'Cloud of Women' An Introduction
In August 2015, 24 global change leaders from 21 countries were in Canada for a seven-week certified programme at the Coady International Institute, St. Francis Xavier University, Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada.
Tagged ‘Global Change Leaders Certificate Program’, all participants must be women and have, at least, four years of proven leadership in their respective fields in their various countries.
The aim of this yearly certified programme –one of several ran by the world class institution- is to deepen each participant’s understanding and application of inclusive change leadership while equipping them with the tools and support to effect more lasting change within their local communities.
The supportive, self-aware and growth-nurturing environment of the International Centre for Women’s Leadership, St. Francis Xavier University was a perfect fit for the seven weeks long education.
This year saw representatives from Afghanistan, Brazil, Botswana, Cameroun, Canada, Ethiopia, Ghana, Indonesia, Jamaica, Kenya, Kyrgyz Republic, Lao PDR, Malawi, Myanmar, Nepal, Nigeria, Peru, Tajikistan, Uganda, Ukraine, and Zimbabwe.
By way of induction, participants were intellectually grounded in ‘herstory’ of women’s leadership and were, all, required to reflect deeply on their motivations and the ‘sheroes’ who had shaped their life’s journey and consequently, their careers and leadership choices.
For me, induction was more than an academic exercise; it was a spiritual journey.
Before berthing in Nova Scotia and the pointed ask of the facilitators, I had not consciously contemplated the big role the women in my life played in my life’s path as well as my career choices.
With hindsight, I would say I understood where I fit into the big picture vis-à-vis feminism and the global women movement for a better, inclusive world.
Yet, the question unsettled.
It took the best part of 7,500 kilometres – halfway around the world to put thoughts and words to such a simple question.
In answering the question, all the reasons for being a third sector advocate came flooding back. As a feminist, I hark back to the colonial era for my earliest recollection of a pushback against vested interests and patriarchy.
The Aba Women’s Riot of 1929 was a kick in the teeth of societal evil. It remains my earliest recall of the collective power of women when properly channelled in Nigeria. Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti’s and Margaret Ekpo’s exploits surfaced too.
But it’s to my paternal grandmother, Princess Bariki Odiete, that I can directly attribute my third sector DNA.
This begs the question. How do I state my influencers without forgetting any? How many role models and mentors have impacted me? Who are they? Where are they presently? What did they do? Why did I choose them from a myriad?
These and many other reasons, has stirred in me, the desire to share the stories of some of the very many women in my life.
These women have greatly imprinted on me by their need to remain selfless. They inspire me because like many great leaders, they lead from a place of very familiar pain and motivation.
Toko-pa Turner writes about an old parable that says if you meet Buddha on the road, kill him. However cryptic, the teaching warns that if you think you have made contact with your ultimate guru, you have great work ahead of you to integrate their qualities into yourself. You must ‘kill off your admiration’ for the teacher outside of yourself by learning to become your own expert.
While I continue drawing strength and inspiration from these sheroes, I have also discovered, like Toko-pa continues, that both teacher and student live on our insides, and in no time, seeking becomes an enterprise of interiority."
For the next three weeks, I will share the stories ofthree women, from three generations, who are some of my foremost influencers.
I feel a very deep connection to these stories because, these women represents the three stages of my life, as well as that of many others – adolescence, middle age and old age.
I will share their stories, incorporating some of my teachings during my time at the Coady International Institute Global Change Leaders Programme as well as the helpful feedback I received from the course facilitators, Nanci Lee and Stella Maranga.
These women, using a combination of different leadership styles, innovatively solve some issues that suppress women’s rights and choices in their communities, leaving an enduring legacy behind their trails.
A young girl living in a community marred by sexual violence, domestic abuse and poverty transform her sad experiences into something empowering by leading campaigns designed to bring an end to some of the injustices she has experienced, in the same community that failed her.
Religion has been described as the opium of the people. It has also proved to be one of the oldest and most effective tools that humans have used to dominate women and perpetrate patriarchy. Because, really, who dares question the divine? One Muslim woman is challenging the status quo by bringing a feminist perspective to religion, turning an often disempowering tool into a transformative and equalizing experience for all persons, especially marginalized women.
A single mother, grandmother and princess fights for her right to own landed properties and large farms inadvertently creating space for other women, in a village and time where marriage is the apex of a woman’s achievement and husbands were the crown.
Welcome to the Cloud of Women around me!