R. Evon Idahosa is the founder and Executive Director of Pathfinder Justice Iinitative . She is also a trained English Barrister and an American lawyer who worked as a partner in a national defense law firm in New York for over a decade before venturing full time into activism on behalf of women and girls. As a native of Nigeria, She is particularly passionate about addressing the shrouded issues of child sex abuse, sex trafficking (modern day slavery) and gender based violence in the developing world because of her compelling commitment to the liberation of women in developing countries.
Q1. Can we meet you as a person?
Ans: My Name is Evon Idahosa, I was born in England. My family is from Edo State Nigeria. I am a lawyer by profession but I am also the founder and Executive Director of Pathfinders justice initiative. I went to school initially in Nigeria at Hillcrest in plateau state before I moved to the US for my secondary school. I did my undergraduate program at Georgia State University in Atlanta where I got a bachelor science degree in psychology with a minor in sociology. Then I went to England to do my Law degree at the University of Buckingham which was followed by a postgraduate diploma in legal skills, before I qualified as a barrister in the UK and then qualified as a lawyer in the United States.
Q2. When did you become aware of exactly what kind of career you want for yourself?
Ans: Well I grew up with parents who only gave two options, it was either you became a medical doctor or you became a lawyer. My elder brother chose to be a medical doctor. When I was four/five and because of my kind of rebellious nature I told my parents I definitely wasn’t going to do what my brother was doing and I chose the other option which I didn’t even understand at that age. So from that age I had an idea of what I will be doing. As for when I started focusing on women’s right issues I think I started developing into that in my mid- late teen years. I had an interest in women’s issues and I travelled alone with my parents to many places around the world and was able to see a lot of disparity between the way that men were treated and the way that women were treated.
Q3. Tell us about Pathfinders and its work with abused women in Africa especially Nigeria?
Ans: Pathfinders is a social justice initiative, and our focus is really on seeking justice and providing rehabilitation for survivors of sex trafficking, rape and child sex abuse. The reality is that in Nigeria, particularly in Edo state where I am from, 1 in every 3 girls have been recruited into prostitution and 25% of girls in Nigeria have been victims of child sex abuse. When you look at these statistics it kind of reflects an epidemic that is also becoming endemic in Nigeria. Our work is really focused on addressing women’s lives that are hanging on the intersection of abject poverty and abuse, because the reality of that is, a toxic combination of poverty, lack of education and lack of economic empowerment is what really leads a part of women in Nigeria to prostitution. You have a large percentage of women; somewhere between 60 to 80 percent of our women in Nigeria are the ones who are being trafficked overseas into Europe because of that toxic combination. What we are trying to do is provide a bit of empowerment and rehabilitation to people who have been victimized not just by men but also by society and the government that do not prioritize the needs of women and girls. We provide free services including legal, medical, counseling to survivors of rape and child sex abuse and sex trafficking. We also provide vocation skills training, how to startup businesses as well as education scholarships to the survivors. We also raise awareness of child sex abuse, rape and sex trafficking.
Q4. What has been the most challenging part of your job?
Ans: There are definitely multiple challenges. Most of my work is in Nigeria and so the major challenge that I face in Nigeria is a sense of apathy because I think that Nigerians in general tend to be very internally focused in a sense that there has to be a connection or something affecting you personally before a lot of people get involved, that doesn’t go for everybody of course but I feel that people are very disconnected from each other. That happens to be my major challenge, getting people to step into the shoes of somebody else without having to personalize the experience. Another major challenge too is the finances; Nigerians tend to be more willing to give for certain reasons than to give to NGO’s and to support work that is affecting a major population. You really can’t do this work without money, and as much as people would like to say they care about these issues it doesn’t necessarily pan out when it comes to the issues of financial support.
Q5. Why did you leave a promising career in law for women’s activism?
Ans: My World view is a little more complex than the average person because I’ve been fortunate to have had a lot of exposure primarily with travelling also being raised in the family that I was raised in and so I felt that this was something that God had called me to do and so when we talk about life’s purpose and life’s work, for me this was a calling. So, as I progressed as a partner in my law firm I realized that I was starting to get a sense of urgency of doing this work, particularly in light of the way that the world was treating women and the kinds of atrocities that were happening to women’s bodies. And so I made a determination that I was going start my own organization at the end of 2013 and take whatever risks I had to take to ensure that I accomplish what God put me on this earth to accomplish.
Q6. How and why did you decide to focus on issues relating to the abuse of women?
Ans: It’s a combination of several things. One of them is that I was actually assaulted when I was about 17 years old, I was beaten up by a young man until I was unconscious, I think that experience for me was just something that forced me to realize that the way that men see women and the way that men value women was problematic in a lot of ways. I think that experience coupled with the fact that I grew up with a mother who always prioritized women’s issues and started her own, what she called a restoration center, for women who were abused. That combination made me realize that women are not vulnerable they are intentionally rendered vulnerable by society. So when you put women in a position that they don’t necessarily have the choices that men in society would have, it intentionally renders them vulnerable. My perspective as I continue to grow older and because of the blessing of exposure to different society and to see how women were treated on multitude of forms really helped me to craft my perspective. In addition to all of that I was very intentional in asking God directly which areas he wanted me to focus on. That was the area I think God intended for me to be working in because he made that very clear. It was something that I felt called to; I felt it was my mission to do.
Q7. Have there been success stories associated to your work? When do you feel most fulfilled?
