Above whispers


Erelu Bisi Fayemi  has many years of experience as a gender specialist, policy advocate, and social change philanthropy practitioner. Asides being the  Wife of the former Governor of Ekiti State, she is also  the co-founder of African Women’s Development Fund, (AWDF) – the first Africa-wide grant-making fund, and served as the first Executive Director from 2001-2010.

The passionate advocate and Author of several bestselling books is currently Principal Partner, Amandla Consulting , specializing in leadership development for women, while she also runs an online community where she lends her voice to issues that affects women and encourage us to rise above whispers and use our voice, resources and position where it matters.

BAF as she is fondly called is also  UN Women Nigeria Senior Advisor, and was recently appointed as a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at King’s College, University of London.

When her husband Dr. Kayode Fayemi took office as Governor of Ekiti State on October 16th 2010-2014, Erelu became actively involved in a range of policy advocacy, grassroots empowerment and social inclusion programs in Ekiti State. She led the campaign to enact a Gender Based Violence Prohibition Law (2011) an Equal Opportunities Bill (2013) and a HIV Anti-Stigma Bill (2014).

She serves on the Executive Boards of the African Women’s Development Fund, and the Global Fund for Women USA. She is Chair of the Advisory Council of the Nigerian Women’s Trust Fund and also serves on the Governing Council of Elizade University, Nigeria.

Erelu is the author of ‘Speaking for Myself’: Perspectives on Social, Political and Feminist Activism in Africa (2013), ‘ Speaking above a Whisper’ , (2013) an autobiography and ‘ Loud Whispers’ (2017) She also co-edited ‘ Voice, Power and Soul’, with Jessica Horn (2008) a compilation of images and stories of African Feminists.

During the  #Covid19 Pandemic, Erelu Bisi gave hope to several women across Nigeria through her “A wrapper for Women Initiative” , and supported over 60,000 households in Ekiti.

She shares her Inspiring journey with Esther Ijewere,  In celebration of her 57th birthday today. (Interview was first published on June 11, 2020)

Inspiration behind  ‘A Wrapper for Women Initiative’

In October last year, I gave a brief speech at the annual Arise Women Conference in Lagos, convened by Pastor Siju Iluyomade of the RCCG. In my speech I asked the question, ‘Where is your wrapper’? I told the story of how, years ago, I was attending a meeting in Uganda, where we learnt of how a woman went into labour in one of the local markets. Other women in the market rallied round her and held up their wrappers to give her privacy, while those who knew what to do helped deliver her baby right there in the market’. What those women did can be found in many African communities, including here in Nigeria.

Those wrappers symbolize solidarity, unity, love, protection, care and so on. If we want to be blessed as women in any way, Where is your wrapper? Where is your wrapper for the poor widow who is struggling to pay the fees of her children? Where is your wrapper for your wealthy but very sad friend who is experiencing domestic violence? Where was your wrapper when a woman told you she had been raped but you asked her what she was wearing? After the speech, I wrote one of my weekly Loud Whispers articles and called it ‘Where is your wrapper?’. I did not expect the reaction to it.

It seemed to resonate with so many women and men around the world. Up to that point, I had been planning to start an interactive online forum as an extension of our work on the Above Whispers website. Many young women ask me to mentor them, so the easiest way to do this is taking advantage of social media. In addition, a lot of women need help with modest contributions that could make all the difference.

That is why I decided to start The Wrapper Network, for women who need a wrapper and for women who are prepared to give wrappers to other sisters. I am flagging it off with an initiative for some women entrepreneurs to mark my birthday on June 11th. The Wrapper Network will be able to support up to 40 women with between N50,000-N200,000 for various businesses. I hope that the sisters who will benefit can go on to bless other sisters with a wrapper when things are good for them.

My Impact During This Uncertain Time In The World

It has been a rather strange period, not being able to move around freely, and having to do so with care when restrictions were eased. I travelled to the US and UK early March, and when I came back, I went into self-isolation for 14 days. After that, I started working on our Food Bank in the State, a project I have been running for a number of years now. During this COVID19 period, we have been able to provide support to people during the lockdown period. Over the past two months, we have been able to support up to 60,000 households across the State, and we are still giving out palliatives. I have also been supporting families with donations.

Bisi Fayemi

To Young Women Who Want To Go Into Politics

Women should not cede political space. Women are the ones who keep party machineries running, and they are the ones who get the short end of the stick when there is a victory. Any woman who is thinking of contesting should get involved in community affairs, go home to your community and let them know you. If at first you don’t succeed, try again.

On The Pattern Of The Two Rcent Rape Cases And What We Can Do Collectively

It is such a terrible situation. On the one hand, this is not news to those of us who have been working on these issues for a long time. We have been talking about Sexual Violence for ages but very few people have been paying attention. Now that we have social media and all the attention it commands, information gets around quickly, and it is easier for people to respond to what they see and hear in very passionate terms.

I told a group of friends the other day, the groundswell of survivors’ voices we are hearing now is what breaking the culture of silence looks like.

