Funmi Obisesan-Fajemiseye is a woman of many parts; she is an author, blogger, health and safety expert as well as the founder of a nongovernmental organisation, Funmi Obisesan Development and Empowerment Initiative. In this interview by YEJIDE GBENGA-OGUNDARE, she speaks on her advocacy for women, love for physically challenged people, women in leadership and other issues.
You seem passionate about women and underprivileged people. What inspired this passion?
I am very passionate about the matters of women. First as a woman, I understand the situations that women may sometimes find themselves and understand the practical helps that can offer them lasting solutions that will make a positive impact on their lives. Women are the pillars of the homes. When we have stable homes, we will have a stable community, hence a healthy nation. This is my belief; that the more women are helped, the better our societies will be because there will be stable homes raising responsible citizens.
As with the underprivileged persons, I noted that there are many youths that need just a little aid to help them succeed. This is the reason I am so passionate about helping as many youths as I can, to be able to live an economically sustainable lives above poverty level. I also believe helping the underprivileged will reduce crime in our societies.
What is the Funmi Obisesan Development and Empowerment Initiative about?
Funmi Obisesan Development and Empowerment Initiative, also known as FODEI, is a foundation and platform that I use to reach out to the underprivileged and women in my own little way. To God is the glory for the positive impacts that we are making in the lives of those that we have managed to reach so far. By God’s grace, plans are on to expand our philanthropic activities and reach more people.
There are various schemes of FODEI; we offer loans at zero per cent interest to individuals to start micro and medium businesses or to expand their business so it can be more profitable. We reach out to association of the disabled people. This is very close to my heart because these individuals get more marginalised in our society with their ability to make a living more difficult. Recently, FODEI was able to setup a soap making business for the Ona-Ara branch of the disabled people so that they can make some profits to support their members from this business.
Why are you so committed to the physically challenged?
Unemployment is high among our youths and the physically challenged are more disadvantaged. Their chances of being gainfully employed is very slim often due to so many factors that are against them. For example, not many organisations make specific allocations of their workforce to successful physically challenged applicants. Not many organisations make their workplace disability-friendly in terms of safe entry and exit etc. The marginalisation of the disabled people touched my heart, and I made up my mind that I would always be there for them, for as much as I have the capacity to do so.
How would you rate sensitisation about women empowerment and harmful widowhood practices?
They are grossly inadequate. There need to be more sensitisation and participation in the uplift of this group in our society. A lot of the widowhood practices need to be looked into.
Do you think women are adequately exploring their potential for leadership?
I do not think women are. When we consider the fact that women make up 49 per cent of Nigeria’s total population, according to the 2006 census, then one would wonder why women are less visible in most leadership positions. It would have been better to involve more women as women are the ones that can fully understand the plights of fellow women and can champion their cause. As such, women deserve to be there on the table when decisions are being taken, especially concerning women matters. Unfortunately, for many states, it is generally the case of inadequate representations or actual non-involvement of women in most spheres of leadership.
If government is not making deliberate efforts to involve qualified women in their governance in accordance to the national gender policy, it would be difficult for women who have the capacity for leadership to be able to explore a platform to do so. All political parties need to review their operational guidelines so that they can accommodate the National Gender Policy, so that there can be increased women participation. The government should also endeavour to involve women in the agencies and parastals, also in accordance to the National Gender Policy. The Gender Policy inclusion has to be a deliberate action of the state and federal governments, otherwise, it may continue to be difficult for women to be able to explore their potential even when they wish to.
What challenges do you encounter?
The gender issue is still evident. Sometimes I turn up at a client’s appointment and you can see it on their face the initial surprise. Some cannot hide it and will make remarks like I didn’t know that “it’s a woman that is attending this meeting.” This, however, drives me to perform more. I am pleased that the clients have always been satisfied such that they refer me to other people.
How can you sensitise the public on issues bordering on women empowerment and giving back to the society?
I think it starts with drawing attention to these issues affecting women and encouraging improved social responsibilities from corporate organisations to form partnerships with NGOs towards alleviating these issues. Many infections have been linked to “Period poverty” in females who would rather priotise food over sanitary pads during their periods due to poverty. It will be great for FODEI to receive partnership support from well meaning individuals, especially manufacturers of sanitary pads (in kind or cash), so that FODEI can be in a position to extend this outreach of free distribution of sanitary pads throughout the states in Nigeria.
What are your thoughts on women striving for financial independence?
I thought these are thoughts in the right direction. When women are financially independent, the country as a whole is more financially uplifted bearing in mind that women are the heartbeats of the nation raising the citizens of the nation in the family nucleus.
What is your opinion on the spate of abuses especially of children and women in Nigeria?
The abuse suffered by children and women are underreported as there is still certain stigma that keeps the ‘abused’ from reporting or sharing their experiences for the worries that they may end of being blamed for it. This is one of the reasons why more women need to be at the policy making decision tables. That way, they can champion policies that will take away the blame game barrier and institute more institutions that can serve as safe haven for troubled women and the abused children as well as sensitisation programmes to educate the children and women of their rights as many do not even know their rights.
With unemployment rate so high, would you say entrepreneurship is the way to go?
Yes, I would say so. However, there has to be an enabling environment for entrepreneurial start-ups to succeed such as loan facilities, provision of business hubs where start-ups can have the use of an office space for some days of the week free or at discounted rates, electricity and business-friendly policies. In most cases, entrepreneurial dreams of our youths are dashed when they cannot access loan because they are not considered to be credit-worthy due to lack of credit history or because they cannot meet up with collateral requirements.
How do you balance all the things you do without getting overwhelmed?
Women are generally blessed with the ability to multi-task. I think I can say that my multitasking skills are top notch. I have over the time also learnt to manage my time effectively as time is the most essential commodity. I endeavour to utilise my time as planned. This has helped me with my busy schedules such that I am not overwhelmed.
What inspires you?
The desire to see more people succeed and live a reasonable quality of life.
What is your advice to other women with similar vision?
I want to sincerely encourage other women with similar visions to, please, not be weary. We should remember that as women, we play a vital role in human progress and long-term development of nations right from the nurturing of the kids in the family nucleus, which plays a very vital role in shaping our societies. Whatever positive vision that any woman can extend to their communities should be extended. And, do not feel that you have to start big to be able to make an impact. Every singlehelp “ little or big” matters. Reach out to someone today. Please.
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