Education, key to gender-inclusive society — Roseline Adewuyi

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…Tasks stakeholders to intensify advocacy

The 2022 theme of the international women’s history month underscored the need to break biases against women. With this in mind, Nigerian NewsDirect spoke with a seasoned Gender Advocate, French Instructor, Social Educator and Blogger, Roseline Adewuyi. In this interview, Ms Adewuyi, who has over six years of experience, spoke with ABIMBOLA ABATTA extensively on her journey as a gender rights advocate. She also provided insights on how stereotypes against women and girls can be broken. Excerpts:

Kindly introduce yourself for the benefit of our readers? 

My name is Roseline Adewuyi. I am from Ogbomoso in Oyo state. I am a French Literature student who specialises in Feminist Theory. This focus strengthens my academic knowledge in the field of advocacy. I am a french instructor, social educator and a blogger. I am dedicated to helping the girl child shatter glass ceilings that impede her growth, severing the hold of gender stereotypes that stifle her behavioural makeup, teaching her to abandon societal constructs that are inimical to her personal growth, and re-orienting her to break the chains of deeply entrenched indoctrinations. My perpetual end goal is to imbue young girls with the gusto and learned acumen to discard society’s scripts while they consciously choose to adhere to the paths of their self-decided purposes. To achieve this, I organise trainings, seminars, workshops and other educational yet thrilling events from time to time. My primary target audience is secondary school girls as they have a somewhat pristine mind, untarnished by societal dictates. I want them to grow out of the stifling spaces boxing them in, preventing them from spreading their wings and taking to the sky, where they can only soar to the ends of time.

I am also very particular about re-imagining women in our society. Every woman is a requisite and indispensable functional part of any society. A woman is not a cog in the big society’s machine. I mean, she holds equal importance to the growth of a society, just like a man does. If a man is seen as a fulcrum, then a woman is the exact same one, too — not a replica. To help women achieve this goal, I actively engage them on social media and via my constant blog posts. Also, I use Twitter as an effective communication tool to ignite meaningful conversations. I share insightful content regularly, and host tweet chats. I put online panel events together as well.

At what point did you develop interest in or start the advocacy for gender rights? What informed your interest? 

I would say that I developed interest in my service year after some reflection. Here are some the things that formed my interest:  Identity crisis. When girls become sentient enough to ask questions regarding the differences in gender treatment, they get no satisfactory answers. Since they are confused, I step in to help them discover themselves, independent of their wrong experiences or identity stereotypes given them. As a woman, I’m yet to fully comprehend what womanhood entails. I’m still discovering several realities about my body, sexuality, and femininity, but I still share the little I know with young girls. For me, womanhood is an explorative journey and, I vouch to carry along as many girl-children as I can on my quest.

Cultural norms. Young girls grow up to see things done a certain way. When they try a different approach, they meet strong opposition because “it is not (in) our culture.” Thus, they silently suffer unfair practices that bend them to gender roles. Young girls take up caregiving, housekeeping, and hostess roles because they are what obtain, but never volunteer for leadership or science-oriented roles. I try to override that unintentional, yet retrogressive programming that culture embeds in young girls.

Educational institutions fuel gender inequality. Educational institutions should be hallmarks of enlightenment and advocates of equality, but [they] fall short of this singular responsibility. Primary and secondary school teachers still see leadership as a preserve of the male gender, thus rarely giving girls a chance to lead. The best take; girls are asked to assist the ‘leader.’ They are erroneously configured to believe they are not natural leaders. It takes lots of re-education to change this warped mindset. Through my contact with secondary school girls, I have noticed that teachers assign tasks based on gender roles. In some cases, it influences career talks and counselling. Unfortunately, the recommended texts don’t help matters. They portray girls and women in a bastardised way that reinforces these stereotypes.

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 understand, fully, 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.

Being a gender rights advocate in a patriarchal society like ours comes with a host of challenges. What are some of these challenges and how are you tackling them?

Some challenges I encounter on a regular basis include:  I am often misconstrued. I get backlash from people who think I don’t mean well. I get tons of insults too. Someone once remarked that if she got half the insults I get, she would have snapped by now. Thankfully, what I am working for is bigger than any insults! I always reflect on my why and higher purpose. Some people don’t see our work as noble and so they are against it. They won’t even listen to you or try to get your point of view. This makes them closed off to your advocacy.

Finances are a huge challenge! Advocacy is not easy. It is not cheap either. It takes money to put events together, create published materials that you would distribute for free and so on. I am always grateful for and open to any partnerships by people or organisations who are passionate about girl child advocacy as I am. How I deal with these challenges are by ignoring the naysayers, speaking up when I feel bullied and putting myself out there more. I can never be silenced and I know that what I am doing is for the greater good, so, I am encouraged to keep giving my all towards it. I am also inspired by women who have gone ahead who fought and paved the way for women like me. In addition, I am open to partnerships, and I hope that more people who love what I do will come on board with me.

Do you think equal representation of women in politics is feasible? 

I believe that with determination, nothing is impossible. That is why I am still pushing. That is why I am still advocating for equal rights and showing girls and women that they deserve more. I am sure you will agree with me that things are a lot better than they were yesteryears. I am a glass half full kind of person and even though things haven’t gone like we wished they would, I still hope for the best.

Do you think biological make-up has any role to play in the low participation of women in politics? Also, do you accept that women are weaker vessels?

