By Esther Onyegbula
Esther Ijewere is an enterprising social activist, gender advocate, columnist, author, mother of two and the Executive Director of Rubies Ink Initiative for Women and Children. An Olabisi Onabanjo University-trained Sociologist, as a social advocate, she is the brain behind W.A.R- Walk Against Rape, an advocacy initiative created to lend a voice for the victims of rape and demand justice. She is also a columnist with a national daily, a platform used to celebrate exceptional women with inspiring stories across the globe. In her bid to seek balance with her work, she started the fast-growing community for Men called ‘Men who Inspire.
With hindsight tell us about growing up and lessons you think can be drawn
Independence and giving are some of the dynamics that my mother taught me while growing up and it played a huge role in my life. She made me realise the power of giving from an early age. My mother taught us to give to people as much as you can and be willing to lift others up. She would give from the little she had while we were growing up and tell us it’s her own way of contributing to humanity.
The major lesson I learnt from that is to treat people fairly always; this philosophy has so far reflected in my work and life.
Looking back what events can you consider the major landmarks so far in various phases of life you have encountered?
Childbirth, I know it sounds clichéd, but it changed my perception of life and made me more compassionate towards others. I have other areas of my life that truly stand out but there is just something about the two phases of me bearing my kids that lingers and serve as a reminder that I have to live my purpose as a mother, woman and above all a human. It also put me in check and helps me do right by God and humanity.
Have you ever had an experience you can term a turning point?
I had to make a major decision between staying happy or dancing to the drumbeat of what the society expects from me as a woman and a public figure. I decided to protect my sanity and peace of mind. It was a huge decision and a major turning point I will never forget. Each time I look back at my bravery; I clap for myself because I lived my truth and found my peace.
Were there people who inspired your steps and how much of influence were they?
My mother. She pushed, encouraged and supported me to become the woman I am today. She is one of my greatest influence because through her I learnt that people can be inspired by our imperfection. My late Uncle Olubunmi Rosiji, who passed away in 2017, was also a big influence; as a matter of fact he was my biggest cheerleader. I remember when I became a columnist in 2015 and I was very scared of how people will receive a young girl who is a women’s advocate turned journalist; my uncle was the first to call that Saturday morning to encourage me, he bought a copy of the newspaper every Saturday majorly because of me.
Also, my godfather, His Eminence Cardinal Olubunmi Okogie- He never tells me what I love to hear and I like that. When I am wrong, he calls me to order and often times re-direct my thoughts. He always tells me no matter how dark the night is, the day will always be brighter.
So far, what can you consider your greatest achievements?
Using the gift God deposited in me to help others, being a blessing and a voice to voiceless women. The mere fact that my name is a solution to a problem I solve is an achievement, considering how tough it was in the beginning.
Having celebrated over 300 women on Women of Rubies, using Men Who Inspire to celebrate the bravery in men and also lending my voice to victims of rape through Walk Against Rape and having over 100,000 copies of my Information handbook on Rape “Breaking the silence” donated, are feats I do not take for granted.
What is your vision of what society should be?
A sane society where the rights of everyone is respected; a society where everything works, one with basic amenities and infrastructure to alleviate poverty and lack; a society free of rape, domestic violence and human rights violation as a whole.
Talking about the role women play, what is your view about women in leadership, corporate governance, do we have enough women as it is?
I honestly feel we are getting there. Our role in society is more significant than it was 10 years ago; the world pays attention to us in every sector we find ourselves. While we still struggle with gender imbalance in most of these sectors I think we’ve made good progress and we will continue to strive for better balance that rid our society of gender inequality.
What are the factors limiting women from getting to the peak of their careers in corporate organisations?
This inaccurate perception of gender equality limits opportunities for women as a group because it creates false optimism and eliminates the perceived need to make things better. “Women who perceive that their opportunities for advancement are hindered by pervasive gender discrimination express stronger gender group identification than women who perceive gender discrimination as an isolated occurrence”. If we push ourselves and support us to get to the peak of our careers, other factors limiting us like sexism and prevailing Perceptions of Gender and Leadership will frizzle out. Let’s not also forget societal issues that are deeply rooted in culture and public policy.
Do you think society is fair enough to single moms?
I honestly think society still needs a lot of sensitization on how to treat single moms. Being a single mom is not a death sentence or a channel for stigmatization. Being one has made me appreciate every single mom out there. No one goes into a marriage with the hope of being a single mom. The moment a woman plays the role of two people in one body, she deserves a lot of accolades.