2nd FOWOSO SUMMIT
It’s two years and we are proud! We are proud of the thousands of women that can now support their homes financially; we are proud of the thousands of women that can now boldly speak for social justice; we are truly proud of the thousands of women that have been empowered by FOWOSO! I call them the FOWOSO army! Yes we are proud of how far we have gone, we are however aware that the journey to gender inclusiveness in all aspect of the socio-economic spectrum is still miles ahead. We know this and we are not going to relent; we will not faint until we see women everywhere being treated with as much respect as their male counterparts. Our motivation is not because we ourselves are women but because we seek a society where continuous development is achieved and sustained. We must come to the understanding that everyone, regardless of gender, is needed for sustainable development.
Let me make it emphatically clear today, it is to no one’s benefit to suppress the abilities of women by denying them quality education, marrying them off against their will and silencing their mouth when they want to speak. The stats are clear, nations that have risen to become world economic giants today, are nations that invested significantly in their human resources, females and males alike, without bias. FOWOSO has the ideology that everyone must be allowed to express their selves without preference to any particular gender. As I have said before and continue to say; we should not expect any form of development if women, who make up more than half of the entire population are restricted to kitchen duties and child rearing only and are then expected to, like serfs, totally depend on their husbands for every need. It is simple economics, a high dependency ratio automatically results to stalled development.
Taking a cue from an analogy I made between Nigeria and United Arab Emirate (UAE) few years ago. In the 1970s, UAE and Nigeria were classified as low income countries because both countries were making less than a thousand dollars per person in a year. 40 years down the line, UAE had progressed to making more than 39,000 dollars per person in a year, while Nigeria could only make about 2,000 dollars per person in a year. As a result, UAE is currently being regarded as a high income country while Nigeria is classified as a low middle income country. It saddens my heart to know that UAE which was making roughly equal amount with Nigeria in the 1970s is now making 18 times more than we are making as a country. At a point, I had to ask myself the necessary question; “what changed in the UAE and did not change in Nigeria to cause such disparity in just 40 years?”. After my personal research, I found the answer to be female education.
Did you know that in the 1970s, more than half of the women in UAE and Nigeria were illiterate? However the UAE made significant investments in the Girl-child education and 40years later, just like magic, more than 90% of women in that country are well educated. On the contrary, Nigeria female illiteracy population remains high till date. More than half of our women are still without a formal education. These facts made me conclude that; one more educated woman leads to much more national income.
Knowing this, I have dedicated my life to driving gender equality, not because I love the female folk more, but because I seek the growth and advancement of humanity as a whole. I am very delighted to know that I have infected every FOWOSO member with this positive virus that strives for gender equality in every aspect of our socio-economic spectrum.
Greatest error as a nation has been and continues to be; denying the womenfolk equal right to socio-economic privileges by upholding cultural norms and traditions that discriminate against them. Permit me to give you a snap shot of our reality as a country. Every single day; 102 women die as a result of childbirth, while 2,123 children’s dream to celebrate their 5th birthday is crushed by death. These challenges are largely a result of high level discriminatory cultural norms and practices against women leading to their inability to make health promoting decisions in the household. Countless women have lost their lives to various kind of diseases, breast cancer inclusive, because they can’t seek health care if their husbands do not give them a go ahead. This is totally unacceptable and has to change. For crying out loud, this is their health we are talking about and not their husbands’.
Now, that being said, I am sure you may be wondering what exactly FOWOSO has done to change this narrative in the past one year since inauguration. Time will not permit me to mention all of our giant strides towards enlisting the participation of Ondo State women in the socio-economic development of the State; I will however attempt to highlight a few.
First, let me begin with our Local Government Outreaches which were held across the 18 Local Government Areas (LGAs) of Ondo State. It will interest you to know that the implementation template can be divided into the skill acquisition, empowerment and medical intervention. Through the skill acquisition, we have been able to train at least 1800 women (an average of 100 women per LGA) on ready-to-use skills with high economic value such as shoe-making, fashion design, make-up, soap making, bags and bead making, catering and confectionaries and many more. We did not stop there; all graduates from the FOWOSO skill acquisition class received start-up kits which enabled them to immediately begin to earn money from their newly acquired skills.
