The Queen of Representation – From Botswana to the world

“The A-Girls are exceptional, black vinyl dolls that appreciate the African girl of today, with all her versatility and diversity”.

Dolls are part of a girl’s introduction to what is considered ‘beautiful’. According to Bakani, creating the brand was essential in order to excavate and resuscitate what African beauty is. 

Until August 2016, Bakani July Johnson was a Lecturer at the University of Botswana (UB) in the Social Work Department. She holds a Masters Degree in Clinical Social Work and has worked intensively in the psychosocial field since 2004, gaining experience with Botswana Baylor Children’s Clinic as a social welfare case manager.

Prior to that, she worked with the Government of Botswana as a Social Welfare officer. After years of ideating, planning and testing, Bakani left the UB and started her doll-making business.

Bakani is a social entrepreneur and is constantly looking for ways to enhance the lives of others.

She is also a founding trustee of Musani Family Care Foundation, an organization that focusses on the restoration of Botswana’s family unit, and offers accommodation to families in transition, mostly caregivers of hospitalized patients who come from far off villages.

Musani Family Care Foundation seeks to bridge the gap by providing temporary housing and support for these families who need it most, at no cost. 

Connect with Bakani and her business on social media.


Why it is important for me to make the dolls…

I have always loved children. I am forever looking for ways to enhance their wellbeing and this led to the realization that there were no black dolls to use during clinical sessions with my little patients.

As a social worker, dolls are some of the symbolic tools used for communication during sessions. However, more often than not, the dolls that were donated looked nothing like the children I worked with.

This became a query, to manufactures and it was not a pretty feeling as it was seen from the point of exclusion. 

I realized that I could continue with the feeling of being ‘left out’ as a black African girl, or I could do something about it.  The research allowed me to see that I, and others like me, were never a concern for doll-makers; they had their own market and concerns.

Whatever I could find was by sheer luck.  I refused to use divisive story-telling or to accept that it was ‘someone else’s fault’ that as Batswana – and Africans – we don’t have black dolls.

The more I searched, the more I was challenged to create the doll I was looking for. I worked from thought to product, beginning in 2007.

The effect representation has on young Batswana /African girls…

We have for the longest time been portrayed as ugly, and not a representation of beauty.

If you research dolls throughout history, you will not like what you see. We have been ‘caricatured’ through the years and our features ridiculed. Our natural hair is still a full-on debate today.

With the dolls, I am simply excavating and resuscitating a black girl’s beauty.

The idea of the @AGirls15 dolls was to trigger an emotional response and to ensure that we put African girls faces on beauty, with a clear understanding that it is our responsibility to raise a new, confident African girl. – Bakani… Click To Tweet

The idea of the dolls was to trigger an emotional response and to ensure that we put African girls faces on beauty, with a clear understanding that it is our responsibility to raise a new, confident African girl. 

The development of The African Girls Dolls is a winning communication tool targeting children.

These are one-of-a-kind vinyl dolls that appreciate the diversity of African girls and were created with the realization of a lack of representation both commercially and in messaging for African children.

Most props and toys used are of girls and boys are not of African descent. Through the African girls’ collection, I am constantly helping organizations to create a unique language of truths, trust, and symbols as part of visual storytelling and visual messaging.

I understand that symbolically, images help us to understand abstract concepts that cannot always be translated into words and dolls have throughout history been symbols to communicate, appreciate and represent.

Dolls are part of a girl’s introduction to what is considered ‘beautiful’, and speaking to that aspect we want to be able to say ‘she is so pretty, just like a doll’ – and actually talk about a doll that looks like her. 

Children are visual beings. They connect to things visually and will remember things seen more than things said. They connect with objects or pictures from memory.

Africa and Botswana are about symbolism, or what things represent and communicate.

By giving girls @AGirls15 dolls that look like them, we are communicating a million things without words. Silent messaging works well with children – Bakani July Johnson Click To Tweet

If you listen in on doll play, your child communicates with what she sees. If her dolly is wearing beads she will have a conversation about that. The idea was to have dolls that are relevant to the children, thus when one looks at the dolls, they will realize that some have tutu skirts and modern symbols which represents a ‘modern girl’ whereas others are dressed in traditional Tswana regalia.

