…Says ‘a woman can choose to marry, divorce, remarry or be single’
By Wale Akinola
I, Olabisi, I do not want to remembered as someone who never spoke above a whisper”. This was a vow Erelu Bisi Adeleye – Fayemi, the wife of the Minister of Mines and Steel Development, and a former governor of Ekiti State, Dr Kayode Fayemi, made sometime in 1998. She had just had an encounter with a friend who was bereaved.
She narrated the story: “One evening in 1998, during one of our AWLI programs, I sat with a colleague to comfort her over the loss of her aunt; she had just received the news from home.
As I sat with her, she told me, between sobs, how wonderful her aunt had been. ‘She was such a sweet woman, generous, kind. She never spoke above a whisper’. Later on, when I was on my own, I reflected on what my friend had said about her deceased aunt.
“She never spoke above a whisper?” I thought to myself, ‘I, Olabisi, I do not want to be remembered as someone who never spoke above a whisper’. And since 1998, Adeleye – Fayemi has kept to the vow, speaking “above whispers” in defending the rights of women. First, with the support of The Ford Foundation, she launched a radio program, Above Whispers on Air, in collaboration with WFM91.7, Nigeria’s first radio for women and their families. Second, she put together a visual story-telling project featuring community leaders from five states in Nigeria.
Third, she started a weekly column titled, Loud Whispers, a platform primarily (but not exclusively) for middle-aged women who want to have a “more mature engagement online”.
Expectedly, her decision to speak ‘above whispers’ has put her at odds with some people who misunderstand her position on several issues concerning womanhood. Undeterred, Adeleye – Fayemi has, since February 2016, forcefully, spoken in Loud Whispers about women’s rights, using the column. She went a step further to put the collection of essays, from February 2016 to September 2017, into a book titled, Loud Whispers.
At the presentation of the book, last Sunday, Adeleye – Fayemi engaged in a conversation with Kunle Ajibade and Hafsat Abiola – Costello on her life as a gender specialist, social entrepreneur and a writer. There were also poetry performances and readings from Loud Whispers as follows: Our girls now wear Spanx to school, by Wana Wana Udobang; Revenge of the older woman, by Betty Irabor; and The week our girls came back, by Ayeola Mabioku .
Joke Silva and Kate Henshaw were on hand for the strategy session. In attendance at the occasion were Alhaji Aliko Dangote, Mrs Folorunso Alakija, Otunba Niyi Adebayo, Dame Abimbola Fashola, Mrs Funso Amosun, Chief (Mrs) Nike Akande, Mrs Ajimobi (wife of the governor of Oyo State), Senator Daisy Danjuma, Chief (Mrs) Alaba Lawson, Dr (Mrs) Tokunbo Awolowo – Dosumu and Chief Ade – Ojo, among others. The book is divided into nine parts. The introductory part is titled, Everyone has a story. And her own story is that she has chosen to speak “above whispers”.
The second part titled, Feminist theory and activism, features 12 essays. In one of the essays titled, Feminism 101, Adeleye – Fayemi lists ten myths about feminists. According to her, contrary to the myth that feminists hate men, feminists only engage “in a global struggle against all forms of patriarchal oppression”.
She describes as a myth another claim that feminists do not marry or cannot stay married, saying, “They however will not stay married to men who are afraid of powerful, ambitious women, men who are threatened by a woman’s success and men who need to establish their manhood through physical and emotional abuse. When feminists marry, they seek relationships grounded in love, mutual respect and shared values. We want every woman to be respected for the choices she makes. A woman can choose to marry, divorce if she has to, remarry if she wants to, or be single. There should be no judgement for the choices that women make, even if sometimes the choices might be considered poor ones.
The operative word here is ‘choice’”. Other myths she disclaims include that feminism is alien to Africa, feminists are anti-religion, feminists are elite, educated women fighting for themselves, feminists want to control the world like men do, feminists are against culture and tradition, and feminists are a bunch of crazy, confused women.
Writing another essay titled, Let’s talk about sex, Adeleye –Fayemi joins issues with those who are part of “a global, ultra conservative network that is ideologically opposed to any discussion about sexuality”. She continues: “As far as they are concerned, any mention of ‘sexuality’ is about homosexuality, and ‘family planning’ means abortion. Whether we like it or not, our children are exposed to situations or people who will take advantage of their innocence if they do not have the tools to understand what is happening to them and around them.
When someone tells a young girl who does not know any better that she cannot get pregnant if she does not have an orgasm, you can imagine the fate of millions of girls who have fallen victim due to ignorance and misinformation”.
In another essay titled, The March 8th bandwagon, the writer says when she thinks about the fuss being made about International Women’s Day (IWD), it reminds me her of those “who were blissfully unaware that there are women working hard to build a movement for social justice”. She narrates how she was asked to name challenges African women faced in the UK when she was being interviewed for her job at Akina Mama wa Afrika (AMwa).
“They found it surprising that a young Nigerian – British woman, who did not have to worry about her immigration status and who had already received a decent education, was better equipped for the job than older, more experienced women who had been living in the UK for much longer. I told them that being Black-British was not without its challenges.
Two days after our wedding, my husband and I were almost homeless because the flat we were paying rent on was repossessed by the local council. Our landlord, the legal occupant of the flat who had moved to Nigeria, had sub-let to us and was collecting our rent but not paying back to the council.
We had to hurriedly pack our things, our wedding gifts unopened, to stay with a friend till we could make other arrangements. In addition, at the Department of Health where I worked as an Administrative Officer, I got to know what personal and institutional racism was like”. The third segment of Loud Whispers is wholly devoted to politics, religion and society. There are 12 essays in the segment.
One of the essays titled, Pythons do not dance, warns that everyone loses when there is violent conflict. It adds: “Let those beating the drum of war beware. Sometimes only the skeletons are left to dance”. The fourth segment is on social justice and one of the 10 essays it features, titled, A tray of locust beans, talks about a small girl who was taken advantage of and sexually abused, but through the help of an activist triumphed.
The fifth segment addresses inter-generational issues and has eight essays. One of the essays is on Queen College sexual harassment allegations. The sixth segment dwells on relationships. One of the six essays here lists ten ways to improve in-law relationships; another itemises how to be a good husband.
The seventh segment is all about self-awareness while the eighth speaks of other observations. Under ‘Other Observations’, there are six essays one of which deals with dress codes. In the last segment, Adeleye – Fayemi pays tributes to some legendary women including Bisi Olateru-Olagbegi, Chief (Mrs) HID Awolowo and Silochina Foster.
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