Campaigner, activist and Obama Foundation Leader in Africa, Oluwaseun Ayodeji is working hard to educate about and reduce gender-based violence, with her Stand to End Rape initiative.
Why did you choose to study at Swansea University for your Masters in International Relations?
I was interested in studying a course with a component of human rights and gender equality, while also investigating the economic and political relationships between countries and government and how this impacts those two issues. Initially, I had settled to study International Management as it partly encompasses my focus, however, it was limited in its research on human rights, as such, I began researching about various institutions across the UK that offers my specific interest area. My agent at the time advised me to consider Swansea University and spoke widely about the perks of studying at the institution including affordable tuition and free healthcare through the NHS. After reviewing various articles and posts about the institution, I knew I had found a home for my future. And yes, the scholarship for international students was also one of the perks. :)
What is your favourite memory of your time at Swansea?
My favourite memory of being in Swansea is building a community of friends and family within the school and social settings. I love the Church activities, study times with other students at the library, hopping on the bus to get to work with colleagues. As a Master's Degree student, I was keen on not only gaining academic experience, but also professional experience. I was able to get a job within the Faculty of Arts and Humanities as well as in other formal work sectors. Some of these jobs contributed to my length of work experience and the funds raised aided the establishment of my organisation in Nigeria.
"Challenging social stigma and archaic cultural beliefs were one of the biggest challenges of establishing Stand to End Rape Initiative (STER)."
Since graduating you have founded Stand to End Rape Initiative (STER) and been a vocal advocate and campaigner to end gender based violence. What has been your biggest challenge in getting the charity established?
Speaking up about ending sexual and gender-based violence was a huge difficulty especially in religious and cultural settings. Challenging social stigma and archaic cultural beliefs were one of the biggest challenges of establishing Stand to End Rape Initiative (STER). The culture of silence over time has forced majority of survivors to damnation, living with their pains every day, sometimes their abusers, and watching the perpetrators walk freely just so they "protect the family name and dignity" by keeping silent. Raising awareness on gender equality and sexual and gender-based violence was like attempting to dismantle social norms and beliefs that have been upheld for centuries. As such, engaging with a different target audience on the need to intensify efforts to prevent sexual and gender-based violence by teaching consent to boys and men for example, was met with so much resistance. There was also pushback on encouraging survivors of such crimes to speak up to receive adequate support
What have you been most proud of since founding STER?
The proudest moment for me since founding STER Initiative has been the joy in the faces of the survivors we have worked with. There is an innate sense of accomplishment when the organisation removes a victim from an abusive situation and months/years down the line, the survivor is safe and living the lives they truly enjoy. In most cases, the survivors we support, as a means to pay it forward, join STER as a volunteer or staff to further push the mandate of the organisation. That is one of the greatest feelings any founder could ever have.
You've been honoured as the Commonwealth Young Person of the Year and as an Obama Foundation Emerging Leader. How does it feel to have your work recognised so prominently?
It feels great to have been honoured as a #TIMENEXT100, Commonwealth Young Person of the Year 2019 and an Obama Foundation Leader in Africa among others. These are incredibly prominent platforms and being recognized for the work STER is testament to the impact the organisation is making not only in Nigeria but across the world. This also a form of support for us to intensify our efforts and as well inspires other young people to be change agents. Nonetheless, with the recognition comes responsibility of public accountability, leadership for the community and sustenance of the vision.
Who's the most famous person you have met at these awards ceremonies?
I met with former President Barrack Obama at the Obama Foundation Leaders in Africa convening in Johannesburg, South Africa and I was like "oh my goodness! It is Barrack Obama right here in front of me." You know that moment when your celebrity friend walks in and you want to scream "yeah, that's my friend. I know her." Lol! I was a surreal moment for me to be standing next to such a world-renowned change agent. I really enjoyed the keynote message he shared during one of the sessions.
Are you still in touch with any of your Swansea friends?
I kept contact with a couple of friends I made in Swansea especially my housemate, Temi Coker, who has become more like a sister now. Our friendship blossomed into a relationship that has yielded opportunities among other things. I also share a good relationship with a couple of others that I met in Swansea whether as students, staff of the institutions like Beverly Evans of the Faculty of Arts and Humanities or members of social communities I was involved with.
So far you have helped over 200,000 women through STER. What are your ambitions for the charity?
Yes, STER has reached over 200,000 people with information and about 350 women, girls and boys with direct service. As an organisation, we look forward to a day where sexual and gender-based violence becomes a part of our history rather than a part of our everyday lives. Currently, we hope to expand our services across the different States in Nigeria to enable us to reach more people and pilot innovative programs that have been developed for the years 2020 - 2025. This will require funding. On the long run, our ambition is to morph into a global advocacy organisation leading policy advocacy initiatives and advising Governments in sexual and gender-based violence prevention and response programming.
What would you say to anyone considering Swansea as a destination for study?
If you are considering Swansea University for your Undergraduate, Postgraduate or PhD degrees, then I can tell you to make good decisions in life. The academic institution is super affordable, the teaching technique is great and you get an invaluable academic experience tailored for your career growth. As an alumnus of the institution, I can authoritatively tell you that the relationship also does not end within the four walls of Swansea University. There is an intentional act to continue to support you post your academic studies, just like I have been. Isn't that a good reason to study at Swansea?