Great dolls bring the thought of history, self, and admiration. Children from different ethnicities benefit from playing with dolls that are a different skin tone, make and versatility.

Though dolls are not photocopies of the individual, we believe that to a small child the most important thing is that her little dolly is beautiful just like her, validating who she is and how she relates to herself.

The role I see my dolls playing in a Motswana girl’s life

This product, created by an African woman for African children is girl-centered for now and is self-esteem/self-efficacy based.

More than play, the dolls are seen as communication tools that instill gender and ethnic pride as a foundation for social skills. What you see and is preached becomes a norm. If everyone talks about ‘light-skinned’ being better, children will want that.

I want parents to hand the dolls to the children without influencing the children’s taste about them. 

I have involved a few people in the crafting of the dolls from those that design the clothes to those that do the hair and packaging.

I am very committed from an economic point of view to create an ecosystem that will hire many people because the project has a lot of potential for growth.

I want a situation where the dolls will have ambassadors so that the young ones can appreciate the mortal presentations of the dolls, just the way they experience the princesses that they see at places like Disneyland.

I will build the momentum and I am open to ideas to help develop the brand even further. I am sending out a call to all African and Botswana girls to join the brand as re-sellers and distributors for their countries.

How I manufacture my dolls…

I have involved a few people in the crafting of the dolls, from those who design the clothes to those who do the hair and packaging.

Unfortunately, in Africa we don’t have companies that work with vinyl for doll making, so we have been forced to outsource.

However, we do have tailors and designers, crochet ladies and shoemakers working on other aspects of the dolls locally.

How the dolls have been recieved by people so far

The success of the dolls has transcended borders and continents, and they have reached international markets.

Botswana has been amazing! The relevance is clearly understood, the need is very apparent and we can only express gratitude for all the support.

Media has been keen at each stage of their development, and young, hopeful Batswana are eagerly working to join the brand and with open arms, we are welcoming ideas and collaborations.

The dolls are currently available across Botswana, as well as re-sellers in Johannesburg, the Netherlands and the United States of America.

We have worked with brands like the Netball World Youth Cup, International Women in Sport, Botswana Tourism Organization and we are currently working on a project with Botswana Netball.

The growth of the business will definitely be stimulated by partnerships.  Partnering at different levels with others is beneficial.

I am working with so many individuals who want to run with certain aspects of the product and I have never been as relieved as the agreements come to fruition. I know now I cannot do it alone! 


Botswana is one of Africa’s success stories, from one of Africa’s poorest countries to a vibrant, developed, middle-income African state.

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The HealthCare Giant of Botswana

“Bridging the gap between Policy and Implementation in Gender, Reproductive Health, and HIV/AIDS”

Professor Sheila Tlou – whose surname translates literally to ‘elephant’ is a veritable giant in the gender, health care and sexual and reproductive healthcare space in Botswana, Africa, and the world.

To Professor Sheila Tlou, the themes are inseparable, and much of her work includes activism at the intersection of these spaces.

Professor Sheila Tlou is the co-chair of the Global HIV Prevention Coalition and the co-chair of the Nursing Now Global Campaign. From 2010 to 2017 she was Director of the UNAIDS regional support team for Eastern and Southern Africa.

She is a former Member of Parliament and Minister of Health of the Republic of Botswana (2004-2008). 

Also, Professor Sheila Tlou was the former Professor of Nursing at the University of Botswana and Director of the WHO collaborating center for Nursing and Midwifery Development in Primary Health Care for Anglophone Africa. 

Professor Sheila Tlou has conducted research and taught courses like nursing, pre-medical and social science students on Gender issues relating to HIV/AIDS, Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, and Ageing and Older Persons.

She has played a key role in the development of national nursing and medical education curricula, working to broaden the scope of Health Sciences education in Botswana.


Her work on HIV/AIDS

The first case of HIV in Botswana was reported in 1985.

