‘Women Still Suffer From Time Poverty And Unpaid Work’
Joy Aderele is a gender and development expert with over 18 years experience. She is currently the Country Director of United Purpose/Self Help Africa in Nigeria, a UK-based international development charity with a goal to end poverty and inequality, and move people beyond aid. Aderele holds a Master’s Degree in Psychology from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. She is also an alumna of the Harvard Division of Continuing Education, Boston, Portland University, and Barry University, Miami FL, USA where she obtained certificates in leadership and community development respectively. Through her work, she is leading and supporting a wide range of adolescent girls/women empowerment and youth development programmes funded by USAID, FCDO (previously DFID), Coca-Cola, Procter & Gamble, MasterCard, MacArthur, State of Oregon, World Bank and GIZ. She co-designed the Coca-Cola funded Youth Empowered for Success (YES!) programme providing valuable input into the implementation strategy for six African countries – Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, South Africa, Tunisia and Uganda. She has demonstrated the ability to mobilise and engage governments, civil society, and local communities. She spoke to IJEOMA THOMAS-ODIA in this interview on her drive to promote gender equality and social inclusion. Share with us your growing up and how it influenced your passion for gender advocacy? Growing up in my family setting really influenced and fueled my passion for gender advocacy. I am the youngest of six children (five girls and one boy) and we had one of my female cousins living with us. So, imagine a home with six girls and the girls have to do all the household chores and deal with menstrual cramps. When my siblings started having children, they were mostly girls. At some point, I had like 11 nieces, expanding our female circle. So, I have always had females around me; this made me understand the issues that girls and women face firsthand. Also, in my neighbourhood, I saw how boys are told not to cry leading to toxic masculinity. During my undergraduate programme, I started gender advocacy, conducting outreaches to schools and confronting issues such as child marriage in my community. With over 18 years of practice as a gender development practitioner, how have your work evolved? I started off with just the passion to confront gender inequalities, but over the years, I have acquired more knowledge and skills to mainstream gender to improve the quality of policies, programmes and enabling mechanisms to ensure a more efficient allocation of resources and aligning interventions to fit. I have promoted gender awareness, women’s agency and empowerment. For me, the most important thing is addressing the root of inequalities enshrined in patriarchy and other negative social norms. We need to ask ourselves questions – How do we eradicate male preference and prevent homicide of girls? How do we ensure that girls and boys are treated equally at home with shared household chores to prevent girls from being overburdened? How do we ensure that girls and boys have access to quality education? How do we prevent gender pay gap in the workplace? How do we increase women’s access to lands and other productive assets? How do we prevent child marriage and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)? How do we increase women’s representation in governance and promote gender-friendly policies? I recognise the enormous work done by many organisations and practitioners in addressing gender inequalities, but women and girls still lag far behind with Nigeria ranking 123rd of 146 from the 2022 Global Gender Gap report. You have consistently worked on gender advocacy projects across the nation, what has been the impact so far? Using the Global Gender Gap report, there are four indexes to measure gender impact – Political empowerment, education attainment, health and survival, and economic participation and opportunity. I have worked on several projects and programmes that cut across these four indexes. My work has spanned adolescent reproductive and sexual health, women reproductive right and health, maternal and child health, girls’ education, youth entrepreneurship and women economic empowerment (WEE). I led a major girls’ education programme in Nigeria implemented by Mercy Corps titled ‘Educating Nigerian Girls in New Enterprises (ENGINE)’ where we provided educational, leadership and skills training to adolescent girls, closing gender gap in education. This led to increased learning outcomes for girls, transition to higher learning, improved life skills and decision making (including the decision to delay marriage) and increased income for out-of-school girls linked to economic opportunities. The World Bank supported Nigeria for a Women Project; I supported the implementation that reached over 350,000 women across six states addressing inequalities in women’s access to jobs and control over productive assets, facilitating women’s leadership and empowerment and mobilising