5 ways to start building your political career

black-women-politics-politicians-PF

Today more women are taking charge and running the show in different capacities as businesswomen, captains of industries, CEOs, academics, and professionals. Yasss! Salute to all the Motherland Moguls making it happen.

For the longest time, politics all around the world has been referred to as the big boys’ game. Well, hold the door fellas because more girls wanna come in and play too.

Why politics?

It’s simple. There are various issues that affect us African women such as those tendered in the Nigerian Gender and Equal Opportunity Bill which failed to pass for the second reading in the Nigerian Senate.

Some of these issues include access to education, divorce rights, ownership of property. To get the laws that will favour us, we need better representation in government.

An article in the West Africa Insight declares that women are usually found at the bottom of the political chain; organizing, supporting, and acting as spectators as opposed to leading and initiating. Traditionally, the woman is relegated to the background and as such this practice has found its way into political participation.

In the ECOWAS parliament, we have only a minute number of female parliamentarians. Nigeria has one of the lowest numbers of female senators and ECOWAS parliamentarians (6.7% of parliamentarians in Nigeria are female). Despite decades of self-governance, this country has produced only two female governors in its entire history.

Does this mean that women are uninterested in politics?

Of course not. While we recognize that the participation of women in politics has been an immense struggle with several factors working against us such as financial constraints and cultural inhibitions, we must rise to the occasion. We commend the efforts of countries like Rwanda, South Africa and Namibia for taking a feminist stance in political representation. However, several African countries are still lagging behind.

We need to rewrite the story of women in Africa and it starts with every single one of us. Politics is not confined to running for office either. Some of us will rise to become the most influential persons in the government’s cabinet as ministers, commissioners, advisers and administrators.

It’s not just about women issues. If we are qualified and passionate about good governance, then we should put ourselves out there. If you have a dream to create an impact in your constituency, by all means work towards it.

Where should you begin?

For those of us who would like to make our foray into politics, these are some of the steps we need to be taking:

Lindiwe-Mazibuko

1. Start young

It’s not too early to plot your map and begin making steps towards your political future. Now is as good a time as any.

Take a leaf from Lindiwe Mazibuko, former parliamentary leader for the Democratic Alliance in South Africa who made history as one of the youngest parliamentarians.

She decided to veer into politics after being intrigued by her future party’s dynamics making it the focus of her final year dissertation in university.

2. Get involved with a cause

You need to be known for something. This is the time to begin to carve a niche for yourself. What social issues are you most passionate about?

There are several campaigns that you can get involved with depending on where your passions lie. Volunteer within the community.

Propelled by crises in her own life, Joyce Banda, Former President of Malawi inspired and impacted the lives of women and children battling systemic abuse and poverty even before assuming public office.

She also fought to enact bills protecting women and children when she gained a seat in parliament.

3. Align with a mentor

Network with the people who can kick off your career and fund your aspirations. According to Political Parity, a platform aimed at helping women achieve their political aspirations, more women remain at the bottom tier because of lack of access to funding.

Mentors who are able to relay their experience as well as provide resources and connections play an invaluable role in an aspirant’s rise to success.

Hanna Tetteh

4. Develop the right skills to stay relevant

Hanna Tetteh became an indispensable member of her political party in Ghana after a worthy performance managing its communication strategy.

She has been described as an expert negotiator and it is no surprise that this skill has helped keep her at the top of the political ladder. What skills can you start to develop that will be useful when you begin building your political career?

5. Become an expert in your chosen field

As a young woman some people may already have their doubts about you so it is extremely important that you become a master in your field. Former Nigerian Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonji-Iweala had a long career as an economist rising to one of the top positions in the World Bank before entering government.

Despite controversies, she was a prized asset in President Jonathan’s government due to her level of expertise.

Thulisile MadonselaThulisile Madonsela became Public Protector of South Africa after receiving a 100 percent vote from parliament. She holds a BA in Law and an LLB, she was also awarded three honorary doctorates in law after an impressive record in public service.

She was involved in the drafting of South Africa’s constitution amongst other notable feats. No one can deny that she knows the law and would be an effective advocate for South Africans.

Begin to build a worthy resume by deciding what area you intend to become an authority in and by working diligently at it.

There you have it ladies, 5 steps that can help you ascend the political ladder. What moves will you be making?

Isn’t it time we stopped following the rules?

