March 4, 2024

‘Harmless nursery rhymes’ about gender need review: Oluwadamilola Akintewe shares her gender equality story

Oluwadamilola Akintewe

My Gender Equality Story was borne out of the need to educate people on the true meaning of the concept. By telling the stories of advocates, SNTK believes more people will join in the fight against inequality.

Oluwadamilola Akintewe, a final year law student of Adekunle Ajasin University, Ondo State, is our guest for the first edition. She is a proud feminist activist and the only Nigerian finalist in the inaugural $100,000 Global Student Prize for her work in gender equality advocacy.

In this interview, she says gender equality is an avenue for collaboration for national development.

What does gender equality means to you?

Gender equality, to me, means equal access for women- women receiving equal opportunities to get included in spaces traditionally classified as men’s and not being held back by social, cultural, and religious factors.

What inspired you to become an advocate?

In 2018, I underwent a form of gender based violence on my campus. I was robbed and attacked by someone with a machete while coming back from church around quarter to 9pm. After that incidence, I tried reporting and was met with several victim blaming, “Why were you walking at night? What were you wearing?” etc

It dawned on me that nowhere is safe in Nigeria and it’s even worse for women because if something like gender-based violence happens to you, you’re more likely to be blamed for your predicament while the violator walks freely.

This and some other several life situations inspired me to advocate for gender equality and to combat the double standards that women are subjected to in this country.

Now that I do retrospection, I realised that I’ve been an advocate for gender equality even before 2018. I have been pro-women my entire life; from questioning why the pastor always prayed that boys become governors and girls, governor’s wives at age 12, to standing up against abuse in secondary school. I just didn’t know the words to describe what I was but now, I do. I am a feminist.

In what ways do you contribute to the achievement of gender equality in Nigeria?

After the incidence in 2018, I started Forbidden Topics, a feminist initiative to amplify young women’s voices against social injustices such as GBV, sexism, and gender inequality in general. It is an avenue to demystify everything surrounding women’s rights through digital media advocacy. Speaking is my super power and so, I host the “Speak Out on Forbidden Topics” series.

It creates an avenue for women to share their experiences in safe spaces without the tentacles of victim blaming and or purity culture. So far, we’ve shared stories of women from over 25 countries in Africa, Asia and Europe. It’s so amazing that despite geographical, religious, racial, and whatever differences that separate us, we all have similar stories as women and it is not often positive.

GBV and gender inequality are global issues that need tackling and with Forbidden Topics, I am doing my part and inspiring other young women to do same. I mentor and inspire young people to launch their own social impact project.

Also, I was the team lead of project Rebirth in Akoko, Ondo State. This project supported women with free training in sustainable sewing/fashion as a source of income generation and as a means of empowering them to tackle poverty in rural parts of the state.

And most recently, I am one of the young online advocates for the #NigerianWomenOccupyNASS campaign, a movement to enhance more women in Nigerian political leadership spaces.

Some people believe gender equality is not achievable in Nigeria. What is your take on it?

Someone once said that no metallic object will ever fly but now, we have planes and flying cars. I believe it is all about perspective but it is not impossible. Why? Once upon a time, we don’t have women in professional careers but there are myriads of female doctors, lawyers, engineers, pilots, and so many others now.

Gender equality is possible and achievable in Nigeria. It will just take deliberate and continuous efforts of advocates, activists, movement builders, movers and shakers like myself to make it happen. We’ve seen it happen in other countries, it can happen here.

If it is sauce for the goose, it’s sauce for the gander.

However, we have to undergo a whole series of learning, unlearning, and relearning to combat internalised fallacies as to women’s rights. We should also start new values, culture, custom and norms that respects women’s rights.

What do you consider as the challenges facing gender equality and what are the best ways to solve them?

Gender equality is obstructed by numerous factors. A lot of them are ingrained in social, religious and cultural practices- the ideology that it is religiously right that women be subservient in society or that they must always stay in the background, second to men.

These scenarios play themselves from the primary level of a child’s education where we have boys set up as class captains and girls as the vice in university politics. The president is deemed automatically a male while a woman runs for VP which most time will make her the only female in that cabinet.

Most recently, the National Assembly turned down a bill to grant women the rights automatically enjoyed by men such as conferring citizenships on their foreign spouses and 35% affirmation in legislative seat. This is subtle intimidation that women face and which constitutes gender inequality.

As a solution, we must leverage on re-education from the grassroot level, from reviewing “harmless nursery rhymes” emphasising toxic gender roles like “Mummy in the kitchen cooking rice, daddy in the parlour watching film” to inculcating gender education into school curriculums.

Advocating for corporate spaces to have gender policies that tackle sexism and violence in the work place; encouraging local knowledge dissemination to win over the older class and let them see that gender equality is not a threat to men but an avenue for collaboration for national development.

These are solutions we must employ. We have our work cut out for us. This is not a sprint, it’s a marathon and our small actions together can go a long way.

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