As was the case with the pandemic in the early years, the virus spread quickly, and with Botswana’s small population, the implications for social and economic stability were devastating.

However, Botswana responded to the pandemic and implemented a number of health care reforms and programs including the PMTCT (Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission) in 1999 and universal access to ARVs (antiretrovirals) to those who were at an advanced stage of the disease.

The management of the virus in Botswana is due in large part to the role that Professor Tlou played in those years, and she continues to lend her voice, wisdom, and expertise to the healthcare space worldwide, today.

For example, the transmission of HIV from mother to child decreased from about 30 percent in 2003 to about 8 percent in 2008. Maternal mortality due to AIDS also decreased from 34 percent to 9 percent under her leadership.

Her work is ‘numbers’ and report-based, however, one cannot forget that the work that Prof. Tlou continues to do has a major impact on the lives of women, and by extension, their families and communities.

“I am hoping that what I say will inspire young people to be able to ask themselves how they will be able to participate in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals because as far as I’m concerned, all 17 of them are… Click To Tweet

Professor Tlou worked tirelessly at the intersection of gender and health, to generate research and forge important partnerships between academia, government, and civil society.

She advocated for real change at the grassroots level in Botswana.

As Minister of Health, she led a forward-thinking and focused HIV care, prevention, treatment, support, and care programme that is used as a model all over the world today; a testament to her knowledge, resolve and leadership.

One of the hallmarks of great leadership is the ability to translate ideas into plans that are actionable – Professor Sheila Tlou Click To Tweet

Professor Tlou is aware of the role that young people have to play in continuing the challenge of zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination, and zero AIDS-related deaths – effectively ending the disease by 2030.

Her work on gender health

Professor Tlou is the United Nations Eminent Person for Women, Girls, and HIV/AIDS in Southern Africa. She is also the International Council of Nurses Goodwill Ambassador for Girl Child Education.

In her past assignment as UNAIDS Regional Director, Professor Tlou provided leadership and Political Advocacy for quality sustainable AIDS response in 21 African countries, from Eritrea to South Africa, including the Indian Ocean Islands of Madagascar, Mauritius, Seychelles, and Comoros.

She has been instrumental in the formation of advocacy bodies such as The Pan-African Positive Women’s Coalition (PAPWC) and the High-Level Task Force on Women, Girls, Gender Equality and HIV in Africa.

Professor Tlou initiated and chaired a High-Level task force on Comprehensive Sexuality Education and Services for Young People in Eastern and Southern Africa.

Because of the uniqueness and peculiarity of the cultural context of African societies, HIV/AIDS thrived in a thick cloak of ignorance, denial, and secrecy that Prof. Tlou has recognized as a deterrent to the success of any programs that may be implemented.

Again, her sensitivity to the fact that women empowerment is a key issue that lies at the heart of HIV/AIDS prevention means that her work is alive to the issues that are particular to African women.

“Gender inequality, gender-based violence, including sexual violence and sexual exploitation, are at the core of young women’s vulnerability and need to be addressed if we are to achieve that SDG of ending AIDS as a public health threat by 2030″.

This very goal gives us a platform to deliver services based on rights, inclusiveness, universality and ensuring that no one is left behind.

Her Recognitions/Awards

Professor Tlou has received many national and international awards. Among them are… “the Botswana Presidential Order of Honor, the Florence Nightingale Award from the International Red Cross Society, the Trailblazer Woman Leading Change Award from the World YWCA, the Leadership in Health award from the Global Business Council (Health)”.

She also got “the President award from the US National Academy of Nursing, the President award from the US National League for Nursing, the Princess Srinagarindra award from Thailand, the Christianne Reimann award from the International Council of Nurses, and The Princess Muna Al Hussein award from the American Nurses Credentialing Centre”.

“Leaders who are able to communicate the importance of their activism are often able to inspire groups to pull together towards a common goal”.


Botswana is one of Africa’s success stories, from one of Africa’s poorest countries to a vibrant, developed, middle-income African state.

