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.
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 sexually Abused At Age 8, It Took Me 22 Years To Open Up – Oluwatobi Raji
- I Started My Business Out Of My Passion For Humanity – Dr. Joy Ezeike
- ‘I Want Immigrant Women In Canada To Have A Voice’ – Adebola Adefioye
- She Wanted To Be A Lawyer But Ended Up A Carpenter, The Story Of Comfort Adzigbli
- Opeyemi Ehi-Joshua Is Helping SME’s Increase Brand Awareness Through Hectares Digital
- Meet Kelu Ogunleye: Serial Entrepreneur Touching Lives Via Value Creation, Social Impact
- I have Taught Over Ten Thousand People The Power Of Real Estate In Canada- Deborah Ojo
- I Started Immiducation To Give Immigrant Professionals Access To Careers In Tech- Janey Buzugbe
- I started Omaness Skinfood To Empower And Enrich The Lives Of Women – Ifeoma Adibe-Chukwuka