Woman thinking

When I began doing business and the chase for clients began, I think I probably felt every emotion there was to feel sometimes all at once. The need to maintain customers, rules of the business world, the attempts at adjusting or learning to adjust to the demands of each customer and even getting used to the word “customer” or “client’ and the wonder and satisfaction that I too had something like that.

One day, a friend who also runs a business showed me a picture online that said “power of feminism” and another that said “I’m a strong, independent woman. I have a mind of my own”.

I nodded in approval and said I was going to use it as my Whatsapp profile picture and she agreed distractedly but when I suggested she do the same, she gave me a very alarmed look saying; “Ah! Noooo! One has to be very careful in business, don’t forget my clients are also on Whatsapp, many of them are men and I might lose them”.

I was instantly reminded of medieval women. Not just in Africa but in Greece and Rome too, I remember reading that women who worked were looked down on as the lowliest of women and were not allowed to earn more than a particular amount.

Women could own anything including land but had no authority to give them away or sell them; even their dowry was not essentially theirs, it belonged to their husbands and in the event that the husband died it belonged to the son and in the event that there was no son, it belonged to the next male in the family.

They had no inheritance, only dowry. Inheritance was for the sons and if there were no sons, fathers arranged to adopt one or arranged for a potential son-in-law to agree to adoption and drop all former familial ties.

If the father made no such arrangements before dying then the daughter became an heiress and any man was free to make a bid and marry her. If she was already married, any man strong enough could force her to divorce her husband and marry him. The basic goal was for the woman to not be in charge of any wealth.

I read that the famous Plato suggested that dowry be removed to “curb the arrogance of women” and some said that women could not act independently because of what was described as ‘lightness of the mind’.

They had to be modest and restrained and possess a certain kind of sense of honour prescribed for them by society. What struck me though was reading that women had the choice to break out of such oppression —at a cost, yes— but they had the choice.

They could have made a collective agreement with a firm mind assured in its own belief or they could have buoyed each other to action…but it never happened that way. It was always one woman springing up separately after the other. I sensed an age-old lack of assertion.

Once I visited a potential sponsor for a project in the works and we began conversing in the way of two strangers attempting to build a bridge of familiarity. There was a patronizing superiority in the air as soon he began to talk about career women and what they really should be doing —not career.

After minutes of hmms and head-shakes in an accommodating manner, I knew I didn’t agree. I didn’t agree at all…and I wanted to say exactly that. Then I remembered my friend from the other day and knew I could possibly be treading a risky path but after another couple of minutes, I took a good look at my company…

This person who saw the importance of the matter at hand but didn’t quite take me seriously so found a way to veer off it into domestic topic, who did not know me but brazenly advised that instead of web design, I should have gone into food business because it was more suited for women, who even more brazenly asked how much I was being paid, who casually asked if I ever consulted a career counsellor.

So I spilled.

Smiling. I disagreed nicely. It suffices to say I didn’t get that sponsor. I wondered what would have happened if I had frowned…

The need for the choice of bold assertion especially for women goes beyond the office, it encompasses every sphere of life because so far it’s been particularly tough for the female folk.

What wins in the battle between our cautious conservative side and our radical side? When do we truly understand that although we might not be able to fly always, we’re certainly not as restricted as we fear or as we are told?

With the times changing, it still seems as though many women persistently —some knowingly— kowtow to the past and the stubborn insistence of many to hold on to its traditions. We have reached several turning points but how many of us have really chosen to turn?

What do I think? It’s simple. Put your resources together and construct a new platform that makes you proud. Follow an inspired feeling not a rule book. Society has never really known what women needed, what they are truly.

The phrase “inner queen” may sound cliché but it is truth and we need to push it forward and assert our right to exist and be free in truth —not the existence and freedom grudgingly meted out by society. Stop the subdued success act! Be especially articulate about ideas, needs and desires

And if it causes some drama? Don’t be afraid. Sometimes we need a little drama to motivate us to make changes and improvements to our lives

Top 10 best black girl magic moments of getting ‘WANDA’ in formation

women entrepreneurship, leadership, international women's day

Earlier this month, I had the distinct pleasure of attending the launch of WANDA, a newly established nonprofit organization educating, empowering and advocating for women and girls of African decent to become leaders in the fields of nutrition, dietetics and agriculture.