I don’t think biology affects women’s participation in politics otherwise countries like Croatia, Estonia, New Zealand and Germany that would have never had women leaders. The VP in the US is a woman. As for being weaker vessels, I don’t think a being who endures painful blood loss monthly and an insane amount of pain during labour is weak. If anything, we were built for resilience. We were built to birth change. We were built to bring light into any kind of darkness. That is how God made us. So, even though many women are not encouraged to take up roles, biology has nothing to do with it. It is all cultural stereotypes. That is what my advocacy aims to shatter. Young girls are socialised to play second fiddle and this affects them in taking up leadership roles. Different spaces like religious spaces and educational also reinforce all these gender stereotypes.

One of the underlying factors affecting the struggle for gender rights is patriarchy. Do you think patriarchy can be uprooted? If yes, how best can we tackle it as well as other factors impeding this struggle? 

When we promote gender equality, with time patriarchy will fade away. That is why advocacy and action are important. We need the government and people in the places of power to do better. Give more women seats at the table. Stop thinking that women can’t do the job. Stop dissuading women from studying STEM courses. Stop making certain roles or positions exclusive to men. When we do all these things and educate girls and women, patriarchy will fall like a pack of cards.

Do you think the awareness of the struggles of women at decision-making tables is enough?

No, I don’t think so. That is one reason why I talk about women and leadership. Many people expect more from women leaders and so they keep trying to prove a point, to show that they are worthy. Women are always held to higher standards. The spotlight is more on them than on their male counterparts. It is like people expect us to fail. But hopefully, we keep talking about this, the narrative will change.

How can we prevent gender reform policies from only being audio or empty promises?

I think we can do this by increasing the intensity of our advocacy. The more women agitate for their rights, the more our governments will listen and effect the policies they have created. Nothing makes the government take action than pressure mounted the right way. We also need more women at the table. That way, the reform policies will be tilted in our favour as women understand the realities of womanhood better and they will see that our needs are catered for. We can see that countries with women at the helms of affairs are actively implementing policies that are improving the lives of women.

How can women effectively tackle gender bias and overcome the systemic barriers to leadership roles?

It starts from the mind. First, don’t discriminate against yourself. Don’t self-reject. Realize that what you want is possible. You deserve it. You have worked hard for it. You should get it. That way, when you apply for a leadership position and you don’t get it just because you are a woman, you will apply for many more. You will keep applying for roles and putting yourself out there until you find a company or an organization that deserves you. When you do, go in there, do your best and crush it.

Do you consider yourself as a feminist? And considering that many women have bastardised that term, do you think the lack of acceptance or understanding of feminist principles is part of what stops numerous policies in support of women’s rights in Africa from being effectively implemented?

(Smiles) I am a feminist. I think we should all be feminists. Although I might not be too particular about being labelled as a feminist, I deeply embrace and am passionate about the feminism fundamentals which are the advocacy of women rights on the ground of gender equality. Equality, of course, doesn’t mean sameness. We are uniquely different, but equal in value and worth. Rather, it means that we are humans first, regardless of gender or other defining yardstick. So, we deserve to be treated fairly—given equal rights and opportunities. Humanity is, after all, a common denominator. Therefore, I am a feminist. Yes, the term has been misunderstood and misused and so people shy away from it. I strongly believe that this may be why some people still struggle with upholding the tenets of feminism which is equal rights for both genders. This is why I try to educate everyone I meet.

How many years have you been a gender advocate? What are some of the things you have done/are doing to raise the bar on gender advocacy? 

I have been a gender advocate for over 6 years. My advocacy is focused on breaking stereotypes and unlearning indoctrination in the form of deeply entrenched societal constructs that are regressive to women. I am all out for teaching young girls and inspiring women to break away from age-long societal norms, constructs, and stereotypes that have limited their progress by showing them that they can do anything and be whomever they choose to be regardless of society’s dictates. I teach them to discard society’s scripts and follow their individual passion and purpose to be the best version of whom they want to be. Therefore, I am fierce against cultural and traditional norms. I believe that some of these cultural elements have to be done away with, while some reviewed and some preserved. I am also very particular about the reimaging of the women in our society and a woman knowing that she belongs in the society.

Asides this, I have observed that educational institutions which are supposed to be hallmarks of enlightenment foster gender inequality. We can see examples around, girls being denied leadership opportunities, indoctrinating them with the mindset of being assistants, discouraging women who want to be student union president etc. The educational institution as a citadel of learning and should not be a place where societal constructs are fueled or amplified. Rather than recycling these archaic norms and traditions, I advocate for our institutions to show people a better way of doing things. I advocate for girls to be  seen as students the way that boys are. Their abilities should be seen before gender. They should be given equal opportunities at leadership. I encourage teachers to should show their students that women can lead, be doctors, pilots, governors etc. Chores should be shared equally to teach responsibility. Thus, through education, we can also create a society devoid of gender bias or discrimination. I am highly interested and involved in the revamping of educational institutions in order to be conscious about schools being more gender inclusive, gender responsive and gender friendly.

Where do you see yourself in the next 5-10 years as a gender advocate?

I see myself doing secondary school outreaches on a larger scale. I also see myself mentoring and coaching lots of young women especially in the aspect of leadership. I am passionate about seeing more women take up seats at the tables of power and decision making. I see myself in a position of authority in other to influence reforms and policies at nation and international level.

If there is one thing you would like to see in the fight for gender advocacy by next year’s International Women’s Day, what would that be?

Next year is election year in Nigeria. I would like to see more women as flag bearers of political parties and more women participation in the voting exercise. I will also love to see more women take up leadership positions in large companies. I would also love the government to implement more policies that prevent discrimination against women and promote inclusion. I hope to see more groups organise programmes and workshops to educate women and inspire them to take up space in whatever fields they find themselves. I would love to hear about stories of more women emerging all over the world.