Erelu Bisi Fayemi

By Dapo  Ipoola

In September 2016, it was announced that Mother Theresa was being named as a Saint. At a callow age of 12, Theresa who was a Roman Catholic decided that she wanted to go to India to spread the Christian message and help the people, and this she courageously did.

In 1929, she travelled to India and she ended up dedicating her life to helping poor people, particularly in the Indian city of Kolkata. She described her work as God’s work. In 1979, she received the Nobel Peace Prize for her works.

he asked that the big dinner in her honour be cancelled and all the money be given to the poor people of Kolkata. To this day, she is remembered by how much she loved and cared for the people and she’s being praised as a Saint.

Between 1925 and 2013, Margaret Thatcher changed the face of modern British politics. She started her political career at Oxford University where she was president of the Conservative Association. She later ran for parliament to represent Dartford, but she lost out to her Labour rival. In 1959, she contested and won the parliamentary seat in Finchley, and later became Margaret Thatcher MP.

 Margaret Thatcher made history in 1975 when she became the leader of the Conservative Party, one of the two major British Prime Minister. She had some pretty radical views and earned herself, Iron Lady. She became the longest continuously serving Prime Minister of the 20th century.

As with most political figures, some people love her while others don’t. Some are of the view that she saved Britain when it was facing litany of economic challenges. As a strong character, Margaret Thatcher certainly left an indelible footprint on British economy and politics.

At the grand age of 91 years, Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth 11 is incredibly deserving of her place in the list of women who have left their mark on the world. She has been sitting on the throne for 66 years, making her the world’s longest serving monarch. She has seen the country through good and bad times, as well sitting with 12 different Prime Ministers.

She was just 25 years old when her father died and the crown was passed on to her, and she has been in the spotlight almost every day of her life. The Queen is an incredibly busy woman. She has many important jobs, including being Head of Commonwealth, Head of Church of England, and Head of the Armed Forces.

She carries out many extremely important duties like official opening of parliament which is once in a year as the country would be in a spot of worry if that fails to hold. Queen Elizabeth has worked incredibly hard throughout her life and has certainly made British monarchy history.

Like these iconoclastic women of all time nobility, like Erelu Bisi Fayemi. Erelu Bisi Fayemi is the wife of Ekiti State governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi. Before becoming first lady, she had distinguished herself in the world of activism as many of her works are evidently available to give an infallible credence to this.

BAF(Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi) as she is fondly called is a British-Nigerian feminist activist, gender specialist, policy advocate, prolific writer, CEO of Above Whispers Limited, and publisher of an online community called Abovewhispers.com.

In 2010, Erelu Bisi Fayemi co-founded the African Women’s Development Fund (AWDF), which is the first pan-African grant making organization which supports the work of organisations promoting women’s rights in Africa.

As an intrepid gender activist, she was a UN Women Nigeria Senior Advisor, and was later appointed as a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at King’s College, University of London; she is also on the Steering Committee of the Regional African Women Leaders Network, AWLN.

As an individual who has distinguished herself in the gender activism, she had served as the Director of Akina Mama wa Afrika(AMwA), an international development organization for African women based in London, UK, with an Africa regional office in Kampala, Uganda.

While in the UK, she worked in the Department of Health as an Administrative Officer, where she dutifully advanced the interest of despaired and downtrodden women. As a result of her inhibited passion for women to find their feet politically, socially, mentally and economically, she established the African Women’s Leadership Institute, AWLI, a training and networking forum for young African women.

This leadership institute has grown to become such a powerful legacy that had trained over 6000 women across Africa, most of whom are now in senior decision-making positions as Ministers, civil society leaders, policy makers, opinion leaders, and employees of international organisations.

Always shining bright like a coat of many colours, BAF has associated with innumerable international women’s rights and philanthropy organisations, including as co-chair of the International Network of Women’s Funds, president  of the Association for Women’s Rights in Development, AWID, and chair of the International Women’s Health Coalition, IWHC. Everly assiduous and irrepressible, BAF has given more to the advancement of women with little or zero voice than any gender activist in Africa. In the early 2000, she was a member on the Board of Trustees for Comic Relief, UK.

As an individual who passed through Erelu’s activistic tutelage, 2011 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Leymah Gbowee of Liberia delivered Erelu’s 50th birthday in 2013, titled “Leading the Change: The Journey of an African Woman,” this lecture detailed how Erelu Fayemi’s support was foundational to Gbowee’s work in Liberia, eventually leading to her Nobel Prize.

Gbowee chronologically hinged on how BAF as head of AWDF, had supported the women’s peace movement in Liberia in its infancy, saying, “We crave change but wait for someone to come and save us. Most times, our reluctance to creating change and acting accordingly means that we don’t change perception about us.

“But, Bisi, you have helped us to achieve change. You have used your position to see dreams and show that change is possible and helped to set our minds to it. That I won the Nobel Prize is because of people like you. That day, you didn’t see me. You saw a sister. Today, we say ‘Thank you’. You have helped us to set our minds to it.”

