Welcome to Part 1 of our January 2024 Inspirational Interview with Tobore Mit Ovuorie of Nigeria.
Tobore Ovuorie is a dogged, multiple award-winning investigative journalist, freedom of speech laureate and documentary filmmaker with a niche for development and multimedia stories. She mainly investigates human rights abuses, corruption, and health and regulatory failures. Her works, which are always hard-hitting and spark societal discussions with lives being impacted positively, demonstrate how media can be used as a vehicle for advocacy and have been instrumental in breaking the silence that surrounds certain forms of violence against women.
Part two of Tobore’s interview will be published 8 January, 2024.
All photos are courtesy of Tobore Mit Ovuorie.
1. How and why did you join the movement to end violence against women (VAW)?
I didn’t stumble on the movement to end VAW; I chose it. I grew up with so much injustice around me, particularly VAW, and it irked my spirit even as a six-year-old girl. I grew up as a self-aware kid so I kicked back by asking questions that were never answered. This led me to speaking up among my peers and sharing ideas with fellow girls on how to stay protected and setting the record straight with boys on why and how they should support and protect girls around them. I kept at it as a teenager even though people, especially males, felt I was stubborn for always kicking against the mistreatment of girls and women.
When I became an adult and journalist, those who were pro-VAW had gotten used to me raising my voice for abused women and girls. They started avoiding me like the plague and calling me names such as “bitter feminist”. They still do that to this date.
2. Your feminist advocacy work includes being the founder and executive producer at Tobore Ovuorie Productions, the founder of the non-governmental organisation Media Initiative Against Human trafficking and Women Rights Abuse (MIAHWRA), and as an investigative journalist at the Global Shapers Community Lagos Hub. How has your work as a journalist informed and influenced your approach to the fight to end VAW?
My work as a journalist influences me to use the media in its various forms as an advocacy tool in the fight to end VAW. I use every one of my platforms to educate the public, challenge stereotypes and bring attention to the issue of VAW by putting the stories of women out there. I use strong human interest-angle storytelling with girls and women at the centre of it to make the problem more visible to the public and help people understand the nuance of the issue. I give voice to such women by sharing their experiences as survivors, not painting them as helpless victims, while the abusers and enablers of VAW wear the cape of oppressors–which they are–in my various anti-VAW pieces. I also participate in public discussions and debates about VAW on and off social media in order to raise awareness, generate dialogue and challenge discriminatory practises that contribute to the issue.
3.What are the particular challenges that journalists face when reporting about violence against women and girls in Nigeria?
Journalists reporting on violence against women and girls in Nigeria face cultural and social stigma because communities prefer to keep such issues hidden due to the country’s deeply ingrained patriarchal structure; at the same time survivors and their families are often reluctant to grant interviews due to stigmatisation and fear of retaliation.
Many persons in Nigeria– including some journalists–do not recognise certain behaviours as forms of VAW and girls, thus making it difficult for reporters to convey the seriousness of the issue. Journalists also face obstacles in obtaining accurate information about ongoing gender-based-violence cases, hence leading to difficulties in producing robust stories on the issue. This is because Nigeria has anti-VAW laws but very weak implementation and enforcement. Reporting violence against women and girls is very sensitive and exposes us to threats and physical harm. Abusers and their allies often seek to intimidate and even harm us for daring to investigate and expose such crimes. Additionally, many news outlets in Nigeria do not dedicate time and personnel to in-depth investigative reporting on this issue because they operate on shoestring budgets.
4.You have been an investigative journalist since 2002 and have been awarded numerous awards, including the Wole Soyinka Institute Award and the DW’s Freedom of Speech Award. How has your work influenced and impacted the way Nigeria approaches the issue of VAW over the past 20 years?
My work so far has played a crucial role in shaping public opinion, raising awareness, and influencing policy changes on the issue of VAW in Nigeria and, I dare to say, in other parts of the world. My work exposing shortcomings in existing systems has led to attention being brought to under-reported and overlooked issues related to VAW and consequently made various groups highlight the failures in the justice system, put pressure on authorities to take action against perpetrators, and call for improvements in victim support services, legal and social responses to gender-based violence.
My work over the years has brought critical issues to the forefront, sparked broader societal dialogues involving not only experts and activists but everyday citizens, shaped public opinion on gender-based violence, and promoted empathy and support for survivors of this menace. The influence of my work in the way Nigeria approaches the issue of VAW has been cumulative.
5.The mainstream media across the world has been criticised for either ignoring or poorly reporting stories about VAW whether as an issue in general or in terms of particular cases. How do you think the media can improve the way they approach and report VAW?
The media can improve the way they approach and report VAW by approaching such stories with sensitivity and empathy. To achieve this, journalists must be trained in trauma-informed reporting in order to prevent re-victimisation of survivors. The media can also enhance their approach by using language that doesn’t victim-blame and avoiding euphemisms and frame stories as societal issues. The media should use VAW stories to educate the public about the signs of abuse and how to help survivors. They should also commit to consistent reporting and follow-up because VAW coverage is never a one-time story; it is an ongoing issue.