WANDA Shea Yeleen
Tambra Raye Stevenson, WANDA founder, and Rahama Wright, founder and CEO of Shea Yeleen International

The launch, which took place on March 5th was held in honor of International Women’s Day and as such, featured a panel of innovative and groundbreaking social entrepreneurs in industries ranging from beauty and cosmetics, to television and entertainment. WANDA Founder, Tambra Raye Stevenson, groundbreaking in her own right as a National Geographic Traveler of the Year and founder of the DC-based NativSol Kitchen, describes WANDA (Women Advancing Nutrition, Dietetics, and Agriculture) as an initiative bringing together “sisters of the soil” to encourage all women, young and old, to lead in advancing the fields of nutrition and agriculture.

“Women and girls are at the heart of transforming our communities through preserving our foodways, building vibrant economies and healthy communities,” she said. WANDA will also be launched in Abuja, Nigeria in May.

As a Ghanaian-American woman just beginning her journey into the fields of agriculture and nutrition, I find WANDA’s mission intriguing. The organization promotes itself as a Pan-African initiative, which is hugely significant to me at this point in my career. Though most of my professional experience falls within the realm of international development, a heightened social awareness of racial injustice in the United States, underscored by the growth of the “Black Lives Matter” movement, has compelled me to offer whatever service I can to ensuring a healthy future for Africans AND African-Americans alike.

Having shared this passion with colleagues and advisors, I have been told that I cannot have a successful career straddling both sides of the Atlantic – I would have to choose. The launch of this organization confirmed that I am not alone in my desire to protect and promote health throughout the African Diaspora. And for me WANDA is blazing a trail where there had been none before.

If you missed the launch, check out my top 10 black girl magic moments that continue to resonate with me.

1. Getting in formation

Inspired by the song that launched many a think piece, WANDA flexed its impressive marketing and social media muscle by borrowing from Beyonce’s celebrated and controversial song, “Formation” for the title of their event. Dubbing the launch, “Black Women Getting in Formation: Power of Media and the Arts to Advance Nutrition and Agricultural Advocacy,” WANDA brought attention to the convening power of a song some have identified as a call to arms for black women.

In a recent interview with Black Enterprise, Stevenson shared that WANDA’s version of “getting in formation” means encouraging women and girls to pursue education and leadership roles in health and agriculture.

For me, gathering under the backdrop of “Formation” and a national conversation about self-love and unapologetic blackness brought a palpable sense of pride and purpose to the launch. It was an environment that allowed participants to celebrate each others accomplishments, relate to each others struggles and commit to partnerships moving forward.

A moment that stayed with me, however, was when panelist and WANDA honoree Rahama Wright, CEO of Shea Yeleen International reminded attendees that countless unnamed and unknown women have always and are still doing the work only recently championed by Beyonce. Way before the Super Bowl performance that stunned America, black women worked together to achieve success and independence. This moment from Wright reminded me that despite Beyonce’s undeniable contributions to the movement, the real heroes in the quest for justice and equality are in our midst and should not be overlooked.

2. Celebrating excellence in entrepreneurship

Speaking of celebrating the heroes in our midst, WANDA set a great example by honoring four WANDA women leading the way in promoting positive images of blackness and black women. Along with Ms. Wright, WANDA honored Julian Kiganda, CEO of Bold and Fearless, DeShuna Spencer, Founder and CEO of KweliTV, and Mukami Kinoti Kimotho, Founder and CEO of Joodj.

Julian Kiganda, CEO of Bold and Fearless, DeShuna Spencer, Founder and CEO of KweliTV, and Mukami Kinoti Kimotho, Founder and CEO of Joodj.
WANDA Honorees: Rahama Wright, Julian Kiganda, DeShuna Spencer, and Mukami Kinoti Kimotho (Left to Right)

During the panel discussion, each honoree offered a unique perspective on the realities of being a black female entrepreneur. The most memorable moment for me was the vulnerability each woman shared in explaining that their successes were not won overnight. The panelists openly discussed the tendency in the black community to erase struggles from one’s personal narrative. By openly discussing the blood, sweat and tears that goes into growing an organization from the ground up, the panelists believe that more women may be encouraged to continue chasing their dreams even when they face hardship. It was a message that resonated with the audience who clapped in support of these personal and uplifting statements.

3. The food

NativSol Kitchen provided the tasty, healthy and culturally relevant fare originating from different countries across the continent. Stevenson dazzled attendees with a Morroccan stew, West African rice dishes, savory black eyed peas, and my personal favorite from the event, bissap, or zobo as it is known in Nigeria. The drink is made from dried hibiscus leaves and is known for its tangy flavor and deep crimson color.