I am proud to mention the testimonial of one of the graduates from our shoe making class Olori Lizzy Akinlosotu (now fondly called Mama Gucci) who has been exceptional with her designs and has even gone ahead to organize step-down trainings in her community. Of course, she is making money from this – all thanks to FOWOSO. I am very sure there are many more Mama Guccis spread across the State, some of whom may be seated here today.
Besides the skill acquisition, FOWOSO has also impacted the lives of our women through the provision of empowerment items to improve the productivity of local businesses. Some of the empowerment items included sewing machines, grinding machines, hair dryers and laptops; not less than 1000 items have been distributed to women and youth across the State between January and December 2018 courtesy of FOWOSO. Once again, I am glad to state here that preliminary results from our monitoring and evaluation exercise have revealed that some of these beneficiaries have been able to make enough money to purchase more items and further expand their businesses. Lastly, the FOWOSO outreach template also includes a medical intervention to cater for the health needs of women and children in hard-to-reach areas of the State. We also teach our women to become breast aware and train them on how to conduct breast self-examination in a bid to reduce maternal mortality linked to breast cancer in Ondo State.
I cannot fail to mention the role FOWOSO also played in the fight against rape in Ondo State. In July this year, FOWOSO successfully made a strong stand against rape by organizing a “walk against rape” to address the increased incidence of rape in the State, some of which were even perpetuated by men in uniform. We could not fold our hands and watch our young girls being raped by unscrupulous elements; hence we came out simultaneously across the 18 LGAs of Ondo State with one voice to demand an end to rape in Ondo State. Our efforts have not been in vain. More people are now aware that Arabinrin has zero tolerance to violence against women and FOWOSO women are always by my side and ready to take action whenever the need arises.
As many of you may be aware, I have several projects I have initiated in the State for the development of the girl child and reduction in maternal and child mortality and I am proud to mention that FOWOSO has been part of the success stories which we can now link to these initiatives. The BEMORE Empowered Initiative is one of such projects aimed at mainstreaming gender into the fields of renewable energy and information and communication technology (ICT). Based on the need to continuously build the capacity of women and girls, FOWOSO has continuously supported the BEMORE programme by providing support staff who function as matrons, coordinators, facilitators and counsellors. These FOWOSITEs provide mentorship and leadership to the girls who undergo the BEMORE programme. This support has culminated to the training of 1150 girls directly and over 5000 girls indirectly through the BEMORE programme.
The Accelerate Birth Registration Programme, a programme that significantly improved birth registration coverage in Ondo State, also owes its success to the support of FOWOSO women who ensured the full participation of women in the implementing LGAs.
Ladies and gentlemen, I have always had the idea that men show less concern in the upbringing of their kids, but I never understood how terrible it is until the cralwers programme brought this sad reality to light. As one of our activities for this year’s summit, we included a family game that requires the participation of the father, mother and their toddler. The family game, known as crawlers’ competition, is aimed at strengthening the bond between both parents and their kids. In preparation to the event, my team went to all the local governments in Ondo state to select families that will participate in the crawlers’ race during the FOWOSO summit. Their visit to the local governments has really shown that most men are unconcerned in the care and development of their children. From the reports, I learned that there was lack of bonding between parents, that’s where both parents showed up for the competition. In most cases there were no fathers and in cases where the fathers made themselves available, they cared very little. You will begin to realize that the problem of this country is fundamental! Little did I know that this crawlers’ competition would open up the dysfunctional state of families and lack of love and affection within the fabrics of the Nigerian society!
We must understand that it takes two to tango. Men must respect and love their wives; they must show their children that everyone has a role to play in the development of the home and the society. As I said last year, the pursuit of gender equality is definitely daunting, many rocks of stereotypes are particularly exerting, but when more men join us, we are further strengthened to prevail quickly. But whatever the case, we shall prevail.