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Meet The Motherland Moguls Shattering Glass Ceilings at Filmhouse cinemas

“A woman is the full circle. Within her is the power to create, nurture and transform”.
Although each woman has the power inside her to be able to achieve all these things, they can also be dependent on her environment. Filmhouse cinemas creates the environment to allow women to easily create, be able to nurture and to transform into the best we can be, and not see our gender as an impediment…but rather as an advantage. At Filmhouse cinemas, women are equally positioned for opportunities, growth, all-round progress and each of them plays crucial parts in driving the success of the business. Therefore, celebrating women goes beyond just a day earmarked to celebrate women. However, International Women’s Day is the day to crown all our women who are visionaries, dogged, ambitious and would not settle for less. With phenomenal women maintaining the helms of leadership at various levels of the business, to working countless times with female movie executives, it is impossible to overlook how impactful the women are in spearheading groundbreaking movie marketing campaigns, to co-producing box office hits, human resource management and guest services to match international standards, the Filmhouse woman is able to manage personal life and work is able to “Balance for Better”. In celebration of International Women’s day, the ladies of Filmhouse share their experiences and advice for women looking to dive into the movie marketing industry.

 Lolu Desalu – Head of Marketing

“I serve a team of 17 people within 6 spheres of the marketing department of Filmhouse Cinemas. The design, sales, digital marketing, brand marketing, media marketing, and events management teams.

The most interesting part of my work is…

Working closely in partnership with some of the biggest and best companies in the world and brainstorming with my amazing team members. If you’ve seen marketing teams in films/sitcoms during their brainstorm sessions, that is just a tip of an iceberg in comparison to ours. It’s seriously one of the best parts of my week.

Ladun Awobokun – Co-Head, Theatrical Distribution

“We’re shifting a mindset, and that, no matter how you think about it, is revolutionary. However, that is our superpower – the fact that we as women, can actually work ten times harder, twenty times smarter, and multi-task through it all, in sky-high heels. It doesn’t matter what industry you want to work in or how many caps you want to wear. You can do it all”.

How I promote the brand with my role…

One of the key focus areas in my role is empowerment and mentorship. The Filmhouse Group is known for its people. Without people, there is no brand. In addition, critical to my role is managing and growing our existing relationship with industry stakeholders; in particular, our licensors Warner Bros & Fox. The opportunity of partnering with these parties on such a broad scale provides much value exposure to the brand, and in turn, strengthens our offering and ensures a service that is based on trust, reliability, and excellence.

Mimi Bartels – Head of Accounts, Nollywood & Independent Films

“My job is really not about the glam. Do I meet amazing celebrities? Yes. Do I go to premieres? Double Yes! But the amount of work that goes behind the business of film is NOT glamorous at all”.

One interesting fact about me, and my job role…

Most people see me and don’t know I handle a One Billion Naira generating account or handled 70-90% of Nollywood’s most successful films of 2016-2018 and such films like – Wedding Party 1/2, Chief Daddy, Merry Men, King of Boys.  All these films were under my account and my job was to make sure we hit those targets”. This job has taught me to be humble, to be diplomatic, to be fierce, to be honest, and most importantly to be me. I have the best and most supportive line managers and the best team.

Ozioma Sammie-Okposo – HR Manager

“We cannot talk about strategy at Filmhouse without delving into our values which are – Trust, Passion, Ownership, and Innovation. These are the guiding principle that has helped my department in shaping the Filmhouse limited and pushing the brand”.

How my work impacts society at large…

My work does have a rippling effect because we help create jobs and reduce unemployment in the society as we have sites in Lagos, Akure, Dugbe, Samonda, Benin, Port-Harcourt and Kano. Also, our team across the site helps with guests and giving guests good services. We are also driven by the need to continue discovering new and innovative ways of creating inspiring experiences, delivering world-class service and bringing the magic of cinema to life.

Tolu Senbore  – Branch Manager at Filmhouse Cinemas, Lekki

“I don’t think the reason I need to work harder in the industry is based on my gender. It’s not even a criteria for me. I only want to work harder because there is relevance that my person and role as a business manager requires and must communicate and it is one of the ways I appraise myself”.