As a star girl that she is, her activistic deeds have not gone unnoticed and without recognition. In 2007, she was given the “Changing the Face of Philanthropy” award by the Women’s Funding Network, and was named one of the 20 most influential African women in 2009, by New African magazine.

In 2011, Women Deliver listed her as one of the top 100 people in the world, advancing the rights of women and girls. Fast forward to 2019, she was awarded the 2018 Zik Leadership Prize for humanitarian Leadership by Public Research and Analysis Centre, (PPRAC). On the 16th of Nov., 2019, she was conferred the chieftancy title of Oluomo of llara-Mokin, by Oba Abiodun Aderemi Adefehinti.

She also a Honorary Fellow of the Osun State College of Education; and she is a member of the Governing Council of Elizade university, and currently the chair of the Gender Based Violence Law Management Committee, Ekiti State, and Chair, Ekiti State AIDS Control Agency.

She audaciously led the campaign to enact a Gender Based Violence Prohibition Law(2011, revised in October, 2019, and Equal Opportunities Bill(2013), and a HIV Anti-Stigma Bill(2014). All without encumbrance passed and domesticated.

Gender Desk Officers were inaugurated across MDAs and sixteen LGAs, in the State Civil Service of Ekiti State. This was conceived so as to promote gender equality and women empowerment, emphasizing and preventing sexual violence in the workplace. Gender Mobile’s Initiative through its Campus Pal Mobile Platform was inaugurated so as to encourage confidential record of sexual harassment, data collection and effective case management.

Recently, Keep Girls in School ‘Pad Bank’ was launched in Ekiti. This initiative was to ensure that proper menstrual hygiene is observed by women. During the launching, the first lady said, “We have over 13 million out of school children in Nigeria, and 60% are girls. The pad bank resonated with me because this is one problem that we must fix.

“We might not be able to fix a whole range of issues that keep us awake at night, but we can fix period poverty. This affects probably one out of every five girls or women.”

 In her usual and uncommon act of magnanimity, Erelu Bisi Fayemi’s humanitarian gesture has imbued hope in many hopeless lives. She has given voice to the voiceless, adopted those that were neglected and abandoned, both young and old, raised the bar against discriminatory limitations that often work against women in our gender biased society, and she is a classical example of what man can do, a woman can do it better; and she is always fond of identifying with the widows, orphans and homeless. Indeed, BAF is a succor giver.

During the Covid-19 lockdown, many of her initiatives were engaged in distributing of palliative for babies born during the pandemic. Cheques were presented to citizens suffering from chronic diseases, awareness of breast cancer and other women related diseases; house-to-house distribution of Ekiti State Food Bank Covid-19 Response was put in place to mitigate the effect of hunger as a result of the lockdown; Ekiti Development Foundation i.e a Food Outreach Program(Ounje Arugbo) that largely caters for the welfare of the elderly; Obirinkete Tour was activated so as to ensure that the interest of every woman is protected.

BAF as a prolific writer has authored and co-authored many books: some of them are, Speaking Above a Whisper, Speaking for Myself, Loud Whispers, Voice, Power and Soul(co-edited with Jessica Horn), and of recent, Where is your Wrapper. Many of her quotes and publications are widely referenced and documented.

During the licentious frenzy of girl-child marriage by some randy Islamic scholars, Erelu Bisi Fayemi was intrepidly in the forefront of “No to Girl-Child Marriage” campaign, and she often quoted as saying, “It is not religion that will take us to heaven, but our deeds. All the muslim leaders that I know, including those canvassing for early marriage now will not give their daughters at tender age.

“We watch weddings of children of these influential muslim leaders, senators, governors and others on TV, not once have I seen when they gave out underaged girls as brides. Their girls are given out at full age and well educated.”

As a relentless gender advocate, she must have drawn inspiration in the word of Maya Angelou, which says, “Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage.”

Putting BAF’s gender advocacy in clinical and analytical perspective, one needs no clairvoyant to know that she is a woman of parts, not of straw. And the chain effect of her works must have motivated the likes of young Malala Yousafzai, and Wumi Ogunrotimi of Gender Mobile.

With countless Erelu’s charitable and altruistic deeds, the word of the great American sage, Abraham Lincoln, comes in handy and it says, “In the end, it is not the years in our life that counts. It is the life in our years.”

Erelu Bisi Fayemi has demonstrated that we can impact life positively not by how long we may live but by how well we can. And when posterity shall beckon, she will be remembered as that individual who always stands tall against gender oppression, discrimination and that lioness who believes that women should have rights, should not be battered, should have education, should be heard and respected, and be economically self-reliant.

In Ekiti, it is a case of two-in-one when the state actually bargained for on,  just as the governor’s wife keeps complementing her husband’s creative efforts at making the State an Eldorado of sort.

Dapo Ipoola, a Public Affairs analyst writes in from Ado-Ekiti

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