African heritage inspired food
NativSol Kitchen catered the event with its signature pan African menu.

NativSol spiced its version up with a touch of ginger, giving the beverage a kick that rounded out the meal. The message I took away from the impressive spread is that food from across the African continent and Diaspora is naturally delicious and healthy. Over time, departure from these foods and the uptake of the Western diet has left a staggering percentage of the Diaspora suffering from overweight, obesity, heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes. In the United States, over 75% of African Americans are overweight or obese, while in Africa nutrition related non-communicable disease will account for 40% of the disease burden on the continent by 2030.

A part of WANDA’s mission is to reverse this trajectory and restore health to the Diaspora by embracing the heritage foods that characterize so many of its classic dishes. For more information about the link between culture, food and health check out Oldways African Heritage and Health, a wellness program developing resources and initiatives to promote the healthy foods and delicious eating traditions of African Heritage for good health and community.

4. The fashion

Sometimes being one of a few, if not the only black woman in the one’s work environment requires a precarious balancing act of trying to maintain one’s identity while not becoming a target of stereotypes or scrutiny.WANDA ShoesSometimes it can become pretty stressful. For black women, hair can be one of the most treacherous waters to navigate in the workplace. What I loved about the WANDA launch was seeing successful professional black women in all of their diverse glory.

From Kiganda’s waist length locs to Kimotho’s cropped and colored do, the women at the launch exuded class and professionalism no matter the texture, length or color of their hair. Not only did attendees’ hair make a statement, but their clothes did as well. Who says being a businesswoman only means blue, grey and black suits? The WANDA event was a feast for the eyes, with attendees rocking colorful Ankara print and eye catching jewelry from a range of African countries. This reinforced to me the necessity for all women of the Diaspora to rebel against the societal norms of the work place and refuse to forget just how beautiful every kind of black woman is.

5. Establishing a multigenerational connection

The number of mothers and daughters who came to the launch together pleasantly surprised me. So much of whom I am as a woman in terms of my confidence and self-esteem comes from my mother therefore it only makes sense that mother/daughter pairs would be interested in ensuring that their descendants yet to come are guaranteed equal access to the education and job opportunities they desire.

WANDA event

Beyond those with familial ties, women of all ages were able to connect at the WANDA launch. During the panel discussion, a lawyer with plenty of years of experience asked panelists if they ever seek to engage older women. All panelists highlighted the importance of engaging all generations, particularly elders, in their work.

Mothers, grandmothers and women leaders in general play the pivotal role of passing down cultural knowledge and eating habits, and promote economic growth in their communities. This traditional role fits well into WANDA’s model of empowerment through mentorship. It touched me to know that WANDA and its honorees saw it fitting to remind us that we all can influence the next generation. and we ‘have a duty to plant trees, so they can sit in the shade.’

6. Remembering the importance of self care

After the panel discussion concluded, I asked the panelists how they maintain their enthusiasm and confidence. I also asked how they care for themselves and maintain their sanity if they ever face backlash for their work. I asked this question because, as in the case of Beyoncé, black women who stand up for themselves and for their people can sometimes open themselves up to racist and sexist criticism.

Activists and public figures such as Melissa Harris-Perry have publicly discussed the self-care routines they adopted to protect themselves from their detractors. Though all panelists gave incredible answers, such as knowing one’s limits, never neglecting one’s health and feeling comfortable admitting failure, my favorite piece of advice came from Spencer who discussed the importance of having a team of friends and trusted advisers who you can go to for laughs, tough love, a shoulder to cry on and more.

Spencer noted that surrounding one’s self with like-minded individuals keeps one focused and inspired. I remember looking around the room in the moment and thinking, “We need each other. None of us can do this alone.” This sentiment was solidified by Stevenson who admitted that unlike past initiatives she tried to grown on her own, WANDA would be a child raised by the village – a community of women who want to see the child thrive. The grassroots nature of this organization encouraged me to address my own fears of failure and get involved with WANDA by working on my writing.

7. Reflecting on the pain that unites us (and how to overcome)

The moment that drew out the most thought and reflection came from a comment shared by a woman named Rose. Originally from Uganda, Rose had this to say during the question and answer portion of the panel: “Africans will never heal until African-Americans heal”. Having never heard such a statement, I stopped, as did many other participants, to seriously reflect on what this means.

