Esther Ijewere is an enterprising social activist, women’s advocate, columnist, author and the Founder of Rubies Ink Initiative for Women and Children — a non-profit outfit devoted to advocacy, development and social enterprise solutions amongst others.
An Olabisi Onabanjo University trained Sociologist, Esther 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, an initiative endorsed by the Lagos State Ministry of Women Affairs and Poverty Alleviation.
The NGO organises workshops in secondary schools tagged College Acquaintance Rape Education (C.A.R.E) in partnership with the Lagos state Ministry of Justice and the Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team (DSVRT). Esther, the initiator of Project Capable; a Lagos State Ministry of Education approved programme, Esther is the youngest recipient of The Idea Builders Women Mentoring Women Award, winning Mentee of the year 2010 and “Women Enterprise Award” from Vital Voices International & Exxon Mobil. She also won the award for “Best Use of Advocacy” from her Alma Mata; Olabisi Onabanjo University in 2012, for her contribution in fighting and creating awareness on Rape. In 2016 Esther bagged four awards for her platform Women of Rubies, notably among these award is “Young Person of the Year” and “Wise Women in Media” awards.
She is a Fellow with Vital Voices Global Leadership USA; an organization founded by Hillary Clinton and aimed at empowering young women change makers all over the world.
She unveiled her first book on rape and violence against women, titled “Breaking the Silence”. She is also a columnist with the Guardian Newspaper, her page “ Women of Rubies” a platform used to celebrate exceptional women with inspiring stories, the page is a sequel to her award winning blog www.womenofrubies.com, which is fast becoming the one stop blog for the everyday woman. Esther recently started a platform for men called “Men who Inspire”, to further balance her advocacy work as an advocate, and also kicked off the #GettalkingwithEsther show to spread positivity on social media.
In this interview, she bares all.
Kindly tell us the story of Women of Rubies, your career path and how it all started?
Women of Rubies was born out of my passion for humanity. I started out as a social activist, lending my voice to victims of rape, and other forms of gender-based violence. This evolved into the media, which is the Women of Rubies platform where I use my column and blog as a vehicle of social change to put the spotlight on other women in different sectors who are contributing their quota to nation building and adding value to the society through their work.
I believe Women of Rubies was divinely orchestrated by God to give me a life path, touch lives and show young women that their dreams are valid.
Blogging, through the Women of Rubies platform, has been very interesting. It avails me the opportunity to be more inspired and challenges me to even do more.
Looking back, would you say Women of Rubies and your other initiatives habe achieved what it set out to accomplish?
Absolutely! We have accomplished even more than we envisaged ten years ago. Despite the losses we suffered, we have stayed solid and consistent through the years.
Every project we have embarked on has impacted lives and added value. We have served those at the grassroots and the high earned professionals. The ripple effect of the work we do is unquantifiable, and that’s the reason why even after 10 years, with all the bumps and losses we’ve encountered, we are still very relevant in the sectors we represent, because God is fully involved in everything we do.
Rubies Ink Initiative championed the first of its kind Walk against Rape campaign in Nigeria, The walk did not only encourage victims of rape to speak up, It also became an annual event most of concerned Nigerians and celebrities look forward to. We used different toolkit (workshops, media, information handbook, town hall meetings in different communities) to educate and sensitize the society.
We also got justice for several victims through our alliance with the Lagos State Ministry of Women Affairs and the domestic and sexual violence response team (DSVRT). The walk is endorsed by the Federal and State Government respectively. We have over fifty celebrities and influencers who are our ambassadors.
They use their platforms to educate the society on the scourge of rape, and aim for victims to get justice. The walk will be moving to other parts of Nigeria this year by God’s grace.
With Women of Rubies, we have given visibility and brought stories of different amazing women to the front burner, featured and celebrated over 1000 (one thousand women) through our Guardian Newspaper column, blog and social media pages.
We have raised over N5M funds for several women in distress, paid hospital bills, supported widows, paid rent for homeless victims of domestic violence and also re-integrate them back into the society. During the thick of COVID-19 pandemic, we were one of the organizations at the forefront raising funds for families who were affected, and we continue to support many.
Let’s talk about “Get Talking with Esther”. Can you shed more light on this project?
I am very expressive, I love to write and read from people, I love to celebrate people and give them hope, I love when I can feel people’s thoughts through words. “Get talking with Esther” is just about that. It’s a #Tweetchat session that gives you the ambience of a show on Twitter.
Basically, using my platform, years of experience, and skill set for social good to give everyone a voice. We fix broken tables, bring “Under the table” conversations to the front burner for positivity. We bring people who share life experiences, healing, and learning. My mission is to use the show to spread positivity on social media, especially Twitter. It will be 2 years by August 13th, 2022.
