By Bamidele Ademola-Olateju
My dear friend and leader, the woman who hands out wrapper to cover women, Erelú Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi is 60 today! To know her is to love her simplicity, generosity, intellect and verve. Erelú always show up for everyone especially her friends. The day I was sworn in, Erelú came to my reception lunch with 38 APC women stakeholders, including the current Ekiti Deputy governor. Two weeks later at my father’s 80th Birthday, she repeated same thing. She has not forgiven me for not “allowing” her to attend my “Ìwúyè” ceremony as Yèyé-Ọba.
Erelú is a body of work. Yesterday, I was mesmerized but not surprised when women across three generations converged at the civic center to converse about “Sisterhood Across Borders” and launch two books by Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi. Professors, feminists, activists and advocates for women all over the world came together in one room for her. Only Erelú can do that because she has a unique voice that is personal and political. Here is a historian, activist, politician, and storyteller In my actions, engagements and writing, whose struggles as a feminist are nuanced, real, culturally and generationally contextualized, and deeply reflective. She is very different because she is too radical for conservatives and too conservative for radicals.
One of the blessings of my life, is my walk and work of political, social, and economic discovery with Erelú Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi. I belong to Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi school of political humility and grassroots mobilization. I have been on her side, as a witness to how she has used her knowledge, development experience, decades of experience as one of Africa’s foremost feminists, and reach as a skilled fundraiser, to bring women into political participation and improve their financial and physical health. As her protégé, my work as an advocate, public intellectual, political analyst and politician gained renewed focus and drive through her tutelage.
For a long time, I wondered in silence, why is she such a tireless advocate for women? I got the answer one day, as we embarked on yet another journey to empower women in Ìkéré-Èkìtì. In her car, our talk revolved again around women, power, and friendships. We have both read “The Twisted Sisterhood” and I reminded her that even Sigmund Freud asked; “What Does a Woman Want?”. Her Excellency Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi a most profound answer that I committed to memory and have lived by, ever since. She said, “as women we must understand that in every social movement, there will be internal contractions. Those contradictions must not prevent us from supporting, promoting, and advancing the interest of women wherever we are and in whatever position we find ourselves. We must understand we hold such positions in trust for women”.
As the First Lady of Ekiti State, “Keep Girls in School” is Bisi’s deep dive into Feminist Political Theory. With this policy initiative, she leveraged her position to critique the disruption of girls’ education due to pregnancy, reframed and articulated the right of girls to continuing post basic education regardless of pregnancy and supported a reconstruction of education policy to support pregnant girls. Her advocacy on keeping girls in school even when pregnant, sets education as a right and not a privilege, subject to withdrawal or punishment.
Her book; “Where Is Your Wrapper?” defines her persona and illustrates the gift that she is to many people. The Wrapper anecdote – women helping women, raising each other up through the power of collaboration and support, is her driving Philosophy, as a feminist thinker and activist. Through her interventions, she has deepened political participation by creating an army of women in politics in Ekiti. She used her soft power to influence the inclusion of women in many political positions and brought national focus on the growing problem of emotional, psychological, sexual, and physical abuse of women. For the last three decades, she has given her time, effort, and life to the cause of women. She is the most gifted political mobilizer in the Southwest. The ease of her engagements and spirited actions, points to an acceptance of duty and a deep-seated commitment to a better world of equality. Erelú’s activism, and intellectual attributes is well known. What many who are not close to her do not know, is her industry and creativity. She redefined the world of African fashion by being the first in Nigeria to infuse Aso-Oke with Ankara, in her dressing. In addition, not many know Erelú the consummate entrepreneur and farmer. All these linkages set her up as an exemplar for women and girls.
Happy birthday Erelú! Thank you for being such a caring, reliable, dependable friend. I have always believed there are no coincidences in the lives of men. Very few times in our lives, do we meet that person with whom we share ideals, values, ideas, and a common humanity. It is harder to meet such people when we have passed the infantile stage of life, especially in a world where relationships have become transactional. We wonder where they have been all our lives and think of what we can accomplish with such conviviality of spirit. That person for me, is you – Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi. From your footprints as co-founder of African Women’s Development Fund (AWDF), to funding thousands of women organizations in Africa, to using your platform as the first lady to make policy on Gender protection, empowerment, and equality, I thank you on behalf of women. I thank you for teaching me to ALWAYS hold a wrapper for women everywhere, no matter the contradictions.
It has been an honor to be your friend. I am blessed and gratified by your friendship. Each time I think of your immense generosity; the giving of material things, the giving of money and the giving of self, I believe you cannot reap the benefits in this existence. You are sowing a primordial seed for your next existence. Since “there is no reward for good, other than good”, I believe you are destined for greater heights in the service of humanity. Congratulations Ma! Long may you live in good health. May God bless you, your husband and bless your son. Happy birthday! My dear friends, please help me celebrate this great woman who is a torch bearer for women and girls.