WANDA Group Photo

Though I’m sure it can be interpreted in many different ways, I took what Rose said to mean that our destiny, as people of the Diaspora is interlinked. It has been interlinked since the first of us endured the Middle Passage. It was interlinked when the Civil Rights movement exploded during a time of widespread liberation on the continent and will continue to be interlinked as Africans and African-Americans battle the very similar challenges of hunger, malnutrition, unemployment, marginalization and limited access to resources. These feelings were hard to unpack, but were appreciated by the panelists who praised Rose for remembering the importance of communal healing and love within the African Diaspora. This was a thought provoking moment that will not be soon forgotten.

8. The unveiling of little Wanda

In a moment that drew a collective “Awwwwww!!!” from attendees and panelists alike, Stevenson unveiled an exciting and creative aspect of the WANDA initiative: Little Wanda of the upcoming “Where’s WANDA?” series, is a character inspired by Stevenson’s own journey to Africa and childhood goals of healing her family.

nativsol series_okra

In developing series, Little Wanda travels across the African continent meeting WANDA Women, or Big Wandas, that research, produce and promote African heritage foods to nourish their communities. “Where’s WANDA,” geared towards girls under ten years of age, will include educational enrichment resources inviting young girls to travel and learn with Little Wanda.

I believe this character, the Diaspora’s answer to “Dora the Explorer,” will open so many opportunities for little girls of African descent to learn about culture and heritage in a way they never have before. With her adorable afro and cute ankara skirt, Little Wanda is a character young girls can relate to and that sort of representation in the media is so important. Follow @NativSol and @IamWANDAorg to catch updates on where Little Wanda goes next!

9. ToluMiDE debuts “Mama Sunshine”

tolumideTolumiDE is a talented Nigerian-Canadian singer and songwriter whose music spans the genres of R&B, Afropop and Soul. Having never met her nor listened her music, I was struck by Tolu’s earthy voice and quirky adlibs. A WANDA honoree herself, TolumiDE graced attendees with a new song called, “Mama Sunshine”.

While listening to the catchy song filled with themes of growth, resilience and renewal, I felt the song was a perfect way to begin a new chapter for many of the women standing in the room. WANDA has provided an opportunity to connect and build a community with a common purpose and that is something I am very thankful for.

TolumiDE had a song for these feelings as well, offering an encore with her song of thanks and praise, “My Love”. Be sure to check out the video on YouTube!

10. Recognizing the strength in numbers

IamWANDAShot

 The WANDA launch was an awakening for me, drawing out feelings of affirmation, inspiration, solidarity and energy that come with finally feeling understood and identifying a direction. Following the close of the event, participants lingered for hours, laughing, sharing and embracing their newfound roles as students, mentors, leaders, advocates, and WANDA Women.

We closed by taking a final picture, which solidified for me that I have become apart of something bigger than myself. The sense of community offered by WANDA and its powerful women and male advocates fills a hole that many black women in the fields of nutrition, dietetics and agriculture often feel, being one of a few, if not the only black woman in their work place.

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, people of African descent only make up roughly 2.6 percent of the registered nutritionists and dietitians. It is time to change this and WANDA is a big step forward in finding the solution. There is strength in community and strength in numbers, and I look forward to watching WANDA’s membership grow.

Join the movement and be sure to follow WANDA on Twitter and Facebook using the hashtag, #IamWANDA.

 

Young women and marriage: 3 conversations we keep having

She Hive Accra

Some days ago on a road trip to IITA Ibadan for my company’s annual retreat, there was this huge debate between what I have chosen to call the new school modern family values enthusiasts and the old school traditional family values enthusiasts, over married women and their career choices/decisions.

It was a long and interesting conversation, voices were raised, opinions flew back and forth, words were exchanged (although with no ill intents), feelings and sentiments were bruised, perspectives were vehemently challenged and even faith was questioned. At the end of the trip (and as such the conversation), there was no victor and no vanquished, proving (yet again) that:

Opinions are formed over time, experiences and the accumulation of a body of knowledge and it takes more than one heated conversation to get people to change those opinions.

Image result for rihanna opinion gifs

Back to the reason we are all gathered here today, I think that because of my age, most of the conversations I have with family, friends, acquaintances and even colleagues are pivoted around, you-guessed-right! Marriage. So, while we talk business, entrepreneurship, career and our shared ambition to take over the world, we should also take a moment to address the pink elephant in the room.

So, tag along while I attempt to dissect some of the concerns we  young women have when it comes to the institution of marriage.