Intimate us about your proudest moments in the last ten years?
There are many proud moments, and it will be hard to pick just one. But I’d say each time I touch someone’s life, give hope to a helpless person, use my platform to celebrate a person who needs visibility and light up someone’s dark path, it becomes a proud moment.
The joy of giving back and paying it forward is innate. It’s my happy place. Above all, being a mother, and experiencing childbirth is my proudest moment. The joy of holding your baby in your hands. It’s unexplainable. I pray every woman seeking the fruit of the womb will experience this.
Kindly mention some of the lessons life has taught you?
Patience; life has taught me to be patient with myself and others. Setting boundaries is also one of the lessons I have learnt over the years. For a longtime, I didn’t have boundaries, and I ended up burning out and feeling used. The moment I started setting my boundaries, things changed. I learned how to say no respectfully without feeling guilty. Setting boundaries has helped me greatly in navigating where and who I give my energy.
Life also taught me the beauty of releasing power and letting go easily. While I am still a work in progress, these lessons have helped me stay grounded and focused.
You have a passion for women and single mothers. How was this ignited?
My passion for women is innate, I mean being a woman, I should love and support other women naturally. However, single motherhood is very personal. I am a single mum, I know and identify the pain and struggles of single mothers. It’s twice the sacrifice, and it takes a lot to raise kids alone. Spreading light to other lone parents is from a place of experience, love and understanding. I wish society would judge us less, and support us more.
Was there any time you had felt like giving in, wrapping your platforms and moving on?
Yes, several times. It’s hard to run an organization in Nigeria, especially when you don’t have core funding and lack committed human power. I almost gave up everything when my marriage crashed. My saving grace was remembering that my purpose is bigger than me, and my light is brighter than being a wife. Each time I have those wrapping up moments, I reflect on why I started and the beautiful moments.I will keep pushing against all odds. It’s an assignment and I have to do it well. Giving up is not an option.
Who really is Esther Ijewere?
Esther is smart, strong, opinionated, and kind hearted. She is determined, dogged and much focused. She is passionate about issues that affect women and children. She is the Introvert, who loves her own space, the multi-tasking single mum who works hard so her kids can learn all she was not taught. The deep soul, and very spiritual woman who prays a lot. The writer who writes with passion and deep understanding for humanity. The very private woman who prefers to share her work than her personal life. The playful, happy-go-lucky girl who is living intentionally. Esther, like every human is not perfect. She is a work in progress
What principles have worked for you over the years?
Putting God first, staying focused, honesty, diligence and speaking my truth against all odds. These principles have and continue to help me stay grounded.
How did you build such a strong following on social media?
That’s the power of consistency. I have also managed to keep a drama-free life on social media, separated my personal life from my work, and consciously use my platforms to support folks and spread love and light. I have also focused on being relevant and not just popular. I worked hard over the years to make my name a solution to a problem I solve. People gravitate towards value naturally. However, I do not take glory for any of it. I am just a vessel doing God’s bidding on earth. It is my hope that my light continues to attract and touch souls all over the world, even beyond social media.
Who are your role models?
My Mom for being a strong support system and instilling the right values in me. I always tell people that my life, especially my philanthropic side, is a reflection of good upbringing. However, I am a mummy’s girl with a mind of my own.
Oprah Winfrey- Her success and resilience is a vision board of what I intend to be and more. One of my late Uncles; Bolaji Rosiji, told me one time that my drive and passion reminds him of Oprah. It’s a compliment I hold dear to my heart. I wish to meet her someday.
Every woman before me in the development, advocacy and media sector is my role model. I have great respect for pace-setters who gave young women like me wings to fly, the ones who make room for us to grow and amplify our light.
If you were to start all over again what will you do differently?
I will align with people who have more expertise than me, and be more open about my struggles and challenges. Being in a society where you are constantly judged for your failure and mistakes could kill your morale, and make it hard for you to open up.
I am learning how to ask for help and lean on people who can add value to me, and my brand. Life is a lesson, I embrace everything with love, and open to change and best practices.
What is your message to women battling one challenge or the other?
Don’t give up! .There is light at the end of the dark tunnel. Don’t keep your problems to yourself, share with people who can proffer solutions and help. You are not your mistake and challenges, don’t let it consume you. There is always someone out there you can talk to, and ask for support.
How do you rejuvenate when your energy is down?
I meditate, listen to frequency music, practice self-affirmations, focus on my power spot for energy boost, and stay mindful. I reduce my screen time when I am down and just be in the moment, appreciating the things in my present.
How do you unwind?
Spending time with my kids, Netflix and chill, and sometimes hanging out with friends and family who love me for who I am.