My one advice to females who hope to start a career in the cinema industry

Behind the lights, cameras, glitz, and glam lies HARD WORK! Be open to all the opportunities and do not be afraid to ask for help.

Tomilola Bukola Ayeni – Legal Officer

“There is pressure coming from all sides to be the best you can be, both at home and in the corporate world, this is why women should celebrate themselves and society should also celebrate them as well. “Pop that champagne girl, you deserve it”.

The most interesting part of my work…

Every day I am faced with a new set of challenges I think I cannot overcome. But when members of my team push me to act on those things, and I eventually overcome them it gives me an abundant sense of accomplishment which is so fantastic. The free tickets to shows and movies do not hurt either LOL.

Osho Vivian Olajumoke – Branch Manager

“Build up yourself in every way to prepare for achieving great things and while at this try not to think about being a woman too much but rather try to be the best person you can be and being the best at your job”.

Key strategies my role plays in pushing the Filmhouse brand…

I’m into core operations in one of our biggest sites, and basically the first line of contact with the customers.

The key strategies include upholding our company’s values, delivery high standard of customer service, creating “Filmhouse memorable experiences” In the minds of our customers thereby garnering customer loyalty and influencing repeated visits.

Itohan Izugbokwe – Sales Lead and Accounts Manager 

“Some journeys are incredible. You start out in one place, believing you have a complete sense of where you’re headed, then you end up in another place”.

How my background prepared me for my current role…

It’s been 9 years of acceleration and sharp bends. From starting out in customer service in a mid-size establishment in New York to coming back to Nigeria and starting off in Oil & Gas, to ICT, to Digital Media. And now, to Filmhouse Cinemas. While paths change, the vehicle that has stayed with me in all this time is client relationship skills. Nothing as propelled me throughout my career than the obsessive need to fulfill one purpose. Always providing value.

Odezi Onyeke – Business Manager Filmhouse, Surulere

“One of the most interesting parts of this job is meeting new people daily, it is both exciting and challenging and the movies too. I have now become the encyclopedia of movies to families and friends. Need an update about movies? I’m your girl”.

On how to become successful in this line of work…

The only way you can be successful in this line of work is through dedication and passion. I’m very passionate about what I do and this drives me to want to succeed more. Also having a very supportive and understanding partner who is tuned with your goals plays a huge role in your success.

Stephanie Dan-Okafor – Guest Services & Branch Manager 

“If I could say anything to my younger self, I would tell her to stop tracking the A’s. She should focus on finding ways to improve herself so as to gain a competitive advantage”.

On how my career at Filmhouse began…

I began my career at Filmhouse cinemas as a Guest Services Executive. Over time, I was promoted to the Guest Services Manager position for Filmhouse cinemas Lekki. Starting off at Filmhouse cinemas, I had the best support system; in all my years of experience, I’d never seen people genuinely go out of their way to make sure you succeed. Senior management regularly called to ensure I was transitioning into my new role properly, I was asked whether I was satisfied with my job so many times that I almost panicked thinking I was giving the wrong answers. I am now the Branch Manager at the newly opened Filmhouse cinemas Oniru-Twin Waters, in addition to my role as the Guest Services Manager for Filmhouse Cinemas Lekki.
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The United Nations is using it’s Women’s Global HeforShe initiative to drive gender equality

Gender equality is a fundamental human right but remains a distant dream for many women worldwide.  The United Nations’ HeforShe is a solidarity campaign for the advancement of gender equality.  Its goal is to achieve equality by encouraging both genders to partake as agents of change and take action against negative stereotypes and behaviors, faced by people with feminine personalities/genders.

Grounded in the idea that gender inequality is an issue that affects all people—socially, economically and politically. It seeks to actively involve men and boys in a movement that was originally conceived as “a struggle for women by women”.

The HeForShe movement is gathering momentum globally as a cohort of select leaders from both the public and private sectors join the drive and stand out as visionaries on gender equality.

On behalf of Standard Bank Group, Chief Executive Sim Tshabalala, has become one of the global “Thematic Champions” in the HeForShe movement. These leaders have committed to implementing game-changing policies and concrete actions towards gender parity.