The validity of aspiring to marriage

With Chimamanda Adichie’s 2013 TED talk (made even popular by Beyonce’s inclusion in the song, Flawless) finding its way into mainstream culture and conversations, we women are gradually being liberated from that flawed conviction that marriage is the gold standard and a ‘mark of success in life’.

While this can be called progress in some ways, it also has its downsides. Hold on, let me explain. The feminist-driven academic and journalistic culture celebrating today’s “liberated” women, also in some ways, seeks to suppress a natural need for family that most women have.

Image result for rihanna marriage gifs

In recent times, there has been a blizzard of anti-marriage sentiments shared vocally among the female folks especially across social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook. And this is largely because most of them do not want to be seen as aspiring to marriage but hand on heart – and this is quite controversial. I do not know of one woman who does not want to have her own husband and possibly children to come home to after a long day at work.

When discussing the issue in an open and public platform, most young women would be quick to put up an air of indifference with respect to marriage but get her alone and the story would be entirely different. There, I’ve said it! (But let’s not forget that this is an entirely unscientific view based only on my circle of friends, acquaintances and interactions with random people).

Therefore, my take on this issue is rather simple: as much as marriage is not the holy grail of womanhood, I think wanting to be married and subsequently aspiring to it, is valid! As such, you are allowed to be intentional about it, as you are with work/business. (For more on this please try reading this from Dr. Meg Jay). 

The dichotomy between marriage and work

In 2011, the COO of Facebook Sheryl Sandberg made a statement that went viral;

The most important career choice you’ll make is who you marry.”

I only came across this statement last year and it was insightful for me because it reaffirmed a conviction that I have always held and still hold; that the man I marry would take me one step closer to my biggest dreams. Before going further, I should clearly state that I have nothing against stay-at-home mums.  On the contrary, any woman who readily gives up the fancy skirt suits and board meetings for house cleaning and grocery shopping has my respect.
Image result for beyonce raising hand basketball

However, I do not think that marriage and even motherhood has to be a stumbling block on a woman’s pathway to progress. Society typically expects the woman to lean back and make only those career moves that are convenient for her status as a married woman but that does not always have to be the case. Family is a collective and shared responsibility placed equally on both the man and the woman even though both have to function in different capacities. With proper planning, communication and understanding between partners, I believe it is possible for both to raise a decent family without anyone’s dreams or goals suffering for it.

This is where Sheryl’s statement becomes important. Because for this to happen and for this system to work, you need a man who acknowledges the validity of your dreams, believes in the weight of your ambitions and is ready and willing to support you towards reaching your goals regardless of what that ‘support’ might involve.

So yes, married or single, you are allowed to aspire to heights unimaginable in your personal and professional life and marriage if done right, would serve as a catalyst and not a distraction.

Knowing when enough is enough!

There are reports that say that every fourth Nigerian woman suffers some form of domestic violence in her life time. The worst forms of these are usually battering, trafficking, rape and homicide. And it seems only sensible that I lend my voice to this recurring social menace that is plaguing our society, the institution of marriage and women in particular. This is however not to say that men do not suffer domestic abuse or to disregard that possibility.

On this issue, there really isn’t so much I have to say that would be entirely new to you but this, LEAVE! If you unfortunately find yourself in an abusive relationship, before you consider any other solution or any form of therapy, get yourself out of that situation and environment. No man is allowed to hit you out of love or in an attempt to discipline you or for any other reason that you may want to let yourself believe.

Run A Way CampaignSo, for the young woman whose boyfriend angrily shoved her aside and slammed the door on his way out after she informed him of her decision to enroll for another master’s program, for the mother of 2 who got slapped because she scolded her son for spilling fruit juice all over his school uniform, my advice to you is simple. LEAVE!

I have to admit that this is definitely not the easiest thing to do especially with cultural and religious beliefs that advocate total submission and endurance of whatever treatment a woman gets from a man or her husband, as the case may be. But understand that submission as admirable as it is, should also not put you in danger or harm’s way. Many lives and dreams have been lost to domestic violence and yours should definitely not be one of those. Because if he hits you once he would hit you again, if he ever does hit you, please LEAVE!

I’d conclude by saying that as women, we cannot avoid all of the conversations around marriage but what we can do is carefully moderate that conversation in a way that encourages an exchange of perspectives that is beneficial to us all.

So what is your narrative?

  • Single and conflicted as to whether or not you should be actively seeking out a life partner?
  • Married and tempted to quit your job because someone thinks you are not capable of making both work?
  • In a relationship where your partner would rather dialogue with his fists than words?

