Esther Ijewere-Kalejaiye is a woman of many parts. She is an activist, author, columnist and the Executive Director of Rubies Ink Initiative for women and children, the Editor-in-Chief of Women of Rubies, a platform used for celebrating exceptional women with inspiring stories and the national convener of the Walk Against Rape Campaign. Being an emerging leader, Esther is the youngest recipient of The Idea Builders Women Mentoring Women Award, winning for Mentee of the year 2010 and also a Fellow with Vital Voices Global Leadership, an organisation founded by Hillary Clinton and aimed at empowering young women change makers all over the world. In this interview by TAYO GESINDE, she speaks on her love for advocacy.
Foray into advocacy
I decided to go into advocacy because of my passion for humanity and affinity for change. I love when everyone is given a chance to be heard in the society. That was why I started Project Capable, a youth mentoring initiative geared towards creating a can do mentality in the lives of secondary school students, the programme comes up annually at the national stadium in Lagos, using celebrities and accomplished individuals to inspire and motivate youngsters to rise to greatness. I am also the brain behind W.A.R-Walk Against Rape, an advocacy initiative created to lend a voice for the victims of rape and demand justice for the perpetrators, an initiative endorsed by Lagos State Ministry of Women Affairs. I am also a public speaker to youths in the country and have been to several secondary schools, giving them counsel and sharing with them messages of hope for a greater life. One of my major interests is advocacy and counselling on issues surrounding child sexual abuse, family values, and youth empowerment.
My mum, because she had every reason under the sun not to bring me to the world, but against all odds she did and made sure I become the woman I am today. Another person is Kate Henshaw. She is one of the very first people who believed in me, she made sure I got more tutelage from more experienced women in my line of work and she also became a mentor in the process. Aunty Kate as I fondly call her is one of my biggest support systems in the industry. Her selflessness and humility inspire me a lot. I also admire Remi Shonaiya, the presidential candidate for Kowa Party for daring to be different and standing up tall, for showing that a woman can contest and one day sit at the highest level of authority in the country. I am inspired by her courage and the way she has positioned herself even after losing the election.
Funding was one of the biggest challenges I faced when I started out, because of the nature of our work, which is mostly advocacy and developmental work, it was hard to gain corporate support because most organisations would tell you they don’t want to support a “negative cause” and others say it doesn’t fall under their core corporate social responsibility, I had to use my personal money for most of our projects in the beginning.
Why I wrote a book on rape and domestic violence
To educate the society on rape and also encourage victims to speak up and report such cases, knowing full well that help is near and there is no shame in “breaking the silence, the book contains lots of information about preventing and coping with rape and sexual assaults. It also dwells on the subject of care-centres for victims and rape survivors.
Stemming the rising tide of rape and domestic violence
Women need to be properly educated about the harmful effects of domestic violence and sexual abuse. There are women and girls out there who are being abused every time since they refuse to voice out due to fear, shame, and wrong orientation. They should be encouraged, not discouraged. Abusive people should be dealt with and used as scapegoats. We need to stop encouraging and defending abusive people.
Combining activism with the home front
It has not been easy but I learnt to strike a balance between the two. God has been there for me.
The need to see positive change in the society drives me. The joy of making sure justice is served always.
Personal funds and also donations from individuals and in recent times, support from corporate organisations.
Other things I do aside activism
I counsel women and young ones, I write, both for my online platform and the Guardian newspaper. I am also a PR expert and I consult for several organisations and corporate bodies and help handle their media (online and offline) related issues.
Spending quality time with my children and researching.
Advice for young women out there
Women, stand up! Go out there and be all you want to be. Be strong and bold. Don’t let anybody talk you down and don’t give anybody the chance to belittle you.