“Achieving gender equity is a moral duty, a business imperative, and just plain common sense. Women embody half the world’s talent, skill and energy – and more than half of its purchasing power.

So every sensible business leader must be committed to achieving gender equity in their company and to contributing to gender equity in the societies in which we operate,” says Tshabalala.

Sim Tshabalala
@StandardBankZA will improve the representation of women in executive positions from the current 35% to 40% by 2021. #HeforShe Click To Tweet

In the World Economic Forum’s latest Global Gender Gap report, it is estimated that it will take more than 217 years to achieve workplace equality after gender parity took a step backward in the past year.

Concrete commitments made by Standard Bank Group in order to bring about tangible change include:

  • Reaching parity in executive positions and to improve the representation of women in executive positions from its current 32% to 40% by 2023.
  • Lift the representation of women on the Board from 22% to 33% by 2021.

Standard Bank is also committed to increasing the representation of women Chief Executives in its Africa Regions network from 10% to 20% by 2021, while Standard Bank South Africa will improve the representation of women in executive positions from the current 35% to 40% by 2021.

While progress has been made in certain countries in Africa to close gender gaps, others remain behind the curve. Namibia and South Africa both score in the Top 20 in the WEF global report on gender equality – after closing 78% to 76% of their gender gaps – but Sub-Saharan Africa still displays a wider range of gender gap outcomes than practically any other region.

Launched by Emma Watson and the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in 2014, HeForShe represented the first global effort to actively include men and boys as change agents for gender equality at a time when most gender programs were only targeting women.

The U.N. recently reported that nearly 20 percent of women surveyed said they had experienced physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner in the previous year. #HeforShe Click To Tweet

It was the beginning of a trend that only seems more relevant as stories emerge of sexual abuse and harassment suffered by women in the workplace.

The Sustainable Development Goals call for gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls, but campaigns such as the most recent International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women highlight that there is much work to be done.

The U.N. recently reported that nearly 20 percent of women surveyed said they had experienced physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner in the previous year.

Originally conceived as a one-year media campaign to raise awareness about the role of men and boys in gender equality, the HeForShe website garnered more than 100,000 male supporters in its first three days.

These males affirmed their commitment to the cause by declaring themselves “HeForShe” and saying that gender equality is not just a women’s issue. Early adopters included a clutch of celebrities and politicians, including former U.S. President Barack Obama, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and actor Matt Damon.

Since then, 1.6 million men have signed up online, including at least one man in every country of the world, and its “Impact Champions” include the presidents of Rwanda, Ghana, Malawi, and Indonesia, among several other heads of state. 

The issue has also been the subject of 2 billion conversations on social media.

But HeForShe is not without its critics. Many in the gender equality community say they would like to see the movement make more concrete demands of its male champions, and have called for civil society to play a greater role in developing and monitoring the movement.

“Now is a good moment for reflection and discussion about HeForShe, which has achieved high visibility, clear successes, and also drawbacks,” said Gary Barker, co-founder of Promundo, an NGO working to engage men and boys for gender equality, which has advised the HeForShe campaign since its launch three years ago.

“Having that amount of reach and star power on board means there’s huge potential, but we need to harness it before the movement loses momentum … [and] we need to push UN Women to go further and ask more of men,” he added.

Johannesburg : 9th October 2018.


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Minna Salami: I’m impatient with the idea that the reason we should empower women is to grow the economy

Minna Salami
Like all ideologies, feminism is an always changing one - Minna Salami Click To Tweet

Listed by ELLE Magazine as one of “12 women changing the world”, Minna Salami is a Nigerian-Finnish writer, blogger and commentator who has contributed to the popularisation of African feminism through her blog, MsAfropolitan

Her writing appears in the UK Guardian, Al Jazeera and The Independent. She is a columnist for the Huffington Post and The Guardian Nigeria, where she writes a bi-monthly column. Salami is a member of Duke University’s Global Educator Network and the Guardian Books and Africa Networks. 

