Hauwa Ojeifo, 26, is an empowering and trailblazing woman on a mission.
She has founded She Writes Woman, a 24/7 helpline and walk-in centre in Nigeria. It is a charity where women can go/call to seek advice, help, and community with others in a safe space. The organisation aims to provide assistance to those in need and to, “break down the barriers…that deter people from seeking mental care.”
In order to appreciate how important this charity’s work is, here are some stats and information. In 2016, Dauda Eneyamire Suleiman, who works at the Department of Pathology at Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital in Nigeria, wrote an article for ANM (http://www.anmjournal.com/article.asp?issn=0331-3131;year=2016;volume=10;issue=2;spage=47;epage=48;aulast=Suleiman#ref2). In this article, he explained that between 20 – 30% of Nigerians suffer from a mental health condition. Considering the population is around 190 million this is an exceptionally concerning statistic. Sadly, Dauda asserts, ‘the attention given to mental health disorders in Nigeria is at best, fleeting; the level of awareness of the Nigerian public on mental health issues is also understandably poor, and the misconceptions regarding mental health have continued to flourish.’ This conclusion is reinforced by Dr Ukwouri-G. Kalu, in her article for Nigeria Health Watch (https://nigeriahealthwatch.com/mental-health-the-danger-of-nigerias-single-story/#.W_gHI_Z2vic). She states: ‘individuals who show symptoms of psychosis (hearing voices or seeing things that are not there) are often labelled as “crazy”, publicly beaten and deprived of rights essential to dignified living. Individuals suffering from mental illness are generally seen as dangerous, regardless of their type or diagnosis of mental illness.
Part of the problem has to do with the country’s lackadaisical approach to mental health policy implementation. The country’s only existing Mental Health Policy document was formulated in 1991. Although a bill for the establishment of a Mental Health Act was introduced in 2003 and re-introduced to the National Assembly in 2013, this is yet to be passed into law. No desk exists in the ministries at any level for mental health and only 3.3% of the federal government’s health budget goes to mental health.’ (Currently, the UK uses 9.5% of the NHS’s budget for mental health).
Moreover, as well as supporting mental health sufferers in general, there is also a focus on survivors of sexual violence. Once again when you look at national data, it is quickly clear that the work Hauwa’s organisation does is innovative and vital. In 2015, UNICEF reported that before the age of 18, one in four girls and one in ten boys will experience sexual violence. Positive Action for Treatment Access, a non-governmental Nigerian organisation, concluded that over 34.1% of women that they have worked with explained that their first sexual encounter had been rape or forced sex of some kind. In addition, I read a harrowing article by the Nigerian newspaper Punch about male secondary school students sexually assaulting their female peers as part of a “end of exams tradition” https://punchng.com/mass-rape-four-students-arrested-for-assaulting-lagos-schoolgirls-in-broad-daylight/
Hauwa wants to start making changes to this situation, when she recorded a video for the BBC (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/world-africa-46141716/mental-health-in-nigeria-hauwa-ojeifo-s-24-7-helpline-for-women), her passion, drive, and empathy were apparent from the start. Opening with a powerful statement, started as she meant to go on:
“We have a misinformed narrative.
What we have been told for generations, about mental illness is you’ve done something bad and it’s caught up with you.”
With an MSc in Investment Banking & Islamic Finance and a top industry job, Hauwa is not the kind of person people tend to picture when they think of someone with a mental health problem. However, she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and post traumatic stress disorder, commonly known as PTSD, in December 2015. Channelling her experiences, she started the charity in July 2016; through her journey she concluded, “we all need somebody to talk to and sometimes that person isn’t in our immediate environment.” Since its grass-root beginnings, She Writes Woman has supported 500+ people, as well as 450 women accessing the support group, Safe Place. The organisation has also prevented over 45 suicides and now helps people across five states in Nigeria. Hauwa’s fantastic work is gaining global recognition, to just list three of her accolades: she is the first person to receive the MTV Europe Music Generation Change Award, she is also the only Nigerian woman to achieve the Queen’s Young Leaders Award, and she is an Ambassador for One Young World. People like Hauwa are changing the world for the better.
With this constant discourse and discussion about all of the hate, pain, and suffering in the world, it is amazing to see someone taking even just one of the world’s many problems by the horns and doing some fantastic work. I highly recommend reading Elizabeth Ofosuah Johnson’s article (https://face2faceafrica.com/article/hauwa-ojeifo-the-26-year-old-nigerian-championing-womens-mental-health-in-africa-and-getting-global-recognition) about this profound woman.
Also here are all the needed links to learn more about She Writes Woman:
Twitter – @SheWritesWoman
Facebook – @SheWritesWoman