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Oluwadamilola Akintewe is a young Nigerian woman and founding VP of Girl Up. Here to talk with us about the importance of change, action and feminism. As a law student and activist, she is working towards shifting cultural perceptions and questioning the established narratives on what it means to be a female in real and tangible ways.

Words By Gabrielle Hollenbeck 

December, 16th 2020

It was during her secondary education where she started to feel the inequities between men and women. Oluwadamilola Akintewe officially started her change towards gender equality in University where she joined Enactus – a global community of students and professionals using local solutions to solve global problems. She noted that through this program her focus turned to gender equality as it is something she resonates with the most and there she became the very first female lead in its 16 year existence. 

One of the key projects she worked on there was to assure financial responsibility for women in rural communities with vocational training, particularly through fashion design. Fashion design is in the creative sector which so many people can tap into and it ensures that the new generation has some kind of education in even the most rural communities in Nigeria. More specifically, the project focused on ways to raise funds and train women to perform these tasks and give them collateral free loans to start their business to raise their standard of living. 

Akintewe also believes strongly in the power of storytelling and runs a blog called Forbidden Topics where she discusses what some would consider taboo topics in Nigeria like menstruation poverty, gender inequality, the pay gap, mental health and feminism. She notes from doing this work, “I see people in my DM’s telling me or accusing me that I am trying to corrupt minds and, I am like alright, I am getting things done”. She also says that, “my work has actually opened up several opportunities to lend my voice because people need to hear from the horse’s mouth. I am a female and I live in a designated third world country, so when I’m speaking about why we need gender equality and why we need to empower women, we need this development to last the test of time. To not include half of the population is a subjection.

Forbidden Topics

To further her mission, she has also recently helped to establish the first chapter of Girl Up in Nigeria and acts as their Vice President. The main goal of the organization is to further gender equality and to raise awareness on this issue. Some of their projects include workshops that support women’s business goals, training for business leaders, and going into schools with a key focus in teaching both young girls and boys. Akintewe notes, “We have to start raising a generation of men who do not think that toxic masculinity is the best way of life. Or boys who see strong women as a threat, but instead see them as partners and can live and work together”. She sees that through teaching them from a young age, young girls can see that there are women who have gone before them that are standing up for equality and that are encouraging them to speak up and use their own voices. 

None of this work comes without its fair set of challenges. Oluwadamilola Akintewe highlighted some of them being the established culture, negative stereotypes and personal beliefs. Some of which are how women are too ‘emotional’ to lead, the common Christian interpretation of the bible that says the man is the head and the woman is to be submissive, or the fact that women are only good for one thing – marriage or children. “People will not vote for a female candidate. Even if a man is running against her and everyone knows that she has all of the qualifications and expertise to do the job, they still wouldn’t vote for her. The problem is deep into the root”.

Forbidden Topics

Akintewe also tells many stories that exemplify the effects of these problems in real life, as is the case with a friend of hers in secondary school. This girl was the school prefect, the first girl graduating, and had already received admission to further her studies. But, she had a younger brother who would also need to attend school the next year and her family couldn’t afford for them both to go. She was asked to stay at home so that her younger brother could attend instead. This decision was not based on age or skill, but entirely on gender, and as Akintewe said it best, “you may be pissed but I want you to be pissed”.

Oluwadamilola Akintewe believes in not only using her voice and standing up for women through her work at Girl Up, Enactus and her blog. But also in actively leading by example and using her talents as a future attorney to further the cause. She also mentions that because she is a woman she has to work double as hard as the next man, as they will discredit you with any mistake and then blame it on your gender. “That’s why I tell women, whatever it is you do, put in extra work because you’re not doing it for yourself, you’re doing it for millions of girls who just need one person to name when they get asked, tell me an example of one woman who has done well. Women need to do well, do excellent and be deliberate about it. This is the kind of example that we need”. As a student striving for excellence she has also signed a pact with the Coalition for Women’s Rights saying that when she graduates with her law license she has committed to doing pro bono work on any case on gender based violence.

As a victim of harassment herself, she doesn’t want to just talk about the problem but provide solutions. She strives to give women a platform where more people can speak out against gender-based violence and receive justice. When justice is provided, it paves the way to create new laws in protection of women for all kinds of assault.

“We need to support the young people, let’s not just applaud them and walk away. We need action and action that is sustainable. I want to look at my country in the next 5 years and see the difference. I want girls to be able to go to school and to not be discriminated against. I want young women to be able to walk in the street without the fear of being attacked by a random stranger. So we need to start listening to the ideas of young people because really we are the future and the future is here”.