support of communities for women and addressing harmful gender norms, which impede equitable access to socio-economic opportunities. In my current organisation, United Purpose/Self Help Africa is implementing a GIZ-funded Rural Women Entrepreneurs (RWE) project in Nigeria, Kenya, and Malawi. This intervention is supporting women-led social enterprise model to facilitate digital skill building and service delivery. Tell us more about the Rural Women Entrepreneurs (RWE) project in Nigeria. The Rural Women Entrepreneurs (RWE) Africa, funded by GIZ with support from the Federal Republic of Germany, and the European Union, is a pilot being implemented in Nigeria, Kenya, and Malawi by Self Help Africa-United Purpose. The overall goal of the proposed pilot is to build the adaptive capacity and resilience of rural communities to the food and climate crises and health and well-being using the women-led social enterprise model to facilitate digital skill-building and service delivery. Existing women’s clubs are engaged to use digital health and well-being behaviour change communication as a social marketing tool for telemedicine services. Service promotion is incentivised through the sale of a wellbeing-focused ‘basket of goods’ contextually tailored to meet the needs of local markets and build a circular economy around health and wellbeing in rural communities. Project is reaching 20,000 persons in Cross River and Benue States. What do you consider a major challenge for women and girls in your years of practice? Conspicuous exclusion of women and girls in decision making process, high illiteracy amongst women and girls, low status of women and girls and patriarchy relegating women and girls to the background. Others are Child and forced marriage and agents of socialisation reinforcing harmful gender norms and gender stereotypes. Lack of wide access to mentorship opportunities for women and girls is another issue. The issue of Gender Based Violence (GBV) is clearly a global problem and a major hindrance to the attainment of women’s rights. Perpetrators of GBV still walk freely in most contexts due to poor implementation of relevant laws, slow judicial process, poor awareness on how to report GBV incidence, especially in relation to preservation of evidence. Survivors are shamed instead of the perpetrators and this makes it challenging for the survivor to access appropriate services and access to justice. This calls for a survivor-centered approach. Gender gap in education continues to impact women and girls. Women dominate the informal sector of the economy and are most vulnerable to shock during crisis as we saw during the COVID-19 pandemic. Indeed, Nigerian women still suffer from time poverty and unpaid work. The government, development organisations and practitioners need to invest in comprehensive gender and social inclusion analysis to identified the needs, priorities and leverage opportunities to transform gender relations and improve women’s status in the society. What drives you? Compassion; I hate to see people suffer, so I always want to make things better. I remember one time I went to the bank and saw a young girl of about 14-16 years old backing a baby and begging for money. I was so heartbroken by that scene that I could not sleep when I got home. Then, I wrote a proposal to support married adolescent girls with vocational skills in Northern Nigeria. My heart is in the work I do and my most fulfilling times are periods when I visit our project sites and see beneficiaries whose lives have been improved by our programmes. You are a gender expert, speaker, author, wife and mum, how are you able to juggle between roles and be at your best? Sincerely, it is not easy as I sometimes feel overwhelmed but what has helped is having an ecosystem of support around me. At work, I have competent colleagues, we value teamwork and I delegate as much as possible. At the home front, my husband is very supportive, my mum or mother-in-law comes over to support with childcare occasionally and I have domestic staff who also help me. I try to prioritise what is important per time and take a break when I need to. What advice do you have for women and girls on being their best and living their dreams? I call the formula for being your best the three As! Aspiration – give yourself the permission to dream big, focus on the big picture, develop a growth mindset and agency to set achievable goals, overcome obstacles and achieve success. Acquisition – gain knowledge, horn your skills, develop financial management, read books, travel, build relationships and. Action – your dreams remain a dream until you do. Doing is what separate dreamers from achievers. Practice the discipline required for your dreams to become reality. Go for it! How do you get inspiration and stay motivated? My faith is the biggest fuel for my inspiration. I get inspiration from God’s word and I stay motivated by connecting with positive people. What is your life’s mantra? I am configured for joy to create more joys! I love seeing happy faces, so I strive everyday to create more joys!