This is my counsel to you

It is OK to want to be married.

Your dreams are valid.

And if he hits you, even one time, please leave!

So, what about you? What are the concerns you have with respect to women and the almighty marriage? Share your perspective and let’s get talking!

 

Is the law keeping young African women safe from sexual violence?

Child Bride

It may be 2016, but young Nigerian girls are still being exploited by those who should be protecting them. I’m referring to the father figures, lawmakers, community leaders and even some parents. Only recently, the internet and media went into a frenzy over the notion that the age of consent had been lowered from 18 to 11.

The reason for this confusion? A bunch of subsections under Section 7 of the Sexual Offences Bill postulating penalties for sexual penetration in girls under the ages of 11, 15 and 18. We’re all still asking ourselves why the need to highlight these three ages rather than the relevant one which is 18. This is of major concern as concerns two main areas: child marriages and rape.

Child Brides in Africa

Source: BBC Africa

UNICEF reports that Nigeria is the country with the highest number of child brides across Africa. The number of child brides across Africa is expected to almost triple by the year 2050. It’s been almost 2 years now since the world has been fighting for the return of the Chibok girls following the #BringBackOurGirls campaign. Sadly, at this time, we are still waiting and hoping that they are rescued.

Ese’s story

Most people have been following the story of 14-year-old Ese Oruru who was abducted from her base by a man who took her to the North to become his bride. Reports made by the Bayelsa State Police Command as captured in Punch Newspaper state that her recent kidnapping from her home in Bayelsa to faraway Kano is a case of eloping. It’s almost laughable except that it’s not.

This is a grave issue that affects every one of us regardless of gender. It thus becomes obvious that law enforcement and the rest of the community have failed to catch on that the law does not condone the violation of any woman especially one who is still a child. Ese’s predicament is our predicament and as such statements made by the very institution put in place to install law and order demonstrates our failure as a society.

How on earth does a teenager elope? The fact that such a statement can be made by the police public relations rep confirm to us that child marriages are still very much a thing in this part of the world. This is a practice prevalent in the northern part of the country where matured men take on child brides.

At this point of the century where societies are moving to expel inhumane practices, the reaction to Ese’s case is a prime example of the normalcy of such a practice. Whether or not Ese voluntarily left her base in Bayelsa for a faraway state or was kidnapped / coerced into doing so as certain assertions have been made, the baseline is she is still a minor.

Although it has taken six whole months, the good news is Ese has been handed over to the police for her return to her family in Bayelsa. Just as author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has been quoted as saying, ‘culture does not make people, people make culture’.

Thus, the mere fact that something is a part of our culture is not a good enough reason to uphold it. There is certainly good culture and bad culture and as humans we are expected to evolve and be progressive.

What are some of the risks?

There are several risks that child brides are faced with including emotional and psychological trauma that may follow them way into adulthood and in fact for the rest of their lives

In addition, if the ‘marriage’ had been consummated underage, pregnancy, Vesicovaginal Fistula and STIs are all common occurrences for child brides.

As a society, where do we go from here?

  • We need to close the gap between the law and its practice through proper information dissemination and sensitization. The Nigerian police force must undertake reorientation programs with the passing of new laws.
  • The law should expressly state the age of consent for sexual intercourse by getting rid of the compounding subsections in the Sexual Offences Bill.
  • It is also not enough that the law prescribe a penalty of 5 years imprisonment or a fine of N500,000 for the perpetrators in child marriages! A part of her life is taken away from her as she is forced to grow up in the worst ways possible. The maximum penalty should be sought for such offenders.

What can we do as women?

As women, each of us has a responsibility to uplift other women especially those who do not have some of the privileges we do have.

  • Speak up about it! Challenge the status quo! Tweet about it, blog about it, discuss with peers, make your voice heard. You may be surprised how little people actually think about this issue.
  • Educate yourselves including other young girls and women. Females need to be aware of the dangers they face and to take extra precaution where necessary.
  • Counsel and encourage one another. As women we need to quit slut shaming and blaming the victim. The guilty party is the aggressor or manipulator. Skimpy clothing or a flirtatious nature do not equal a license to rape.
  • Parents and guardians also need to be receptive enough for their daughters to feel free enough to tell them about any funny business going on.
  • Raise your sons to respect women. Men have as much a part to play as women do in the promotion of gender rights.

