualities and achievements would you say landed you the MWF?
My qualities included innovation, being self-driven and passionate, responsibility and the input in my work. My major achievements involved my work around women rights and establishing a safe house where women and girls facing violence are rehabilitated, provided legal aid, healthcare and financial empowerment. My work had also demonstrated impact in helping victims of violence live successful lives. These qualities, achievements and work got me into MWF.
As one of the speakers of Spectator to Spectacular summit held recently in Ibadan, you stressed that passion, skills and volunteering are vital recipes for leadership. Do you think many Nigerian youth lack these virtues? If so, what could be done to inculcate these virtues in them?
Being a Nigerian youth myself, I would say while I know that several youth lack these virtues, I believe there are several Nigerian youth who do not lack them. I have met some really fascinating young people who are passionate but do not have the funds to follow their passion. Leadership, in itself, is all about making positive impact. Therefore, to inculcate these virtues, Nigerian youth need to start from where they are, know what space they are interested in working, deliberately learn skills in that space, volunteer to work in organisations to get work experience, celebrate small wins and network with individuals who are valuable to their work as leaders.
What inspired you to found Women Safe House? How do you fund your projects?
I founded Women Safe House back in Taraba State because I discovered there were several girls and young women on the streets who had suffered from sexual and domestic violence, female genital mutilation (FGM) and child marriage. Several of these girls were uneducated and had been infected with HIV. I knew I needed to create a platform for them to survive, have shelter, bare their minds, seek medical attention, legal aid, education and financial empowerment. Women Safe House created that platform and later the shelter they required.
Running the projects for these women is quite expensive because I provide shelter, clothing, food, crisis support for these women. I fund my projects from donations and partnerships with individuals and organisations. I also run Safe House Legal that generates funds for Women Safe House. I am also always open to more partnerships with individuals and organisations that are driven to helping these vulnerable women and girls.
What qualifies a woman or a girl child for your pro bono services? And, what three lessons have you learnt from representing these hapless women and girls?
Any woman or girl child who is in danger of facing violence or has suffered any form of violence is qualified to receive pro bono services from my organisation. These forms of violence include rape and other sexual assaults, domestic violence, intimate partner violence, FGM, child marriage, etc. these victims can reach us on our 24 hour hotline and social media platforms.
The first lesson I have learnt from representing these women and girls is the fact that women rights, gender equality and violence against women need to be given more visibility as they are still novel areas in several parts of Nigeria. Several women are still marginalised and hence face violence as a result. Second, there is nothing more important than making the lives of people and communities better. I am excited whenever I see the women and girls I have helped get back on their feet and do meaningful things in their lives. Third, I have learnt to be a better communicator, having to be constantly diplomatic and firm at the same time with the women I serve.
In what ways do lack of government’s political will and mediocre policies affect your gender and women-related Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) initiatives?
There has been an emergence of several policies around women related SDGs but there have been no implementation of these policies. Very few states in Nigeria have gender-based violence laws. Even at that, these laws are not implemented in these few states. This poses a problem in the work that we do. This is because the police cannot make arrests or charge perpetrators of these offences to court on provisions of laws that have not been implemented. This affects SDGs initiatives negatively.
Would you consider yourself a feminist? And, what are the three most interesting qualities you love in a man?
Yes. I consider myself a feminist and I must firmly state clearly that feminism has nothing to do with hatred of men or superiority of women. Feminism is taking a position to ensure that men and women are treated equally in the society and given equal opportunities. The qualities I find interesting in a man are responsibility, ideation and empathy.
What do you like doing at your leisure? If you were to take a vacation abroad, which country would you love to visit, and why?
I love to read books and watch movies. I would love to visit Australia. It is one of the most supportive places for women’s rights and I would like to learn best practices there.
What advice do you have for young people, especially the female ones, who are aspiring to be like you?
To young people and ladies, my advice is: Be firm, respectful, focused, ambitious, self-driven, sensitive, seize opportunities, network with people valuable to your work and aspire to be better every day.