“Obinrin Akikanju” is an on-going portrait series by Foluke Sowunmi celebrating heroic women around the world who have knocked down barriers, opened closed doors, initiated change and fought for women emancipation, giving it the right narrative and attention.
“Obinrin Akikanju” was coined from the Yoruba Language, and when translated literally means “Woman” and “Hero” respectively.
Typically, women are expected to take the backseat and remain behind the limelight, speak but not be heard, act but not be seen. However, the tides are changing. Women have come to a realization that they can do better than what they’ve been made to believe, and are worth much more. Every one of us is responsible for our thoughts and actions, therefore we can choose to challenge stereotypes, fight barriers and celebrate women’s wins.
This year’s International Women’s Day is celebrating generation equality with #EachforEqual. This connects with Project Obinrin Akikanju, and Folake is celebrating the women hero who we already have featured in Obirin Akikanju Series.
Through their words and her portraits, meet impressive, insightful women from all walks of life—who have flipped the script, changed the narrative, destroyed stereotypes and became the conversation.
According to Michelle Obama, “There is no limit to what we, as women, can accomplish”.
Oreoluwa Lesi, Founder Women’s Technology Empowerment Centre (W.TEC)
What is your greatest strength and how has that helped you in your industry?
Resilience. That is one of my strengths. The ability to bounce back and that is a trait that you really need whether it is in business, your professional life, always coming up with a game plan to come back stronger is my must.
Given your sectors gender gap, what are the things women can do to have a positive impact on gender equality?
Share more, collaborate more, break stereotypes, mentor the young girl-child. Support other women as well, within the workplace, and be an advocate for change.
Oreoluwa Lesi decided to break the stereotype and support the girl child by starting the women‘s technology empowerment centre focusing on getting more females into the technological careers offering afterschool clubs and mentoring programs.
Yagazie Eguare, Photographer (Gazmadu Studio)
Do you think women in your industry suffer from inequality?
Days ago someone just told me are you Gazmadu I thought you were a man, it didn’t make me feel bad, it just made me think, about our society, where women are not expected to be successful, you are not expected to do well. I feel women now need to wake up, up to their game, own their craft more, know that nothing can stop you.
What are some of your challenges over time and how did you tackle them?
My challenge was myself, I had to conquer myself, the truth is that most times what holds us back is our believes and ourselves, just first of all-knowing who you are and not allowing anyone defines who you are, can help. Marriage and motherhood was another major challenge, which came with some initial drawbacks, loss of self-confidence, and more responsibilities. But those struggles now became my source of strength to become a better photographer.
Gazmadu has been able to create a niche for herself in a male-dominated industry like photography embracing herself, feminism and motherhood to set a standard for women clinching numerous awards like recipient of the TFESS scheme in 2012, Future awards for photography and a recipient of the Edwin George price for photography 2017, nominated as one of the most inspiring women in Nigeria and top 100 Most Influential Young Nigerians.
Lola Soneyin, Author of “The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives”
What advice will you give in the fight against inequality?
Don’t wait for men to give you a stepping-stone or open the doors for you, you have really just got to start and say right I have this ability It is either through collaboration with other women who feel the same or if you are the sort of person who finds it complicated or difficult with other people go ahead and set up with boldness and courage because the likelihood is that you are going to do it better than anybody anyways. The fact that you are a woman means you have already seen the short end of the stick, you have already experienced it so do not be afraid to go out and conquer.
What advice would you give to your 20years old self?
What I would advise myself is to look after herself, her mental health, to look after her physical health but also to learn to love herself. I spent many years not even understanding what it meant to care about myself and to love myself. I spent too many years trying to please the people around me and looking for validation and if I had to create a motto for my 40s it will be to give where it’s appreciated.
Lola is one of the driving forces behind the country’s and continent’s literary renaissance. Lola Shoneyin’s light and ironic touch exposes not only the rotten innards of Baba Segi’s polygamous household in this cleverly plotted story; it also shows how women not educated or semi-literate, women in contemporary Nigeria can be as restricted, controlled and damaged by men – be they fathers, husbands, uncles, rapists – as they’ve never been”.
Chief Dr Nike Davies-Okundaye, Owner of Nike Art gallery, Lagos, Abuja, Osogbo and Kogi
What do we do as women to break inequality barriers?
Be your sister’s keeper, learn to lift the next woman up, you have an opportunity to make an impact do so aggressively. For example, when I came back from America, my first impacts were to my co-wives. I taught them the craft, the knowledge they were acquiring enabled them to gain independence and become self-reliant without depending on a man”. We became sisters from that point rather than rivals.
What advice do you have for new generation women?
Have a focus and know what they want, once you discover your talent, work to be good at it, do it well and follow it up with honesty, and the sky is your limit.
Nike’s art gallery tells its story from outside. From the inner courtyard of the gallery where you’ll find the stone sculptures, tie-dye workshop and hanging craftworks, to the wide variety of art displayed inside the magnificent structure, you can rest assured that your love for Nigerian art will go through the roof. However, all this came to be from a resilient 14-year-old who had come out through the ruffles stronger, intentional and resilient and stood out to be selected amongst the Africans to teach arts in America which open waves for her breakthrough moments.
Aituaje Iruobe, popularly known as Waje
What is your greatest strength and how has it helped you over the years?
My greatest strength is hope. Hope brings resilience in everything. I was brought up to always become the best version of myself.
Advice to women that face inequality and what needs to change in relations to gender inequality?
We live in an unfair world that is male-dominated which isn’t their fault however we shouldn’t wallow in the situation but find solutions. Even as small as you may think you are, always understand that whatever you do for today isn’t just for yourself but for the next woman after you. As women, we all need to stand together, unlearn the habits of fighting ourselves but stand together with a consciousness of which we are, that tends to have a stronger message. Be intentional to speak in one voice for the sake of each other.
Waje is one of Africa’s most iconic female entertainers, a vocalist and US ambassador for peace. Aside from that, she has her safe-house project targeted at partnering with NGOs quarterly to fight worthy causes. One of such was the goal of raising funds for allowing children to continue their studies in the school in Makoko, through Ring Back Tones with her hit singles “Oko Mi” and “I Wish”.
Bimpe Onakoya, Makeup Artist and Artistic Director
What Is the Most Important Challenge That Women Face Today and what can we do as women to tackle the challenges?
Balancing Responsibility, as a woman can be very tough a lot is been expected of you from both your professional and personal lives.
A large number of women are not just entrepreneurs or career people—they have families, spouses, and other responsibilities. Demands from personal and professional commitments can pressure a woman to abandon either her business or family.
The family expects her to be a mother and wife, while the business requires her to be the leader and show commitment. It becomes more difficult for those who lack social support because they have to carry the entire burden by themselves. Some women can balance these two spheres of their lives, while others are overwhelmed.
And also Fear of the known and the unknown is a major challenge for women. We dread failing, especially if the people surrounding us were skeptical of our capability in business. This fear is toxic and perilous; as a result most women may end up operating from a place of fear instead of confidence. Which may lead to failure in business in which they were meant to succeed.
Bimpe Onakaya is an award-winning African based international makeup artist, she’s the artistic Director of Maybelline New York Nigeria. Her creativity and flair and her empowering role to young aspiring make up artist and mentoring and sponsor has made her Queen of makeup artist in Africa.
Obinrin Akikanju is a continuous celebration of every woman and girl child out there, and being the platform to which their stories told and untold, can be a source of daily expressions, impacting lives in the ‘Global society’
BellaNaija & The TEAM Of OBINRIN AKIKANJU
Photographer & Creative direction: @foluartstudio
Celebrate every woman today!
Happy International Women’s Day!