Organised by Helen Akinwande Fidelis (2012 Professional Fellow from Nigeria, The Haven Wolverhampton)

On Monday 9 March 2020, Commonwealth Alumnus Helen Akinwande Fidelis held an event to promote the Sustainable Development Goal 5 in achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls for students in Arepo, Nigeria. The event, ‘Engaging, Encouraging, and Enriching the Girl Child’s Leadership Roles in a Community’, coincided with the annual Commonwealth Day, held on the second Monday of March. The event was attended by over 40 people, including 25 students and teachers from 5 different schools, volunteers, and women from the community.

In Nigeria, the Gender Equality Bill has not been ratified by the government, reflecting a reluctance across Nigerian society to encourage and support women to excel and take up leadership positions. Presently, 30% of political appointments are said to be prioritised for women but only 5% are taken up. Moreover, there is no system to support and encourage the girl child in being trained to prepare for leadership roles. To achieve gender equality and empower women and girls, there is a need to set up support systems via community engagement and women themselves.

The half-day event aimed to raise awareness amongst young girls of the hurdles they may face in achieving equal opportunities and leadership positions, particularly in the workplace, and to provide information on how best to overcome these and stay focused to achieve excellence. The event was comprised of speeches by renowned women leaders in Nigeria, student compositions and a reading, and a workshop session for attendees to address their hopes and aspirations for the future.

Focus on goals

Speakers and panelists sit and stand at the front of the room to deliver their talks

Event speakers and panelists

Through the event, the work of female teachers was celebrated, and they were encouraged to provide support systems that will help the young girls in their classes to achieve excellence.

The special guest for the event was Ms Abimbola Usie, a chartered accountant, currently working with the European Union funded programme, Rule of Law and Anti- Corruption Programme, managed by the British Council Nigeria. Prior to this role, she worked with the Department for International Development (DFID) funded programme, Justice for All, where her team was responsible for the monitoring of the activities of the first sexual assault referral centre in Nigeria.

In her address, Ms Usie stated ‘Do not wish to be a male. Be proud of your feminity’, before going on to encourage the girls to focus on their goals and they want to achieve. She ended her talk with a final piece of advice: ‘Don’t be afraid to fail. Just make failure your last bus stop.’

Following this opening speech, the plenary session brought together renowned female speakers in leadership roles across various organisations, including:

  • Joy Duncan Esq, an accomplished law professional, business manager, HR consultant, and independent facilitator with 30 years post-call private and public sector experience.
  • Eseohe Kanu, a certified corporate facilitator and licensed HR practitioner with a passion for learning and development. She is a co-founder of the FD Foundation which provides educational grants, and a Board of Trustee member and a co-convener of the HopeAlive Project which empowers and develops meaningful networks for widows.
  • Veronica is Dan Ikpoyi, a seasoned broadcast journalist with TVC Communications with more than a decade of experience. In 2016, Dan-Ikpoyi reported on female genital mutilation (FGM) in Nigeria for TVC News, mixing data and personal interviews to show FGM’s cultural significance and harmful effects. Following her report, she was internationally recognised as a finalist for the CNN African Multichoice Journalist of the Year.

The speakers emphasised that girls should learn to speak out and if things did not work out, not to be disheartened, but instead to re-strategise and find other routes to success. Following the plenary session, students took the opportunity to ask the speakers further questions about their experiences and pathway to their current positions.

A safe environment to learn, love, encourage, and listen

The students were asked to write composition about the title of the symposium in advance of the event. The best composition was then selected and followed by a student reading of the winning composition. This was followed by a workshop session, where the young girls discussed and wrote about what they wanted to achieve in their life and how they could be encouraged to achieve this. The responses gathered suggested the young girls felt the need for a safe environment for learning, love, encouragement, and a listening ear.

As a result of the event and the feedback gathered in the final workshop session, it was agreed that an online mentorship opportunity for girls would be created to help the attendees take forward the key messages from the event and continue to support one another to become future leaders of the community.

Photos from the event are available on CSC Flickr