Salami is a frequent speaker at international universities and featured on the BBC, SVT, Deutsche Welle, as well as TEDx Talks. She holds an MA (Distinction) in Gender Studies from the University of London, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), and a BA (Distinction) in Political Science from the University of Lund, Sweden. 

She grew up in Lagos, Nigeria, in a multi-racial and inter-faith household where four languages were spoken, and has since lived in Sweden, Spain, New York and London. 


As a blogger who has written about feminist issues for many years, can you define in three words who a feminist is? Why does the word frighten some?

I’d like to first say that like all ideologies, feminism is an always changing one. So anything I say is simply my contribution to the forever changing landscape of what it means to be a feminist.

In that vein, here’s what I think. A feminist is a person who believes that feminism is the best tool (movement, framework, ideology) for the cultural, political, sexual and psychological liberation of women, men and all genders. By the way, I believe that although men, through manipulation, violence and force, now inhabit the top position in the gender pyramid, they are also imprisoned by our current forms of social relations, even if their “prison” has golden bars.

Anyway, in defining a feminist this way, I’m simultaneously suggesting that a feminist is not merely a strong woman who happens to be a politician, a single mother of three, a sassy seductress, a successful entrepreneur etc. as many seem to think. While such women may be living their lives in a feminist way, a feminist is ultimately one who at least has an awareness of the political philosophy of feminism.

That said, if the choice was between a great number of women living feminist lives but not referring to themselves as feminists –or– between a small number of women referring to themselves as feminist and living feminist lives, the former would be my clear preference.

The reason that I nevertheless formulate it the way I do is because I think that the canon of feminist philosophy is a treasure. Just like anyone who calls themselves a Marxist, would engage with economic systems, workers, the bourgeoisie etc., feminists benefit from engaging with feminist theory.

Sorry, that was more than three words. I really can’t define a feminist in three words!

Who is the empowered woman, and what’s your opinion on the use of the word ’empowered’ as a marketing tool?

At the risk of sounding too spiritual, or something, let me first say that I believe that if there is a purpose to life, then it is self-actualisation. Some might call this “becoming the highest version of yourself”.

Now, there are two types of obstacles to self-actualisation. The first are psychological obstacles, e.g. fear, family abuse, depression etc. The second are socially constructed obstacles. These can, depending on your gender, ethnicity, sexuality, class or race, follow similar patterns. To use an academic term – these obstacles form ‘institutionalised oppression’ – meaning that they are obstacles that are systematic and reinforced by established laws, customs, and practices.

I believe that if there is a purpose to life, then it is self-actualisation - @MsAfropolitan Click To Tweet

Bearing those two types of obstacles in mind, I would say that an empowered woman is one who is able to identify and subsequently transcend the obstacles that stand in the way of her self-actualisation. It’s not the same process for everyone, and it’s not an easy process for anyone, but society sets it up especially difficult for certain groups.

As for the business of empowerment, yes everyone from Coca-Cola to Ariel to H&M is now in the business of empowering women. The problem is that their formula is to cater to the first types of psychological obstacles I mentioned above while ignoring the institutionalised oppressions caused by traditions, social attitudes, sexual norms, the institution of family, international politics, the legal system, higher education, religions, professional spaces etc. This makes most so-called feminist marketing campaigns not only hypocritical but counterproductive.

That said, there are also brand campaigns that get it right and address both types of oppression in creative and innovative ways. Goldieblox had a pretty cool campaign some years ago. I’m not saying that using empowerment as a marketing tool is in itself an issue. What matters is that consumers discern genuine from faux empowerment.

What are the two biggest challenges facing professional women in Nigeria, and how can they be solved?

I would say, firstly, the absence of adequate constitutional rights. And secondly, the absence of a robust civil society fighting for adequate constitutional rights. The absence of both disturbs the smooth flow of a woman’s professional life. This is because there are no clear parameters for dealing with challenges that women are bound to encounter in professional life such as sexual harassment, maternity leave, domestic life-work balance, insurance policies, minimum wages, equal pay, and so on.

