March 4, 2024

How Roseline Adewuyi is using advocacy to tackle biggest challenges of gender equality – religion and culture

Roseline Adewuyi

Driven by a genuine passion to help others find their feet firmly placed in life, Adewuyi has, for more than five years, been actively championing the cause of girl child empowerment and gender bias elimination in Nigeria. 

Adewuyi is a social educator, gender advocate, and blogs on the issues of girls and women, especially within the African Context. She is a 2016 YALI RLC alumna, a 2017 ONE Champion, and a 2018 Dalai Lama Fellow. In 2020, BusinessDay profiled her as one of the 60 women doing phenomenal things for in celebration of Nigeria’s 60th independence.

In this interview, Adewuyi listed the three things that made her an advocate of gender equality.

What does gender equality mean to you?

Gender equality means men and women are equal in value, and so should both be taken seriously and treated with respect. Think of this like racial equality: the concept of people having different races, and yet there’s a common denominator for everyone – humanity. Equality does not mean sameness. We are different but equal.

This is why we believe that people of different races, tribes, and ethnic groups are equal. Does that mean they are the same? Absolutely not! We have people with dark skin and some with lighter skin. We have people with curly hair, some with straight hair. Even among the male gender, some people are well-built, some are lean. Some are short, some are tall.

Do we now say that people are not equal because of their physical and biological differences? Who gets to decide who is superior to the other and with what parameters? The critical similarity or reason why everyone is equal in value regardless of what they are or how they look is because we are all humans. And because we are humans, we are equal in value.

This is what gender equality is all about – reminding us about our shared humanity. Gender equality serves to remind us that we complement each other. That there is a need to live together in harmony, knowing that the sky is big enough for everyone to thrive; male or female. Mutual dependence is key.

What inspired you to be an advocate of gender equality?

Identity crisis

Growing up, I observed my environment and saw the difference in the treatment of males and females. As a young girl, I wondered why this was so. I did not understand these things but I lived with this thought in my heart. Before long, I started asking questions about it. Unfortunately, I did not get a satisfactory response most times. I had a lot of questions about my identity that were not answered.

With growth came the understanding of how things worked, and I began to gradually realize why things were the way they were. As an Arts student, during my days in the university, I was exposed to books that facilitated my understanding. In accordance with a popular saying “literature is the mirror of life.” I was able to imagine and understand, to some extent, the lived experience of many girls and women all over the world, particularly in Africa.

Cultural norms

I also saw that girls grow up and see things done a certain way. When they ask questions or try to do things differently, they are told that this is our culture. That silences them and makes them accept some unfair practices. It also makes them get used to gender roles.

You see young girls automatically taking up caregiving, housekeeping, and hostess roles even in public because it is what is expected of them. But she never volunteers for leadership or science-oriented roles. This is what I try to break – that programming that culture embeds in young girls without meaning to.

Leadership challenges

Another force that compels me to advocate for gender equality is the gender gap seen in leadership. Many people still see leadership as a responsibility exclusive to the male gender and so they rarely give young girls or women the platform or opportunity to lead. In many situations, girls are expected to assist the leader. This shapes their thinking from a young age. They start thinking that they are not natural leaders. It takes lots of re-education to change this.

Finally, I would say that my biggest inspiration is that I am a woman. And this is my reality. That is what I breathe and live. As a woman on this journey, I am yet to fully understand what womanhood fully entails. It is still a journey for me and I am still discovering a lot of realities about my body, my sexuality, and my femininity. I don’t have it all figured out but the little I know, I feel I could teach young girls and other women. For me, womanhood is an explorative journey and, in my quest, to discover and uncover, I seek to carry along as many girl-children as I can.

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

I advocate for gender equality. I first started my advocacy in secondary schools because I believe that it is best to catch them young. I want girls to see life apart from the boxes they’ve been made to fit into. I want them to experience life without limits. To achieve this, I organize educational events. I am grateful for the impact we are making.

In addition to offline advocacy, I am active on social media. I post meaningful content from time to time to inspire women and spark insightful conversations. I have partnered with some fellow advocates to organize webinars, seminars, events, workshops, and programs. I also have my blog where I share posts and stories on issues concerning gender equality.

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

We are already equal, that is not disputable. The idea now is how people view it. Realistically, we still have a long way to go but we have seen improvements in every sector of our economy. We’re also seeing improvements in the home front and in places of power. This gives me tremendous hope that gender equality is indeed achievable.

Today, we have women at the helm making waves: Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Ibukun Awosika, Kemi Adetiba, Chimamanda Adichie. We also have more women involved in politics than we could count before. These women doing things are inspiring young girls in the country that they can be more and it’s really beautiful to see.

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

I think the biggest challenges are culture and religion. These are also very strong aspects of people’s lives. You take away a person’s culture or religion; it feels like you’ve taken away their reason for being. That’s why so many people still fight gender equality. They think it’s against the core of their beliefs. They forget that in all our histories, we have legends of women doing great things. We have women who had a say in what went on in the community.

Another important thing people tend to forget is that cultures evolve. As we learn and become more technologically advanced, we change. We learn from others too. So, we can choose to change certain aspects of our culture while retaining our essence.

As for religion, this is a dicey matter that I don’t always like to talk about because of differing opinions. But speaking with some seasoned scholars of the major religions practiced in Nigeria, I have learned that everyone agrees that God hates discrimination and that God is not partial. Therefore, God supports equality. So, we should too. I do hope that one day we can overcome our biases and see things differently. I know that we will because things are already changing.

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