Akina Mama wa Afrika with great pride shares with you the leadership journey of another visionary alumni of the African Women Leadership Institute (AWLI) Ms. Ironsi Bose, the Executive Director of Women’s Rights & Health Project in Nigeria. We hope that her story of self-discovery; passion for women’s health rights and women’s empowerment will challenge you to discover yourself and find that inner passion to drive your strife for social justice and equity for all.
AMwA Kindly tell us about yourself and your contribution to supporting women’s rights in your country.
IB I am a passionate reproductive health and human rights crusader with close to two decades of experience. My journey along the road of women’s empowerment has been one of self-discovery, personal emancipation and self-sacrifice. Because I became aware of the differences between my rights and those of my brothers at an early age (I was bequeathed a single tree as inheritance by my father, while my brothers, who were younger than I was, got land, and other economic property), I began the struggle to recreate myself and to attain full self-actualization. I became interested in the issue of women’s health because my mother had 12 children, without family planning and she even wanted more! Yet I saw the daily struggles involved in caring for my siblings and myself. This situation was replicated in the lives of three different wives that my father had. Therefore I determined that my life would not take the same course. So I set out to earn a certificate in nursing/midwifery, thereafter I got involved in promoting the health of grassroots women. I did this while being associated with a grassroots focused organization in the early 1990s. After working on this for a decade, I realized that reproductive health, women’s health is inalienable linked to their rights. So in the early 2000s I became affiliated with women’s rights focused organization, Baobab for Women’s Human Rights. There I got in close contact with a feminist organization, and got the understanding that women’s human rights is critically connected to their sexual and reproductive health. My experiences led me to establish my own project to address the intersection of health and rights, thus, Women’s Rights and Health Project was conceived and established in 2007. On the platform of this project, I have made invaluable contributions in stimulating demand for justice by sexual/gender-based violence survivors, and recently my efforts in this work was recognized by one of the communities we are currently serving in peri-urban Lagos State, Nigeria.
AMwAThere are many African women striving for the empowerment of women on the African continent however very few out rightly identify themselves as feminists. Would you define yourself as a feminist?
IB Feminism is based on the principles of safety, equality, justice, freedom and full enjoyment of rights and dignity of girls and women. These principles underpin my work with women and young girls, therefore I happily identify myself as a feminist as I actively address the barriers and limitations of gender experienced by women and young girls by consciously advocating for their rights, building their capacity and sharing information that can be utilized by women and young girls for their empowerment and personal emancipation. Also as a feminist I have been able to resist patriarchal pressures to conform to some cultural practices and beliefs in my personal life. For example I currently keep a low hair cut in direct contradiction with the prevailing cultural norm for my husband, which would ordinarily suggest that I was a widow!
AMwA If you were to write a book about your life journey what would its title be and why?
IB The title would be “Finding the path to personal emancipation”, by Bose Ironsi. I choose this title because I see my sisters around me at various stages in the journey that I undertook. I am not saying that my life is a universal template for all the worries and challenges that women face today, but I am saying that my life’s journey is not very different from what they are experiencing and may yet experience. Therefore, my story may yet lead many to safety.
AMwA “The African Women leadership Institute is said to be a life changing experience for many African Women” Do you in any way identify with this statement?
IB Yes, I wholeheartedly identify with that statement because the institute changed my own life!! It is the capacity (leadership skills, fund raising, feminist principles etc.) from the institute that enable me to function in my organization. The relationships I formed keep me in good company for progress in the struggle and the experiences sustain my vision of the change I want to see.
AMwA Would you recommend any young women to undertake the African Women Leadership Institute?
IB Yes, I would gladly recommend ALL young women undertake the African Women Leadership Institute, especially young women in leadership positions. The reason is that the leadership institute provides a unique foundation for activism which is largely not available to women. Thus exposure to the theories, principles and experiences of the leadership institutes effects a life-altering change in the scope and impact of the type of change these women can bring. I would recommend that Akina Mama wa Afrika reach out to all Alumni to recommend young women they know or are currently mentoring for future institutes. We also need to focus on inter-generational mentoring to keep the struggle alive.
AMwA 25th of November marks the beginning of the 16 days of activism on violence against women in the world; what is your personal reflection on these days?
IB Each year on the occasion of the commencement of the 16 days of activism on violence against women, I take stock of the progress I have made in providing enlightenment/empowerment to my sisters, I take stock of the changes that we have supported and I look the mountain of work yet remaining, more importantly, I weep for those I am unable to save. These personal reflections of mine provide the drive and energizer needed to engage in the campaign and to struggle for another year.
AMwA What more can leaders in our communities do to eliminate all forms of violence against women on the African Continent?
IB Leaders need to speak out more; they need to be seen actively supporting efforts to bring justice to the lives of survivors. This would also involve their actively empowering vulnerable women to access existing laws; in effect making the laws actually deliver on the purpose for their enactment, namely to protect vulnerable women (illiterate, economically disadvantaged and poor).
AMwA As African women we are often hesitant to celebrate our achievements; what would you celebrate the most about your leadership journey?
IB I would celebrate my personal self-discovery, and how I have used this to impact positively on the lives of other young girls and women; the ones I have inspired to take charge of their lives and they are contributing to change in their personal spaces and the larger community. The reason I celebrate these ones is simply because, together we make the light of change shine brighter!!
AMwA What would you do different at 20 years if you were given a second chance to a new life in present Africa?
IB If I were given a second chance to commence my life at 20 years in present day Africa, I would focus my energies in working on the intersections of health and rights as the critical approach to women’s empowerment. I would leverage the energies of youth to engage vigorously with policy makers at the national and regional levels, more importantly, I would seek out and utilize opportunities for mentorship.
AMwAWhat message do you convey to Akina Mama wa Afrika as we mark 30 years of strengthening African women’s voices
IB Akina Mama wa Afrika, your activism and passion continues to inspire millions of women and girls in Africa, therefore on this 30th anniversary, I say viva sisterhood, viva Africa, viva Akina Mama wa Afrika!!