Now that survivors know they might be heard and justice is not beyond their reach, more people will be willing to come forward. We just need to make sure that we do not fail those who have the courage to do so, and for those for whom it is too late like poor Uwa, we need to make sure that her killers get what they deserve. At a time like this, we need to keep up the momentum, we need to keep being angry and we need to demand action and results.

My Birthday Message To Young Women All Over The World

The late Maya Angelou once said, ‘Be Present in the present’. In my own interpretation of Maya’s words, being present requires you to read as widely as you can, ask questions, raise your voice, be open to learning and relearning. Being present means self-esteem, self-awareness, courage and presence. Be present. Absence is not an option.

Take a look at other related interviews we’ve had in the past:

I was in Uganda a few years ago for one of the programs we used to run at the African Women’s Leadership Institute. One day, there was a report about something that had happened in one of the local markets. One of the women in the market went into labour unexpectedly. It seemed there was no time to get her to a nearby hospital or clinic, so the women around went into action. Some of them ran around to look for basins, hot water, towels, and razors. A few held her hand and encouraged her to push. Majority of the women around took out their wrappers and held them up, creating a protective ring around the woman, shielding her from prying eyes. Every now and then, this scenario plays itself in other markets around the continent, and the response is mostly the same – women bring out their wrappers to protect one of their own.

Sadly, this is no longer the case these days. Instead of wrappers coming out, it would be cell phones to record every graphic detail. Sure, help might still come, but not before the person concerned has all their pain and agony out there for all the world to see. Recently, there was the case of a young woman in Ajah, Lagos, who was found wandering the streets. Reports on how she got there vary, but she was stark naked, extremely emaciated and incoherent. Instead of immediately rushing to help, covering her up and getting her medical attention, onlookers laughed at her, threw things at her and recorded her on their cell phones. Without any idea of who she was or how she got there, judgements were made on the spot about her being the victim of ritualists which she must have brought on herself in her quest to make quick money. A good Samaritan, Keira Hewatch, stepped in and took her to the hospital. Even though many onlookers where not prepared to help the poor woman on the road, they tried to stop Keira from helping her, saying she too might be bewitched. Essentially, they refused to bring out their wrappers to protect and save someone and tried to stop someone else who was willing to bring out hers.

What do these wrappers signify? To me they mean protection, solidarity, sisterhood, empathy, kindness, compassion, duty, all those things and more that make us human beings. In the market places where the scene I described in Uganda happens, there is an unspoken protocol amongst the women – a responsibility to take care of one of their own who needs them. She is in pain. Afraid. But she has sisters around her, rooting for her and helping her. So, I ask us my dear sisters, where is your wrapper? Where is your wrapper to shield and protect other women and girls who need you? Where was your wrapper for the little girl who was molested by someone in your household and you said ‘Shhhhh’ and looked the other way? Where was your wrapper when someone you know said she was raped by someone she trusted? Did you ask her what she was wearing? Or if she seduced him? Where was your wrapper when your friend needed succour from an abusive husband? Did you gossip behind her back that it served her right, she is too arrogant? Where was your wrapper when your sister or daughter told you that her lecturers were harassing her in the University? Did you tell them that they must have done something to encourage them? Where was your wrapper when a young woman who could have been your own sister, daughter or niece was found on the streets naked? Where you one of the women who stood by and recorded her misery and threw things at her? Where you one of the men who tried to stop brave Keira from helping? What was in it for you to have a very sick woman die untended in broad daylight, with human beings baying for her blood like animals? Even animals care more for their own.

Our wrappers might all look different, with varying sizes, shapes and colours, but each and every one of us has a wrapper. Bring that wrapper out to shield another woman, or a man. Use it to help get her a contract, help with her rent, pay her children’s fees, help her with capital for a business or simply a discreet shoulder to cry on. Never let a day go by without bringing out that wrapper. The way God works is that the more wrappers you bring out for others, the more will come out for you. We don’t only need wrappers when we celebrate and buy Aso Ebi. We need the wrappers for our trials and tribulations and we all have them.

The women in the market place might never see the woman they helped again. She might never be able to say thank you. Yet she will never forget that other women stood by her and gave her dignity and covered her nakedness. Are we prepared to cover the nakedness of others, or do we want to be part of the mob that strips them naked? These days there seems to be a war against women. Not only is sexual violence at an all time high, these crimes are now committed in full view of the public. A young woman is accused of stealing and stripped naked, hands all over her and objects being stuck into her. When this happens, what do we do, will we look the other way? When a woman is being harassed online, do we join in the abuse? The more wrappers we bring out, the safer we will all be. There is another conversation to be had with the men, with our male leaders, with those who have the powers and privileges that weaken our agency and make us forget that we have wrappers in the first place. Today, we are talking to and about ourselves.

Let us all agree to bring out our beautiful, strong, diverse wrappers. Our wrappers of respect, love, dignity, support and endless hope. Thank you for bringing out your wrapper Keira. God bless us all.

This is an expanded version of a brief speech that was given at the ARISE Women’s Conference in Lagos, October 26th, 2019.


Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi is a Gender Specialist, Social Entrepreneur and Writer. She is the Founder of Abovewhispers.com, an online community for women. She is currently the 1st Lady of Ekiti State. She can be reached at BAF@abovewhispers.com