Ans: when you look at the issues of sex trafficking, rape and child sex abuse, those three areas are areas I certainly wouldn’t have chosen for myself, if this wasn’t something I felt called to do, I certainly would have done work in other areas that were a lot less emotionally exhausting. The size and the scale of the issues are so gigantic that it’s hard to sometimes look at the big picture and feel as if you’re making a big dent on a regular basis. So what I do is to focus on the individual stories and individual testimonies that reflect that we are making a difference. These individual stories combined ultimately are what is going to start to make a dent in Nigerian culture and in the Nigerian society. We have had specific stories that I didn’t look back at and which encouraged me and which continued to keep me focused because otherwise in addition to the fact that I am an optimist, I think it is imperative that you do have a success story, typically when you’re doing this kind of work. So they are not success stories in the sense that they’re going to make front page on a newspaper but they are individual stories of people who are survivors of child sex abuse, had access to counseling and now believe their lives can be different, who now feel the power to be able to speak out and to start pathfinders school club and to get other people to talk about abuse and why it is wrong and how to stand up for themselves. Those are the kinds of stories that to me make the work that we are doing fulfilling and a success.
Q8. If you could address a meeting of all African heads of state, what will be your one big request to them?
Ans: I will ask them to live their values because I think we have a society that claims to prioritize women and prioritize girls and a sense that the last thing that we want is for a girl to be victimized and it is nice to say. But when it comes to implementation that’s where we find that a lot of societies fail. The reality is that a lot of societies don’t want changes to be made because it then affects the power and the control that men have. When you empower a woman you know that the community changes and the women tend to invest more in their community, invest more of their own money than men in general, women then tend to educate their own children and educate their girls. So when you start to empower women, it serves as one of the most passive accelerator out of poverty, that then means there is going to be some sort of shake off of who is in control and whom has the power. You have a lot of men that don’t want that dynamic to be changed, they want things to stay the way they are and that’s why we find a lot of resistance. There shouldn’t be that resistance. If you really claim that women are girls should be empowered, they should not be victimized and should not have to live the lives they are living, then that’s going to require that you put your money where your mouth is and create opportunities for women to be empowered and to be seen economically empowered so that their lives can begin to change, and so that the way women are seen in the society changes as well and what they say is prioritized. We are asking for a balance. Not just Equality but Equity.
Q9. What advice do you have for young people who want to make a difference and don’t know how?
Ans: The first thing is you have to clarify your purpose. One thing that annoys me about the Nigerian society is that you have a lot of parents, even mine, who in an effort to put you in the best position narrow your options. So they either tell you to do law, do medicine or engineering. A lot of people’s talent and a lot of people’s purpose do not fit within those three categories. What you first have to be able to do is clarify what your purpose is on earth, what has God called you to do, what is your footprint on the earth supposed to look like, because once you are able to do that then God starts to align the universe to manifest on your behalf here on earth. But you have to be doing what you’re meant to be doing; you can’t be doing somebody else’s purpose and expect to be having the same kind of impact. The second step is to empower yourself, even if you find your purpose you still need to put yourself in the place to accomplish it. And so if it is whether you need to be educated whether you need a mentor or the support of somebody financially, whatever that it is, you have to be able to put yourself in that position. The opportunity may come once you’re able to find your purpose, but you may not be able to step into it because you were unable to prepare yourself for that. One thing I always say to women I help, is to look at your naturally given talent, your naturally given ability, the things you do effortlessly be it fashion or fixing things or even inventing them. Those are the things you should really be focusing on and to look on your life and watch the way your life is speaking to you because your life is constantly telling you what it is it wants you to do. If we pay more attention to the way your life is speaking to you it starts to present a very clear picture of what you’re supposed to be doing. Learn to take calculated risks. You need to clarify your purpose, listen to the way your life is speaking to you, and empower yourself to be able to take advantage of the opportunity when it is presented to you.
Q10. As a person passionate about women empowerment, how do you suggest young girls can empower themselves, especially those in a male driven environment
Ans: I believe you should live your biggest life. You don’t need to shrink yourself just to make somebody else feel less intimated by your presence. Those are words I encourage people to live by, especially women and even myself, those are words that I live by.
Q11. A lot of people are afraid to take a leap and go after their dreams, there’s always the worry, and would it work out? Would i be able to meet the bills? How have you survived and thrived and what lessons or words of encouragement can you share?
Ans: My transition from my law firm, when I was a partner, was definitely making good money and I never had to worry about my financial situation. The position brought me a lot of esteem, especially for a black woman that was practicing in the United States. I think when people look at the definition of success for a black woman I certainly would have fit that bill. But the reality is if you’re not doing the thing that you are meant to be doing there’s no fulfillment that comes with that and no amount of money you make would be able to meet that. It is important that you focus on the particular position that you’re supposed to be working in. It is scary particularly for me that is working full time as the head of my NGO, I’m an activist, and I do a lot of organizing for women’s issues, including the Chibok girls. I haven’t made a decent salary since I left my law firm, but when you compare it to the level of impact and the level of fulfillment I have been having in the two and a half years since I started pathfinders, it certainly pales when compared to whatever comforts I left behind. So for people who are seeking that kind of fulfillment in their lives, it is important you do what you’re doing even if you weren’t paid for it, that you loved what you were doing regardless if you are paid or not. My advice to people is that there is a risk that you have to take to be able to be in the position of accomplishing your mission in life. When you’re confident in the thing you’re doing then there is a faith that things are going to work out, that you are going to be able meet the bills, and be in a place that you are financially able to take care of yourself. The key to success is not just happiness in what you are doing for yourself but a service. The people who are the most fulfilled in life are those who serve other people with their talent, their resources and their time.
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