Mildred Apenyo: Creating a safe space for women’s health

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Mildred Apenyo set out to create a warm, supportive and safe space for women when she started FitcliqueAfrica. The women-only gym, the first of its kind in Uganda, offers a wide variety of classes including; aerobics, African yoga, dance, kickboxing, strength training and personal safety. The Kampala-based startup is focused on the overall wellness and safety of women rather than attainment of the elusive “ideal body.” By so doing, it aims to provide women with the tools that they need to empower themselves both physically and psychologically.

Mildred wants women to be able to workout without harassment, discrimination or any restriction. Through FitcliqueAfrica, she hopes that women will be inspired to own their bodies and their spaces. I caught up with the fitness entrepreneur, who is also a writer and human rights activist, to talk about her experience and her unique venture.


Tipping point

Mildred didn’t start out in the fitness industry. After graduating from university with a degree in Mass Communication in 2012, she worked in advertising. Her office was located in Kamwokya, a neighborhood she calls the hub of street molestation. Having to navigate this environment daily caused her to experience anxiety. Running became her coping mechanism. “It helped me learn how to inhabit space,” said Mildred. “It made me feel like I owned the streets. It made me feel like I owned my body.” Mildred broke her leg and had to stop running, then decided to join a gym so that she could workout.

Her gym experience was awful. The trainers did not pay attention to female clients unless they were in the aerobics classes. Mildred, who was interested in weightlifting, was dismissed by some of the instructors. The people who paid attention to her instead were lechery men. While working out one day, a man threw a dumbbell at her because she refused to give up the exercise equipment she was using. “I vowed never enter a mixed gym again,” she said. It was then that she decided she wanted to create a warm and supportive space for women.

Two months after the idea solidified in her mind, the first draft of Uganda’s Anti-Pornography Bill was released. The media and the minister of ethics and integrity turned the narrative it into an anti-miniskirt campaign. As a result of this, there were many women who were undressed and violated on the streets. This enraged Mildred. “The only thing that presented itself to me was that nobody cared about the safety of women,” she said. “Not even the men who society says are the protectors.” This further fueled her desire to pursue her idea. She realized that she had to find a way to ensure that women become stronger and have more agency. “While rage will be the spark for an idea, the building of the idea depends largely on how you can begin to channel this energy to something practical, something that people will come to,” said Mildred. “That is how the space and the gym happened.”

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Building blocks

Mildred’s plan was to start with a Facebook page where she would discuss body ownership and self-love. She wanted people to able to talk about bodies and women enjoying activities that are typically reserved for men in regular gyms. “I wanted it to be that kind of space online and offline,” said Mildred.

She first had to come up with a name for this space. The naming process varies from one startup to the next. It takes anywhere from several hours to months. The key is to pick a strong name that adequately represents the ethos of your brand. As a copywriter, Mildred could have come up with a name utilizing the same process she used for her clients. However, she wanted it to be a community space, and as such sourced for name ideas from her friends on Facebook. Solomon King, one of her friends, suggested the name Fitclique256. “It got the most likes,” Mildred said. “I decided to call the space that.” In March 2014, the fitness movement officially began.

Mildred decided to quit her job so as to fully focus on and dedicate herself to Fitclique. “I said to myself, ‘How can you be seated here writing copy about products that you don’t care about when women are out there being undressed on the streets?’” she said. “FitcliqueAfrica hit me in the soul and demanded to be started.” With two salaries saved from her job, she embarked on taking the open and safe online space offline in the form of a gym.

The first order of business was securing gym equipment. Mildred, aware of her financial limitations, had to get innovative so as to do this. Having done her research, she knew that there were people who had bought exercise and fitness equipment in the hopes of working out but ended up not using them. She started a campaign where she traded training for equipment. People would be able to get a personal trainer to work with them for a certain duration at a reduced cost if they gave Fitclique their equipment. The concept excited people and they responded positively. There are also those who simply ended up donating their unused equipment. Mildred was able to significantly drive down costs using this strategy. The gym has grown since then and is now able to buy its own equipment with the money it makes.

Then Mildred had to find a physical space for the gym. She approached a gym  she had worked on a marketing campaign for while at her advertising job. They agreed to let her hold one class for an hour in their space. “It was a yoga class that was massively successful,” said Mildred. After a while, the owner pulled out of the agreement because the classes only had women. “He asked, ‘Why yoga? Why only women? Are you witches? and added ‘I don’t want this to happen anymore,’” she said. Mildred had to go back to the drawing board, a practice that is not uncommon in the entrepreneurial journey.