Feminist civil society groups are needed for various reasons. They educate women about their rights (or lack of rights) in the workplace through workshops, conferences etc. They formulate gender-sensitive policies and push for constitutional reform. Civil society groups teach women about feminism and how it can help them achieve real empowerment. They gather statistics and equip women with practical tools such as how to obtain bank loans or how to use technology to their advantage. They encourage women to become journalists, activists and to enter politics.

Organisations such as yours, She Leads Africa, are crucial for solving challenges in business. Other examples of vital organisations are the African Women’s Development Fund (AWDF) for funding initiatives, Women’s Rights and Health for health concerns and KIND for girls and leadership. At the end of the day, it is up to women to use and change the law to effect change.

The law is our best weapon against patriarchy.

A lot of women have been conditioned to see other women as the enemy. They refuse to collaborate with, amplify or help female colleagues, even though doing so benefits them. Why do you think that is? And what’s your advice for women working in male-dominated fields?

I guess there is a logic to the fact that when a group of people are marginalised they are bound to become competitive over the scraps left for them. But I would like to also consider the personal internal environment in which unhealthy competitiveness resides. It seems to me that our culture conditions women to feel a sense of lack within themselves.

In our society, there is always something a woman lacks —a husband, a boy child, a slim body, youth, wisdom, confidence, humbleness etc. Her internal world therefore becomes a milieu of confusion, one day she’s being asked to be this, the next day the opposite… So because she is constantly feeling that something is missing, she becomes bothered when she perceives another woman is in possession of it.

To end this, we need to cultivate a culture where women feel the opposite of lack, namely a sense of wholeness. Women working in male dominant fields, as most women are, need to cultivate a sense of inner acceptance that they are enough just as they are, which will enable them to want the same for others.

Minna Salami: We need to cultivate a culture where women feel the opposite of lack Click To Tweet

How to do that? I could write a book about it, but let me just say for now that it has to with placing female-centric values at the centre of our world view. Women will often evaluate themselves from a male-centric viewpoint which is never going to make them feel whole and complete.

There’s been a lot of discourse about empowering women for the sake of economic growth. Do you think it’s dangerous for policy makers to focus on achieving gender equality for economic reasons rather than because it’s a human right?

Yes, I’m impatient with the idea that the reason we should empower women is to grow the economy. Not because economic growth isn’t important, although I do think we focus on it excessively as the planet cannot handle continuous growth. Nor is it because economic growth does not benefit women, it certainly has the potential to.

However, equality should evidently be driven by other reasons than capitalism. It should be driven by visions of a holistic and prosperous society in which people of all genders gain satisfaction/value from their work. The more there is work satisfaction, the more the economy will become self-sufficient as people will spend money on local products, services, leisure activities etc.

Furthermore, the statistics raise a few questions. After all, more women are contributing to our economy and yet Nigeria is in a recession.

The question women should be asking is: How is the money they are contributing to the economy benefiting women? The system should work for us and not vice versa. Put it this way, gender equality is indeed necessary for economic growth, but economic growth is not the only reason we want gender equality.

You’ve given speeches around the world on feminism, what misconceptions do people have about African women with relation to gender equality and feminism?

The main misconception that people have is that African feminism is a “different” feminism in the sense that it is more lenient, that it lets men get away with still being the head of the family while the woman is the neck. That kind of thinking.

There is some truth to this presumption – that the type of feminist activism that revolutionises society at its core, as happened in much of the west in the 70s and that’s happening in Eastern Europe and some parts if Latin America now, is yet to change the status quo in the African continent.

However, it is in Africa that I have encountered women with the most dedication to the feminist revolution; women who do not pander to patriarchal narratives, and women who inject a deep humanism and criticism to the global feminist discussion.

What’s does the future hold for your award-winning blog, MsAfropolitan?

Hopefully more of the same. As well as new types of discussion and awareness-raising. At the moment, I’m developing an essay/concept titled “Oyalogy”, which is based on the Yoruba goddess [of winds, lightening, rebirth and death] Oya; and is a mythopoetic approach to African feminism.

I’m planning to turn it into a performance piece. The project is still in the early stages but my aim is to share it with women in different parts of the continent in order to encourage a dialogue around the issues raised in it.


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