Leading feminist movements for collective change

Anupama Angbo caught up with Oluwaseun Ayodeji Osowobi, a Nigerian women’s rights activist, to talk about Nala Feminist Collective, Feminist Advocacy and the role of young people. Oluwaseun Ayodeji Osowobi is the 2020 Global Citizen Nigeria Hero, was named one of TIME 100 Next’s people of the year in 2019 and is the Commonwealth Young Person of the Year 2019.

Your work spans several organisations and groups inside and outside Nigeria, how would you introduce yourself?

I am Oluwaseun Ayodeji Osowobi, a gender equality specialist with over seven years of experience working within the Nigerian Civil Society space on policy advocacy, human rights and issues affecting sexual minorities. I am the Executive Director of Stand to End Rape Initiative (STER), a youth-led social enterprise advancing gender equality and innovating strategies to eliminate sexual and gender-based violence in Nigeria.

I value movements that drive collective change.  I am also a  Founding member of the Feminist Coalition, Nigeria, a Council Member of Nala Feminist Council, Feminist Group from Africa, representing STER as a part of the State of Emergency GBV (SoEGBV) coalition to develop and implement sustainable gender equality strategies. 

Tell us about Nala Feminist Collective, the Feminist Manifesto and your work.

Nala Feminist Collective is a pan-African group of 17 feminists with a mission to foster, enable, and mobilise young women from Africa and Diaspora while bridging the gap between policy and implementation, intergovernmental and grassroots, and generational spaces. 

Nala is guided by the African Young Women Beijing+25 Manifesto targeting the political, digital and offline spaces. The Nala Feminist Collective provides a sustainable platform to advocate for the meaningful mainstreaming and implementation of the Manifesto demands.

NalaFEM aims to:

FOSTER intergenerational co-leadership with greater inclusion of young women in decision making to bridge the generational gap;

ENABLE young women engagement, capacities and expertise to bridge policy and implementation at grassroots, national, regional and global levels;

MOBILISE for Africa Young Women Beijing+25 Manifesto, its inclusion in Generation Equality Forum and Action Coalitions blueprint and its implementation with youth-led accountability to bridge intergovernmental and grassroots spaces.

I am one of the 17 council members of the Nala Feminist Council leveraging my voice and platform to achieve the ten demands of the Africa Young Women Beijing+25 Manifesto in Africa, especially Nigeria.

The Manifesto provides a platform for a common set of demands for achieving gender equality and equity. The ten demands are:

  1. Economic Justice
  2. Criminalisation of Gender-based Violence
  3. Ending Gender Discrimination 
  4. Access to Justice and Protection
  5. Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights
  6. Inclusive, Equitable and Quality Education
  7. Digital Justice
  8. Mental Health and Well-being
  9. Intergenerational Co-Leadership
  10. Silencing the Guns

The 17 women leaders part of the Nala Feminist Council will be serving for 2 years (2021-2023), what kind of impacts do you want to see by the end of 2023?

In 2022, the Nala Feminist Collective will focus on empowering the NalaFEM stakeholders and networks to achieve our organisational development in order to set up the 2023 – 2027 Strategy as part of the Nala Cycle of Transformation 2020 – 2030.

Also, I hope we achieve the implementation of most, if not all the demands of the manifesto. To do that, we need to mobilise and sustain public interest in gender issues through the media, engage the next generation of women rights activists and hold the governments accountable for the manifesto’s successful implementation.

Africa is yet to achieve an equitable society. As the 2023 general elections are around the corner in Nigeria, I hope to see more young women in politics, innovating within the education space, and taking leadership positions within the public and private sectors.

As a gender equality expert, you have over seven years of experience working in the civic space. What kind of challenges do you see especially to bring systemic reforms in gender in Nigeria?

Gender norms are entrenched within the social fibre of African society, so attempts to shift the culture for the better is regarded as a western idea. 

We are working to overturn years of religious, cultural and systematic beliefs that have silenced women through policy creation, implementation, prevention mechanisms or social and religious realignment. 

Oluwaseun Ayodeji Osowobi

For example, The Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act is a law in Nigeria signed by the former President, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, in 2015. This law took 12 years to get passed. The delay shows that women’s rights, safety and security issues are not prioritised. 

In some instances, provisions of the law have been tweaked to accommodate reducing punishment for offenders of child marriage and domestic violence. Although we are making considerable progress, social and behavioural change is critical in achieving gender equality and systemic reforms in Nigeria. 

Finally, please share your thoughts on how young people can come together and contribute to feminist advocacy?

Understanding the problem, context and existing initiatives will aid strategy and innovations. Young people should gain insight into existing socio-economic and political challenges faced by women and leverage best practices to promote gender equity. Their advocacies and interventions must be guided by feminist principles and seek to leave no one behind. 

An easy way to do this is by gaining practical experience through volunteering, interning or working with feminist-centred organisations working on gender or feminist issues. Another way is to form coalitions with young people with shared values, passion and commitment towards achieving gender equality. This can help sustain the advocacy.

The media can be leveraged to keep conversations around the Manifesto on the front-burner and amplify demands via social media.

There is no one-way approach for youth involvement in feminist advocacy. We should contribute to achieving the Feminist Manifesto demands in our communities, improve advocacy and take action.

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Leading feminist movements for collective change

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