Mary Izobo is the founder of The Amazon Leadership Initiative (TheALI), which aims to empower women and girls, provide support networks, mentorship, career guidance, education and capacity development to alleviate gender inequality.
She holds a Bachelor of Arts (BA Hons) in French Language from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria; a Bachelor of Laws (LLB) from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland; a Barrister at Law (BL) from the Nigerian Law School, Nigeria; a Master of Laws (LLM) in Human Rights and Democratization in Africa from the University of Pretoria, South Africa; and a Master of Laws (LLM) in Rule of Law for Development from Loyola University Chicago, USA.
She is currently studying for a Doctor of Laws (LLD) with a focus on International Governance at the University of Pretoria, South Africa. She has worked for the United Nations (UN) the African Union Commission (AUC), the Pan-African Parliament (PAP), the Institute for Strategic Litigation in Africa (ISLA) and the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA).
She talks about her journey in an interview with Women of Rubies.
Inspiration Behind The Amazon Leadership Initiative (TheALI)
I was inspired to start TheALI because of my passion and concern (love) for human rights particularly women and girls’ rights.
Impact on society, andTestimonials since inception.
The Amazon Leadership initiative (TheALI), is a not-for-profit organization. It was established to empower women and girls, provide support networks, mentorship, career guidance, education and capacity development to alleviate gender inequality in line with aspiration 6 of the AU Agenda 2063 and goal 5 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) 2030. TheALI envisions a world where everyone has equal rights and opportunities – inter-generational equity.
The impact of TheALI on women and girls includes the advancement and empowerment of women and girls for the fulfilment of their rights, development and wellbeing. We do this through mentorship, career guidance, education and capacity development. We provide education for young women and girls including career guidance in their chosen career fields. We also currently mentor several girls and young women across continents as mentorship is at the heart of TheALI. We have also been able to educate and provide capacity development for young women and girls through webinars, training and informal meetings. Topics of the webinars and training TheALI have covered, include five of the 12 critical areas of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action: Women and girls’ education, the girl child, women in governance, gender and generation equality, and gender-based violence. All of these webinars, training and informal meetings were well attended by individuals who are set to change the world around them. You can find the links to these webinars and advocacy work here.
We have also been able to carry out advocacy programmes for the promotion and protection of the rights and welfare of the girl child using the bottom to top approach to place a girl child at the centre of Africa’s development agenda. In 2020, TheALI collaborated with the Graça Machel Trust (GMT) in commemorating the International Day of the Girl Child through an intergenerational dialogue on the theme ‘She is Equal.’ We brought together girls’ representatives from the five regions in Africa (Central, East, North, West, and Southern Africa) to afford them the opportunity to share their concerns and challenges primarily to inform and influence the advocacy agenda for girls within the African continent. With this intergenerational dialogue, we were able to create an interactive platform for these young girls who presented the barriers that prevent them from enjoying and fulfilling their rights as enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child as we proposed solutions to these barriers.
You have hosted and organized several empowerment programs and conferences how do you manage it all and what drives you?
On how I manage it all, I am constantly motivated by my passion for human rights, gender equality and equity, the importance of learning, sharing and imparting knowledge, partnerships, and collaborations. What drives me is hard work, commitment, consistency, dedication, passion, and above all networking because as they say your network is your net worth.
What are the important aspects you’ve noticed about Africa as someone who has worked with the African Union? What are the things you wish were done differently when it comes to the female gender?
There are so many important aspects to Africa that I have noticed guided by the values and ideals of the African Union. To begin with, I would highlight African Unity. The African Union is the Pan-Africanist continental organization that we have in terms of bringing African people together and formulating the standards for promoting democracy, human rights and pioneering peer-review between and amongst States in Africa.
Another aspect is the role of the youth in nation-building in Africa – Youths are the cornerstone and bedrock of any society, and their role cannot be underestimated or overemphasized. As fuel is the driving force of any vehicle, so is the youth of any nation. Africa has the youngest population in the world where 60% of its population is under 25 years. This means that the average percentage of the youth in any African country is approximately 30 to 50 per cent. Africa must utilise its youths in the development of its future vision and direction, by engaging them in the decision making processes. It is critical that youths play a crucial role in building social cohesion, economic prosperity, and political stability in any nation. This must be done through inclusivity and democratization. In 2018, Ms Aya Chebbi was appointed by the African Union as the first African Union Youth Envoy. This is a step in the right direction for the African Union as there is the need to do more by including the youth in leadership positions.
What I wished was done differently when it comes to the female gender is what I constantly advocate for – gender equality and equity – Give women more representation. In the past few years, the representation of women at the top leadership position in Africa and also at the African Union Commission has improved and increased but we need more women at the top leadership levels. In the history of the African Union, we have had only one female chairperson, Mrs Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and for the first time ever, we have our first female Deputy Chairperson of the Commission, Dr Monique Nsanzabaganwa. The AU needs to continue to advocate for the inclusion of women in leadership positions.
What are some of the challenges of your work?
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a major restraint on everyone. The work that we do at TheALI involves a lot of outreach, advocacy and travelling. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected our capacity, outreach and advocacy programmes. Thus, to manage the present realities given the COVID-19 pandemic, we have had to use Zoom and other online platforms as a working method.
In spite of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have carried out a lot of advocacy programmes virtually by bringing together notable male and female leaders to continue to discuss issues around the achievement of gender equality and equity. We have also carried out work particularly in relation to women and girls in the context of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the rights of women and girls.
However, because these events are virtual, the actual impact on the ground is not one that we would expect without COVID-19. As a result, TheALI is strategizing and revisiting the work done virtually to assess or measure the impact done on the ground where it matters and concerns all beneficiaries. In addition, at TheALI, we continue to make financial adjustments as adequate funding has not been forthcoming and consequently, the capacity of TheALI has suffered from resource constraints.
Other projects and activities?
We are currently working on two major projects slated for the second half of the year 2021 focusing on empowering women and young girls.
3 women who inspire you and why
Mrs. MOE Agbebaku-Izobo (my mum) is my greatest inspiration. She supports and guides me to become the best I can be. She is a pillar, a backbone and a constant reminder that my dreams are valid. Besides my mum, three other women who inspire me in no particular order are: Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Director General of the World Trade Organization; Dr Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of United Nations Women (UN Women) and Mrs Michelle Obama, the former first lady of the United States of America. These women inspire me because they have broken down barriers and shattered glass ceilings in achieving their dreams, pioneering their fields and taking up spaces in male-dominated spheres. These women are strong and phenomenal and bring a realization that your dreams are valid only if you dare to dream. They are the epitome of Black girl magic.
Could you share some brilliant insights from your life experience?
Some of the brilliant insights from my life experience include studying for my law degree, qualifying for the Nigerian Bar, practicing as a Human Rights Lawyer and receiving recognition through numerous awards for my educational and professional experience.
What makes you a Woman of Rubies?
I believe I am a Woman of Rubies because I greatly care for others, value humanity as well as human rights and most importantly, I am a staunch advocate for gender equality and inter-generational equity.
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