By Olayinka Latona
Oluyemisi Alatise was recently elected in Manchester, United Kingdom as President of International Inner Wheel, IIW, one of the largest women’s service voluntary organisations in the world, active in more than 103 countries and has over 103,000 members in its 94 years of existence. IIW draws its membership primarily from the wives of Rotarians and other female professionals. Occupying the lofty position that comes to Africa, especially to a Nigerian woman for the first time in history, Alatise, who will pilot the club till 2017, took over from Mrs. Charlotte de Vos of Belgium.
In this interview, Alatise recounts how she emerged the President of IIW, and her childhood which gave her entrepreneurial skills and philanthropist lifestyle.
How do you feel becoming the first African or, better still, the first Nigerian woman to occupy the highest position in IIW?
I feel delighted, I feel humbled because, whilst I was active in Inner Wheel, I was not working because I wanted to be the President, but I enjoyed what I was doing. I enjoy serving humanity and it just fell on my laps.
Was there any friction, campaign challenges or battle during the election?
There was no battle because you did not even see your voters and our voting was done by postal system, you could not rig or canvass. Not that we gathered in a place and members were asked whether they liked a contestant or not. Your country nominates you and the nomination will be sent to the administrative department where it will be circulated to countries all over the world. Then from the nominees, members will choose, through the postal system, the person they want as their President. Therefore, there is no way you can know your voters; you are seen and assessed by your activities through your curriculum vitae which details where you have served and what you have done.
What impact do you think your emergence as IIW President will have on African women?
For Nigerian women, I am publishing a book that has contributions from about 42 countries and focuses on female privileges, challenges and abuse of girls and women. We are not a political group, hence we cannot force an enactment but we can create awareness that women are endangered species right from the womb. In some countries, when they realize you are pregnant and you are going to have a girl-child, such pregnant will be aborted. If they did not know the sex, once the baby is delivered, she will be killed. If a girl escaped that as an infant, her genital is mutilated in different forms while some other girls are forced into child-marriage.
We are going to expose all these ills in the book for more awareness on the need to put an end to all the negative practices against the girl-child and women in our country and Africa in general.
I do not understand why a woman should allow anybody to mutilate her daughter, we are going to stop the vicious cycle because if it was done to the mother, then it must not be done to the girl-child. The practice is wrong and does not have any medical advantage on the girl. That is why there is the need to educate upcoming mothers not to allow their daughters to be mutilated just because it was done to them. It is paramount that we save the girl-child, especially in Africa because it is disheartening that in some parts of the world, if the parents did not mutilate their girls, the girls later on mutilate themselves because men refuse to marry them out of the fear that the sexual urge of unmutilated women cannot be controlled, and it has been proved that female genital mutilation can only make a woman insatiable.
How do you feel when you see kids on the street hawking?
Hawking is part of child abuse. But, on the other hand, there is no harm teaching a child how to trade but such child must be guided. I was a street hawker as a little girl; my mother used to trade in Jankara Market in Lagos while we lived in Rika. When I closed from school by I.30pm, I will go to my father’s stall and help him till around 5pm. From there I will go to my mother’s stall where she will give me some wares to sell on my way home and I will sell. But my mother would educate me on the route that I must follow and warn me seriously not to follow anybody inside to sell my wares. There is no harm doing it, parents just need to educate the children not to follow any customer inside because we have to be street-wise to avoid the dangers involved in street hawking.
We cannot continue to pamper the girls and push the boys. If you pamper the girls, you are sending them to the world where they will be pushed because if you did not push the girls, they will eventually get to the world where they will be pushed to the corner.
But some sell till late in the night
I do not support that. I will advise parents to reduce the zeal to use their children to look for money, hawking is not all about looking for money. The minimum their children can get within a reasonable time should be enough for them and they should not exploit the girl-child because, in doing so, they are exposing her to danger.
What is your view on the banning of street trading in Lagos?
I support the ban because I was talking of 50 years ago and Lagos was not the way it is now, it is a different case now. The Lagos where I grew up in, we walked on the street by 10pm and nobody will disturb you. The ban is for the safety of the child, the parent and the society; such children are being protected from harm and moral danger.
Advice to Nigerians especially the women folk
My advice is not only for Nigerian woman but also to everyone that whatever we like to do for the betterment of our country and society, we should do it without thinking of the monetary aspect because other successes will follow it.
Theme for tenure
The theme is ‘Touch a heart’, I believe in anything one does, should be done with kindness. Touch a Heart is more than a philosophy of the mind; it is a philosophy of the spirit because you cannot touch a heart; when it becomes touchable, then it is diseased. You can only touch a heart emotionally, by your words and deeds. You can touch a heart by listening, not necessarily giving advice, just listening to someone pouring emotions out, with patience. Giving someone a put on the back, a warm hug, when there is no one to acknowledge, can give the courage to move a mountain. A wink of an eye means you can do it. The smile expressed by the recipient of your kindness is an experience more powerful than words.
To become acquainted with touching a heart, one must be prepared to learn new things, and feel new feelings. It is good to touch other people’s hearts subtly, not allowing our tongues to hurt those around us or hurt ourselves but rather be kind with our words.