Its ten years since Ehinor Otaigbe-Amedu and other women set up Wonderfully Made Woman in her living room. Since then the group has worked hard to promote healthy marriages and confidence building, and to raise awareness of the effect that domestic abuse and violence has on women and their children in the community. Ehinor tells Hand & Heart how her inspiration to help other women started back in Nigeria:
When I was growing up, domestic abuse was experienced by many women, and in most cases their children would witness the abuse, unable to intervene. Domestic abuse was the norm really.
Seeing all that made me want to be a voice for women who were being oppressed, women who had no choice but to endure abuse. That’s why I studied law. I wanted to educate men on how abuse affects their children so they could stop. A lot of thought went through my mind from a young girl, to being a teenage girl and becoming an adult.
I didn’t spend much time in Nigeria after my call to the Bar, before I relocated to the UK under the highly skilled migrant programme. I came in November 2005 with my ex-husband and my son. We made the decision to leave after an armed robbery attack. So I didn’t really practice Law the way I wanted to in Nigeria.
I was going through emotional abuse and, even though it wasn’t physical, I lost confidence in myself and started isolating myself, lying and making family and friends believe I was okay. Back then we didn’t realise that abuse didn’t have to be physical to have a devastating impact. I was afraid of breaking free, I didn’t want to face the shame and stigma in my community, so I stayed but luckily for me he later left.
‘What have you done to provoke him?’ is usually the response of church leaders when women ask for help. It makes so many keep silent, but made me more determined to become a voice for those women who are unable to speak out.
By 2008 my marriage was broken and… oh my God! The attacks I got from some friends and family was like hell on earth. ‘Why did you call the police? You should have waited until he beat you!’ The stigma and the shame were unbearable. It was a lonely world for me in Manchester.
For years, in my culture, we never talked about mental health, about depression, in the way we do now. Even if you admitted you were feeling sad, someone would say, ‘Don’t you have faith in God?’ But I was depressed, very depressed.
I tried to read books, I am a Christian so I held onto God and gradually started to face reality and not live in denial. I said, ‘Ehinor you are now a single mother, what next?’ I decided then to live for myself and for my children, I was no longer ashamed to tell anyone I was a single mum, I became bold because it takes courage and boldness to be able to take care of children alone.
It took a long time to regain my confidence. It was a real struggle. I’d tell my story to anyone who would listen… out of pain. I had some counselling which was helpful, but I wanted more.
In 2011 I was living in Clayton and many women who knew me started noticing I was getting better, happier and more confident. They wanted to know my secret. I told them I’d faced reality and had sought professional help from Women’s Aid and my GP.
Friends started to open up and tell me their experiences. Some were going through so much worse. Some seemed ready to die in their marriages because they wanted their children to have a father figure. And every Sunday they’d put on their make up, say nice things about their husbands and pretend everything was okay.
Some started opening up and I realised many of those I’d admired were going through similar situations. They’d also come to the UK on spouse visas under the highly skilled migrant programme and were afraid, if they spoke out, of being sent back home. With no recourse to public funds, and no outside help, they endured their abuse.
This is when I saw the need in my community and decided to set up a support group for women. I didn’t get the help I needed so I cleared my sitting room and changed it to an office and would take unpaid leave so women could come every Wednesday for a coffee morning.
We then set up the charity, Wonderfully Made Woman inspired by the bible quote, ‘I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made’. At first we had no computer but would forever be in the library, using theirs.
Some in the community thought I should be hiding my head in shame as my marriage had broken, not starting a charity to support other woman. Back then some pastors/church leaders thought we wanted to break up marriages and would discourage their congregations from attending our meetings. It was like war. But women saw what we were doing and were inspired by it.
That was ten years ago. Since then we’ve given women a voice, given them hope. We have lots of great success stories. A lot of our work is about raising awareness, explaining to women that what they are going through is wrong. Our work is about building healthy relationships not breaking up marriages.
Wonderfully Made Woman has won so many awards including the The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service in 2020. Earlier this year I received The Prime Minister’s Award in celebration of International Women’s Day.
In the next ten years I’d like to see us set up in other areas of Greater Manchester; cities and other countries. We’re already registered in Nigeria. I’d like to see a refuge for African women and a community centre, a safe space for women and girls to express themselves and rebuild their lives.
Despite the pandemic and funding challenges, 2021 has been a wonderful year as we’ve watched many of the women and girls we support, especially the single mothers, grow in confidence.
Looking back now, I’m grateful I went through everything, it has made me who I am today. I have two wonderfully made children: my son is now in university, whilst my daughter is in Year 10, both are doing well. I’m now married to a wonderfully made man who also runs his own organisation, Edo Diaspora UK CIC. We are both serving the community with so much passion and joy.
To everyone going through any significant adversity, please do not give up. There’s light at the end of the tunnel.
To support Wonderfully Made Women visit their website here.